Sunday, August 30, 2009

Andrew Sullivan on Torture and the Media

I think that it's entirely appropriate for Andrew Sullivan to insist that media outlets describe the brutal treatment of some U.S. detainees as "torture." However, it is not fair for Sullivan to continually label those media outlets that do not adopt his standard as 'supporters of torture.'

A few months back, NPR's ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, offered a very reasonable explanation for NPR's refusal to use the term "torture." Shepard argued that it was more appropriate for an objective news station to simply describe the acts under consideration so that the listeners could make up their own minds. This way, the station was able to avoid the impression of bias and the audience was able to learn precisely what was being done.

Sullivan was distressed with NPR's policy. And he made a good case that the station was applying a double standard when it described the treatment of some Vietnam POWs as "torture."

But it's one thing to argue that a news organization is acting stupidly. It's entirely different to imply that a media outlet's stubborn -- or imbalanced -- commitment to objectivity constitutes a "pro-torture" agenda.

When Sullivan says things like this, he wanders outside the realm of reasoned criticism. I think he really needs to tone down his rhetoric . . . .

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