When historians look back and try to understand how the George W. Bush administration managed to trample the Constitution and transgress the Geneva Conventions with near impunity, our mainstream media will stand out as one of the primary culprits.
Case in point: Sunday's New York Times report on President Bush's veto of a bill that sought to prohibit the CIA from using torture techniques such as waterboarding. Here's the lede:
President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency's latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.
There you have it. According to The Times, Bush's legacy of gutting and subverting our Constitution in a patently authoritarian, fascistic manner is defined as merely "fighting for strong executive powers." Such reporting is as absurd as summing up a man's inclination to beat his wife as an act that depicts a strong male role in marriage. During the Bush years, this kind of intellectually dishonest, apologetic journalism has done grave damage to our country and the rest of the world. The smattering of begrudging mea culpas aside, such reportorial distillations in our mainstream media, in which reality is jettisoned for unmitigated transcription of White House talking points, has not, as conventional wisdom keeps telling us, subsided much, if at all, since the earliest drumbeats to invade Iraq. (Ask yourself as well, for example, how a study released nearly six months ago that an estimated 1 million Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion of Iraq received virtually no coverage; the Los Angeles Times was the only major US newspaper to report on it; US network news completely ignored the study.)
This particular Times article (which only gets worse) underscores the disingenuous depths to which our paper of record is willing to sink. President Bush vetoes a bill intended to stop the CIA from using torture techniques, including waterboarding - which dates back to the Spanish Inquisition, was a favorite practice of the Gestapo, and for which the US tried and hanged Japanese soldiers after WWII - and The Times boils down the entire veto to politics and a factually inaccurate, Bush-approved narrative of his legacy.
This is a disgraceful piece of reporting, as damaging, or more damaging because of The Times' stature and influence on the rest of the media, than any yellow journalism disseminated by Fox News and its minions. If The Times is portraying Bush's despotic desire to continue torturing as nothing more than an effort to retain "strong executive powers," then it sets the bar lower for not only the rest of the media but especially those outlets, like a Fox News, that portray the Bush administration and its actions in a positive light no matter what the situation.
The Times article, written by Steven Lee Myers, continues with a veritable lexicon of Bush-era, media-transcribed talking points, disingenuous frames and deficient-by-omission details:
Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using interrogation methods like waterboarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning and that has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad. Many such techniques are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.
First, waterboarding is not an interrogation technique but an historically known torture technique. Second, as Malcolm Nance, a former master instructor and chief of training at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) who applied waterboarding to US soldiers to prepare them in the case of capture, has attested to time and again, an individual administered waterboarding is in the process of drowning. It is not "simulated drowning" as it has so often been described in the media. Nor are they being "threatened with drowning," as The Times misleadingly states here. To paraphrase Nance, one is either drowning or has drowned; there is no in between. During waterboarding, water fills your lungs and you can't breathe. You're drowning. Nothing is being simulated.
Moreover, techniques like waterboarding are not only prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies but also by international law, as stated in the Geneva Conventions. Additionally, a US president's executive decision to carry out torture is also a breach of our Constitution, on which President Bush swore to uphold upon taking office. So how does The Times justify omitting that Bush's past torture, his veto to continue torturing and any future torture directed by him are all explicit acts in direct violation of these two guiding statutes of US domestic and international law? This isn't a question of point of view; it is a question of reporting the facts or omitting them, of giving the public sufficient substantive details to assess what's actually at issue or obfuscating them.
The veto deepens his battle with increasingly assertive Democrats in Congress over issues at the heart of his legacy. As his presidency winds down, he has made it clear he does not intend to bend in this or other confrontations on issues from the war in Iraq to contempt charges against his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and former counsel, Harriet E. Miers.
Mr. Bush announced the veto in the usual format of his weekly radio address, which is distributed to stations across the country each Saturday. He unflinchingly defended an interrogation program that has prompted critics to accuse him not only of authorizing torture previously but also of refusing to ban it in the future. "Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists," he said.
Bush isn't a profligately criminal US president; instead he's a fighter
who's "made it clear he does not intend to bend in this or
other confrontations," in which he has clearly lied to the American
public and repeatedly broken the law. He's the same strong leader who
"unflinchingly defended an interrogation program that has
prompted critics to accuse him not only of authorizing torture
previously but also of refusing to ban it in the future." Moreover,
"critics" aren't just accusing him of this; it's a reality-based fact:
President Bush authorized waterboarding and other known torture
techniques, including stress positions. Fact. This veto expressly seeks
to "legally" retain the CIA's ability to continue to torture terrorism
And on and on this despicable reporting goes: according to The Times, Bush's veto "underscored his determination to preserve many of the executive prerogatives his administration has claimed in the name of fighting terrorism, and to enshrine them into law." Slight omission: each of these "executive prerogatives" is unconstitutional and only by subverting the precepts of American democracy will he be able to "enshrine them into law." Much in the same way that Adolph Hitler "legally" justified everything he perpetrated (please note: this comparison to Hitler is directly related to his tactics for subverting the rule of law, many of which the Bush administration has applied since the 9/11 attacks). As Katrina Vanden Heuval pointed out in her 2005 piece "I Am Free--To Think--To Speak":
Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler's dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that "Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact." And he succeeded.
Hitler's originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.
The Times even revs up the cognitive dissonance by mentioning in the same article:
The administration has also moved ahead with the first military tribunals of those detained at Guantánamo Bay, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, despite calls to try them in civilian courts.
Yet it fails to note that not only was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed waterboarded (which CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted to Congress last month) but that this was precisely how the government extracted his "confession."
This irresponsible reporting beats on with the very next frame: "All
are issues that turn on presidential powers. And as he has through
most of his presidency, he built his case on the threat of terrorism."
Yes, "all are issues that turn on presidential powers" but that, most significantly, threaten the fabric of our democracy. And sure, he has
"built his case on the threat of terrorism" since 9/11, yet his
justifications have been proven innumerable times to be based on an
underlying desire not to protect America but to "cement" his ability to
rule with despotic power. Again, not opinion. Fact. To ignore this,
to not at least balance the Bush talking points with examples that run
counter to the administration's narrative, is to be complicit in
promulgating its narrative.
That's not reporting. That's unadulterated, grade A, 100% propaganda.
Near the end of this article, The Times presents the view of one presidential scholar, who, by largely repeating the same blunted truths, only adds to the mealy-mouthed quality of this report:
Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Bush's actions were consistent with his efforts to expand executive power and to protect the results of those efforts. Some, he said, could easily be undone — with a Democratic president signing a bill like the one he vetoed Saturday, for example — but the more Mr. Bush accomplished now, the more difficult that would be. "Every administration is concerned with protecting the power of the presidency," he said. "This president has done that with a lot more vigor."
Once more, the profligate and shameless criminality of this president is chalked up to his "vigor" in "protecting the power of the presidency," this time through the eyes of a scholar, who, at least as captured in this article, conveniently mirrors the frames, omissions and understatements of its author, Times reporter Steven Lee Myers.
Between The Times' pre-Iraq War coverage, its sitting on the NSA wiretapping story for a year and its feckless handling of the recent John McCain lobbyist "affair" (in which it not only sat on another story - this time until McCain gained the GOP nomination - but also torpedoed the substantive nature of the investigation, his behind-the-scenes deals for lobbyists, by leading with the half-baked portion of the report, the alleged affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman), The Times has compiled an miserable track record under the executive editorial leadership of Bill Keller.
Maybe Keller was a great reporter. Maybe his editorial work was exceptional prior to taking on his current role, in which he's served since 2003. But it's clear Keller has been a lousy executive editor for The Times. During a period when the most secretive and criminal administration in our nation's history has held office, The Times, under Keller's stewardship, has too often shown an apprehension to report the cold hard facts in an intellectually honest and timely fashion.
His leadership at our paper of record has not only damaged journalism but our country as well, supplying fodder to those who revile freedom of the press (such as those cretins who literally called for Keller's head after The Times finally reported on the wiretapping scandal) while playing politics with the truth and withholding information from those who are believers in this First Amendment right.
It's time for Bill Keller to step down. Steven Lee Myers' article is one more piece of evidence to justify Mr. Keller's exit.