Examining The Runes

by digby

Greenwald has a great post up today about NPRs continued refusal to use the word torture. Calling it Orwellian is actually kind. He quotes the NPR ombudsman and then comments:

This passage is the second time Shepard described waterboarding with the pleasant-sounding, clinical, minimizing phrase: "poured water down a detainee's mouth and nostrils for 40 seconds." Note the other nice-sounding descriptions for what the U.S. did ("forced to stand for hours along side a wall"; that almost sounds peaceful, like a yoga pose: "along side a wall").

Aside from the obvious political bias, which Glenn explores at length, there is another dimension to the problem even if such bias doesn't exist. It isn't that I need the writers' opinion on the facts. But I do need the facts to be clear. I wrote about this in an earlier post:

[T]here's a reason why Billmon called it Pravda on the Hudson: we have to spend way too much time these days deciphering the news pages as if they are a bunch of ancient druid runes. I spend hours here and at other blogs trying to read between the lines and figure out what these reporters "really mean" because the conventions of modern journalism are so arcane that you have to be some sort of insider or psychic to know what the hell is actually going on.

I know it's heresy to say that one of the reasons that newspapers are failing is because of the journalism they practice, but think it's should at least be considered. The conventions of mainstream reporting have become so complicated that even a fairly sophisticated reader can't really grasp what's going on half the time.

All that ombudsman's "show not tell" concept does is confuse the NPR listeners. Torture is well defined under the statutes and by plain old common sense. To refuse to use the word tells the listeners that what they are hearing is strange and makes them mistrust their own instincts. It obscures, it doesn't reveal, which is the real point of journalism --- at least I thought it was.

Reading Glenn's piece you'd think the purpose of journalism was to make things so complicated that average people have no idea what's going on. If that's the case, they are very successful at what they do.