The New York Times has come in for a lot of criticism over the years here at Hoystory and the paper has earned every pixel. But that doesn't mean that all criticism of the Gray Lady is valid, so here's the post where I defend the Times.
The Times attacker is Charles Kaiser over at the Columbia Journalism Review. Kaiser lists his c.v. as a former "media editor for Newsweek, a member of the metro staff of The New York Times, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered the press and book publishing."
In a lengthy, and terribly skewed, piece, Kaiser indicts the Times for failing to report on its front page, above the fold, Vice President Dick Cheney's war crimes confession.
What? You missed the story? Well, don't trouble yourself too much. The New York Times "missed" it too -- and every other media outlet.
For the record, here's the "confession" from an interview with John Karl of ABC News:
KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.
KARL: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?
CHENEY: I don’t…
KARL: And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?
CHENEY: I do.
The New York Times did not deem any of the vice president’s remarks worthy of mention in its newspaper or on its Web site.
Ohhh, shocker! And why exactly would they? Is there anything Cheney said there that was new? Here's a CNN report from August where Cheney says the same thing. Here's a New York Times report from February where Cheney says the same thing. Here's a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "The World Today" show where Cheney defends the practice from October 2006.
So, where's the news hook?
Kaiser then turns to "the indispensible Scott Horton" for some legal advice (Yeah, I'd never heard of the guy either):
[Waterboarding] has been defined as torture by the United States since at least 1903, the first military court-martial. The United States views waterboarding conducted for intelligence purposes during wartime as a war crime, and it has prosecuted both civilian and military figures involved in the chain of approval of its use. Penalties applied have ranged up to the death penalty. The crime is chargeable under the War Crimes Act and under the Anti-Torture Statute. There is no ambiguity or disagreement among serious lawyers on this part, and Cheney’s suggestion that what he did was lawful and vetted is the delusional elevation of political hackery over law.
Except that Horton is wrong. Torture is illegal under U.S. law, but the little fact that the Bush-hating left continues to ignore is that the U.S. Congress has repeatedly refused to define waterboarding as torture.
Kaiser's next sentence:
As FCP has pointed out many times before, waterboarding was also the favorite torture technique of the Nazi Gestapo during World War II.
Godwin's Law WINNER!
Kaiser then goes on to tout the recently released "bi-partisan" report from the Senate Armed Services Committee, citing it as "accusing the president of acts which clearly qualify as war crimes."
You probably didn't hear much about that one in the news either, did you?
While Kaiser is busy touting the "bi-partisan" report, he purposefully ignores a press release from GOP Senators Saxby Chambliss, James Inofe, Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn, John Thune and Mel Martinez which proves that the report is hardly "bi-partisan." Here's some relevant bits from the dissent:
This nation adheres to the principle that all detainees in U.S. custody must be treated humanely and in accordance with applicable law. The fallacious assertion, made in recent newspaper editorials and other media outlets, that illegal treatment of detainees was an intentional or necessary result of administration policy is irresponsible and only serves to aid the propaganda and recruitment efforts of extremists dedicated to the murder of innocents and the destruction of our way of life.
The latest inquiry into detainee treatment by the Senate Armed Services Committee breaks little new ground – merely reiterating the findings of at least 12 previous independent investigations, which reported that certain isolated and limited incidents of detainee abuse occurred in the handling of detainees in U.S. custody. The implication, however, that this abuse was the direct, necessary, or foreseeable result of policy decisions made by senior administration officials is false and without merit. It is counter-productive and potentially dangerous to our men and women in uniform to insinuate that illegal treatment of detainees resulted from official U.S. government policies.
But, with Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin's report in hand, conscious ignorance of the GOP dissent and no access to Google to see if anything new has actually been disclosed, Kaiser pronounces the proper story placement.
Any reasonably sentient editor would have led with a story on that report, with at least a two-column, two-deck headline in the upper right hand corner of the front page.
Instead, the story of yet another re-hash report went on A14 -- where it undoubtedly belonged.
In both these situations, The New York Times made the right editorial decisions. (The over/under on that last sentence appearing on Hoystory.com was 1 million years -- I hope you bet the under.)
As I put it in a comment at the end of the article: "I've got plenty of gripes with how the Times has covered the War on Terror, but this is little more than a complaint that the Times isn't The Nation."