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Bush, Rumsfeld & Co. found responsible for torture; cable news (save Rachel Maddow) responds with a yawn

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

December 12th, 2008

This morning’s Washington Post (Dec. 12, 08) headline couldn’t have been more definitive: “Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Top Bush Officials“:

“A bipartisan panel of senators has concluded that former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials bear direct responsibility for the harsh treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and that their decisions led to more serious abuses in Iraq and elsewhere.

“In the most comprehensive critique by Congress of the military’s interrogation practices, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report yesterday that accuses Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the authors and chief promoters of harsh interrogation policies that disgraced the nation and undermined U.S. security. The report, released by Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), contends that Pentagon officials later tried to create a false impression that the policies were unrelated to acts of detainee abuse committed by members of the military.”

According to journalists Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung, this bipartisan bombshell, released Thursday, is:

“…the most direct refutation to date of the administration’s rationale for using aggressive interrogation tactics — that inflicting humiliation and pain on detainees was legal and effective, and helped protect the country. The 25-member panel, without one dissent among the 12 Republican members, declared the opposite to be true.

“The administration’s policies and the resulting controversies, the panel concluded, “damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

To put it plainly, an equal number of high-ranking Republicans and Democrats now admit that core members of the Bush administration were responsible for major violations of U.S and international law, jeopardizing our reputation overseas and making it more difficult to keep Americans safe at home.

In journalistic terms, this is a damn good scoop. Not that you’d have known it from cable news companies many hours after the report was released.

With their up-to-the-minute ability to respond to breaking news, CNN, MSNBC or Fox could have owned this story well before any newspaper, considering the lead time print outlets require. But gone are the days that broadcast media took journalistic pride in being the first news outlet to report on a blistering account of political corruption. Instead, well after the Post, the New York Times and even the Detroit Free Press (not to mention human rights groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights) were devoting extensive column inches to this report (view PDF of report here), the cable news landscape had yet to take it seriously.

As blogger Bob Harris, author of Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up - A Woefully Incomplete Guide, notes:

More than five hours after the release of the report, CNN.com made no mention of it in their front page, “Although they’ve somehow found room for ‘Child’s Skull Found,’ ‘Navy Mom surprises son, 8, in class,’ and ‘Pretty robot slaps men who get fresh.’” Likewise, the report was also absent from the front page of Fox News’s site, which did “have room for ‘KFC Workers in Hot Water After Sink Baths,’ ‘Outrage After Teacher Tells 7-Year-Olds Santa Is Fake,’ and ‘Ga. School Staff Accused of Inflatable Mattress Sex.’”

Th closest thing to online coverage from the cable bigs could be found in “a single-line, fine-print text link” to the report on MSNBC’s homepage — “Just beneath ‘Bowel-clearing drugs to get sternest FDA label” and “Child’s body found near missing girl’s home,” in “the same vital column with ‘Vegas still offers fun for the budget conscious’ and ‘Aniston on Jolie: ‘No daggers through the heart.’”

“So,” Harris adds, “you can’t say the media is ignoring the story completely.”

As Women In Media & News’s director, I’m a stickler for accuracy, so I double-checked Harris’s post. A full day later, have the cable news’s online platforms gotten around to giving this story the attention it deserves?

Er… no. As of 1am EST on Saturday, CNN’s homepage still makes no mention of the report, though does link to an oh-so-crucial ShowBiz Tonight segment about “Hollywood hottie” Jennifer Aniston’s topless GQ cover. Meanwhile, Fox News’s homepage also continues to ignore the report, preferring to link to stories such as “12 Days of Lingerie,” about a racy FHM photo spread by Holly Huddleston, a star of the D-list reality show Sunset Tan.

Sensing a trend, here?

As for MSNBC, that one lonely link Harris found last night has already been bumped from the front page.

On the other hand, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow — the sole progressive feminist voice in corporate broadcast news — did justice to the story on her Friday evening show. Reading extensive excerpts from the Post piece, she paused periodically to remind her viewers that when the paper refers to “harsh interrogation policies” they really mean “torture,” and “detainees” is simply “a polite word for prisoners.” Noting that Rumsfeld was quoted as rejecting the report’s conclusions and blaming Democrat Carl Levin for “sull[ying] the nation’s image,” Maddow responded with her well-known ire:

Really? It was the committee that came up with the forced nudity, water-boarding, stress positions, sonic bombardment, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, sick the dogs on ‘em stuff? That was a committee? That was Carl Levin and this committee?”

Maddow closed the segment by noting that “Newspapers are very important” because on TV, “this kind of thing isn’t top of the news right now, this isn’t what’s driving everybody’s political coverage.”

Just another reason why we should be concerned about the massive wave of layoffs we’re seeing within print newsrooms (a frequent subject of debate by journalists on posting to Jim Romenesko’s section of Poynter’s site).

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Bush, Rumsfeld & Co. found responsible for torture; TV newswer (save Rachel Maddow) respond with a yawn

administrators Icon Posted by Jennifer Pozner

December 12th, 2008

This morning’s Washington Post (Dec. 12, 08) headline couldn’t have been more definitive: “Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Top Bush Officials“:

“A bipartisan panel of senators has concluded that former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials bear direct responsibility for the harsh treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and that their decisions led to more serious abuses in Iraq and elsewhere.

“In the most comprehensive critique by Congress of the military’s interrogation practices, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report yesterday that accuses Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the authors and chief promoters of harsh interrogation policies that disgraced the nation and undermined U.S. security. The report, released by Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), contends that Pentagon officials later tried to create a false impression that the policies were unrelated to acts of detainee abuse committed by members of the military.”

Further, Post staffers Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung report that this bipartisan bombshell, released Thursday, is:

“…the most direct refutation to date of the administration’s rationale for using aggressive interrogation tactics — that inflicting humiliation and pain on detainees was legal and effective, and helped protect the country. The 25-member panel, without one dissent among the 12 Republican members, declared the opposite to be true.

“The administration’s policies and the resulting controversies, the panel concluded, “damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

To put it plainly, an equal number of high-ranking Republicans and Democrats now admit that core members of the Bush administration were responsible for major violations of U.S and international law which have jeopardized our reputation overseas and made it more difficult to keep Americans safe at home.

In journalistic terms, this is a damn good scoop. Not that you’d have known it if you flipped through the TV news dial many hours after the report was released.

With their up-to-the-minute ability to respond to breaking news, CNN, MSNBC or Fox could have owned this story well before any newspaper, considering the lead time print outlets require. But gone are the days that broadcast media took journalistic pride in being the first news outlet to report on a blistering account of political corruption. Instead, well after the Post, news outlets ranging from the New York Times to the Detroit Free Press, and human rights groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights were devoting extensive column inches to this report (view PDF of report here), the cable news landscape had yet to take it seriously.

As blogger Bob Harris, author of Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up - A Woefully Incomplete Guide, notes:

More than five hours after the release of the report, CNN.com made no mention of it in their front page, “Although they’ve somehow found room for ‘Child’s Skull Found,’ ‘Navy Mom surprises son, 8, in class,’ and ‘Pretty robot slaps men who get fresh.’” Likewise, the report was also absent from the front page of Fox News’s site, which did “have room for ‘KFC Workers in Hot Water After Sink Baths,’ ‘Outrage After Teacher Tells 7-Year-Olds Santa Is Fake,’ and ‘Ga. School Staff Accused of Inflatable Mattress Sex.’” MSNBC did devote “a single-line, fine-print text link” to the report on the site’s homepage, though, “Just beneath ‘Bowel-clearing drugs to get sternest FDA label” and “Child’s body found near missing girl’s home.”

In the same vital column with “Vegas still offers fun for the budget conscious” and “Aniston on Jolie: ‘No daggers through the heart.’”

So you can’t say the media is ignoring the story completely.

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