The network newscasts seemed to be guided by the need to apply something like an “equal time” rule for the torturers. fair.org
FAIR’s Action Alert
Equal Time for Torturers? Networks grant CIA time to spin report
The December 9 release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture prompted substantial media coverage. But the network newscasts seemed to be guided by the need to apply something like an “equal time” rule for the torturers.
On NBC Nightly News (12/9/14), though correspondent Andrea Mitchell misleadingly referred to “the harsh interrogations now seen as torture”–they were, of course, torture before yesterday–their lead segment adequately summarized the Senate findings.
But then NBC aired a long interview–nearly as long as the report on the Senate’s findings–with former CIA (and NSA) director Michael Hayden, who even disputes that the tactics in the report were torture. Anchor Brian Williams told viewers that Hayden was “accused in today’s report of providing misleading information in the past.”
That’s a mild characterization; in fact, as the Washington Post (12/9/14) showed, Hayden’s 2007 Senate testimony about CIA torture was revealed to be full of distortions and evasions–from the number of prisoners held by the CIA to his claims that “punches and kicks…have never been employed” and that the “most serious injury” was bruising.
The exposure of Hayden’s dishonesty seemed to play no role in NBC‘s questioning of him, in which he was given ample time to argue that most countries treat their prisoners worse than the CIA does.
After its opening segment describing the Senate findings, CBS Evening News presented a CIA rebuttal report from correspondent Bob Orr, which was a completely uncritical summary of the Agency’s dubious claims. Orr goes through the cases where the CIA says torture “worked.” He doesn’t challenge the Agency’s claims, which is an especially strange approach given the Senate report’s documentation of how the CIA misled politicians and journalists about its torture program.
But CBS wasn’t done. The newscast also aired an interview with Michael Morell, a former CIA deputy director and current CBS News contributor. Pelley made clear that their analyst was “speaking in defense of the CIA.” Morrell called the Senate report “deeply flawed.” Instead of posing tough questions, Pelley asked him questions like this: “How are CIA officers reacting to this today?”
Did we say “equal time”? Between the CIA rebuttal segment and the Morell interview, CBS Evening News devoted about 50 percent more time to excuses for torture than it did to the torture report itself.
And on ABC World News Tonight, correspondent Martha Raddatz showed that you didn’t need to interview a former torture architect to spin the news. Her first words to anchor to David Muir were these: “David, some of these detainees are Al-Qaeda operatives suspected of taking part in the worst terrorist attacks in this country’s history.” That is true; and some of the prisoners had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda at all–or any kind of militant activity.
After Raddatz’s report–which detailed the Senate’s findings–the broadcast turned to Jonathan Karl to flesh out the CIA’s response. As he told viewers, “The tactics were harsh, but the CIA says it is flat out wrong to say they did not work.”
Karl wasn’t there to weigh these claims: “One key question: Did the interrogations help get Osama bin Laden? The report says no, the CIA says yes, that only through harsh interrogation did they discover bin Laden’s personal messenger.”
But no one should take the CIA at its word. As many are pointing out (CNN, 12/10/14; Mother Jones, 12/9/14; Firedoglake, 5/3/11), the most important breaks that identified bin Laden’s courier came independent of the CIA’s torture regime, and the arguments that have been offered for waterboarding’s contribution to the search border on the absurd (FAIR Blog, 5/6/11). It’s not surprising the CIA would seize on bin Laden to justify torture; the Senate report notes that two days after bin Laden was killed, Hayden went on a talk radio show to boast that the intelligence came from CIA black sites.
The Senate report makes abundantly clear that the CIA went to great lengths to mislead the press, the public and political leaders about its activities. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with CIA history. This is not a time for “balance”–unless journalists truly believe that covering torture means giving torturers an uncritical platform for denying responsibility.
ACTION: Tell the networks that good journalism means challenging CIA claims–not giving the Agency free airtime to respond to well-documented evidence of torture.
CBS Evening News
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