A community of NPR critics monitoring NPR for its corporatist, Pentagon friendly, pro-US foreign policy coverage of the news.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exactly What Was Done

NPR's Depiction of Waterboarding - Click the graphic for Truthiness

I want to revisit NPR Ombudsman Shepard's tortuous and dishonest dance around NPR's refusal to call torture torture when it is committed by agents of the US government. She began her grotesque performance back on June 21, 2009 on her blog, and continued with an encore on June 30, 2009 (after getting schooled by Glenn Greenwald and 400+ commenters at her blog).

This may seem like rehashing old territory, but the subject came up as recently as last month when Shepard visited an unthreatening NPR station for an interview (something she's fond of doing). On WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show she reiterated core of her argument - which she has repeatedly stated in the past:
"I came down saying 'OK, try to avoid the word torture and try to describe exactly what was done and let the people decide'....I think that, again, that you describe it for what it is, and let people decide." [You can listen for yourself here. Her claim begins at the 39:50 mark and continues to about 42:00]
As morally and intellectually bankrupt as this argument is, let's hold it up to scrutiny. In other words, when it comes to waterboarding, has NPR ever tried to "describe exactly what was done" or "describe it for what it is"? An article just published by Mark Benjamin in Salon.com provides a glimpse into how powerful such a journalistic approach can be:
  • "The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner's nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing."
  • "...according to the Bradbury memo, could produce 'spasms of the larynx' that might keep a prisoner from breathing..."
  • "The agency placed detainees on liquid diets prior to the use of waterboarding. That's because during waterboarding, 'a detainee might vomit and then aspirate the emesis,...'"
  • "...the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid....hyponatremia could set in....a waterlogged, sodium-deprived prisoner might become confused and lethargic, slip into convulsions, enter a coma and die."
Searching the NPR archives for stories aired should make it very plain as to whether Shepard is basing her argument on an NPR practice of detailing what happens with waterboarding - or if she's just lying by claiming to favor a kind of reporting that she knows NPR does not - and probably will not ever do. Let's see:
Recapping the results, NPR's on-air coverage of waterboarding reveals a determination to omit even the most basic and elemental details - stopped breathing, vomit, and coma - that are necessary to convey what waterboarding is.

Stripped of her already compromised argument, all that Shepard - and NPR - have to offer is a position that is remarkably friendly to torture braggarts Cheney and Rove: "the Bush administration felt this was something they needed to do to get information to protect the country..." [Shepard again on the Kojo Nnamdi show explaining why it's not professional to call it torture].


Anonymous said...

After her sorry behavior in the Gary Webb affair, Shepard has ZERO credibility, so it really does not matter what she says.

Sure, she has lots of pals in NPR management (Vivian Schiller, for example) and she clearly fashions herself as some kind of "journalism expert", but if she is really such a great journalist, why is ombudsman the only job she can get?

Everyone (especially journalists) understand that that pretty much means you have failed as a journalist.

It's like doctor who tries to be a brain surgeon, but can not cut it and instead ends up doing nose jobs for Michael jackson.

Anonymous said...

On Monday, March 8, Shepard was on Wisconsin Public Radio on Kathleen Dunn's show. No really critical calls came through and Kathleen Dunn basically just kissed Shepard's derriere. You can listen to the show by going to the archives, here:


It was a pretty sickening spectacle. Instead of actually interviewing the ombudsman, it was one long, icky smoooch.

No mention of the "torture" question. No mention of how many times NPR peddles misinformation about Haiti or how amnesiac it is about US involvement in that country. No mention of any substative or substantiated criticisms of NPR by people like Glenn Greenwald, or the scandalous treatment of the passing of Howard Zinn.

I called listener services and gave them an earful. I was pretty upset.

Rick - Madison, WI

gDog said...

Listening to the ombot on kojo Nanmdi at WAMU is not so enlightening. The first caller is appalled by the smear in Howard Zinn's obit and suggests that corporate underwriting may have influenced that. Ombot respons, "The bulk of the money that NPR, I mean the bulk of the money that WAMU gets is from listeners."

Then re Zinn, "If any of the people who comment on my life's work they might say that I've done nothing of worth." Aye, she does know us...and is pretty wore about it, it seems, but notice the suave way in which she equates her own stature with that of Zinn.

She mentions Sweeney taking responsibility for the Zinn thing again. But she's never responded to my request for a Sweeney bio, which continues to be conspicuously absent from the NPR site.