Saturday, April 18, 2009

PBS Newshour bungles the torture memos story

Michael Gerson and Ruth Marcus illustrate how badly broken even our "quality" press is

Friday's PBS Newshour's weekly Political Wrap segment has been cringe-inducing for some time now, even when the regular pundits, neoconservative David Brooks and the tired liberal and John McCain fanboy Mark Shields, are on hand. Yesterday, both were off. And their substitutes produced one of the worst segments I've ever seen on the Newshour.

Here is the text of a letter I wrote them just after seeing it. In the letter, I use the concept of "torturers" to include everyone involved in this miserable process, certainly including the senior officials and attorneys who cooked up the torture policy.

Dear PBS Newshour,

Your "Political Wrap" segment of April 17 with Ruth Marcus, Michael Gerson and Margaret Warner was a genuine disgrace.

In the wake of the release of the memos going into explicit detail about the kinds of genuinely sadistic tortures that the Bush White House authorized to be used against prisoners at its own discretion, you bring on Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, and Marcus, an outspoken opponent of prosecuting criminals who broke the law by committing torture.

So the "liberal" Marcus spent her time defending the position that torturers should not be prosecuted for breaking the law. And grinning over the fact that taking that position previously had earned her the criticism of being a "torture enabler". She seemed to think this was a sign of virtue that she was being criticized by the dreadful "left" who may not think that giving torturers a free pass on breaking the law is such a good idea. How can anyone smile with pleasure at being (accurately) called a torture enabler? Gerson also had a good chuckle at that. Are you even aware how truly weird that is? Of how little seriousness either of these shallow pundits were showing there?

Gerson just ranted about terrible it was that Obama should have revealed this memos that, not incidentally, showed what a nasty group with whom he had faithfully worked for years as a speechwriter. Though an outspoken Christian, he seemed less interested in seeing any repentance for any sin involved with those sadistic tortures than in defending the torturers against any criticism. On the contrary, he seemed to think the only sin committed was in revealing these memos.

And Warner as the host was useless. When Gerson said that some "many of these methods", i.e., techniques of torment, in those memos did not constitute torture, could she not have at least asked him which ones he did consider torture and which not? In fact the only two appearances of the word "torture" in this pitiful segment were Marcus bragging about being called a "torture enabler" and Gerson making his unchallenged assertion that "many of these methods that are talked about ... are not torture".

Our national media, and in particular TV "journalism" like that on display in the Gerson-Marcus-Warner segment against prosecuting torturers, played a key role in enabling the torture policy to go on for nearly five years after it became public with the Abu Ghuraib scandal in 2004. Could at least one person among the pristine Christian Michael Gerson, the "liberal" pundit Ruth Marcus and the alleged journalist Margaret Warner have pointed out that the drowning torture ("waterboarding") as well as others of these techniques were clearly established in American and international law as torture? Apparently, no, they couldn't. But they certainly found time to air the arguments about why torturers should not be prosecuted for their crimes.

Everyone connected with your program should be genuinely embarrassed by that segment. It was a real disgrace.

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