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New York Times Bin Laden Story Shows Paper's Tangled Approach To Torture

First Posted: 05/04/11 01:46 PM ET Updated: 07/04/11 06:12 AM ET

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A front page New York Times story on Wednesday shows the sometimes-tangled knots the paper has tied itself in when it comes to one word: torture.

The paper has been perhaps the most frequent target of those who criticize media outlets for refusing to label so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding as torture. Academic studies have analyzed the media's sudden shift during the Bush administration from calling waterboarding torture to calling it, well, something else. The paper has also wrestled very publicly with what kind of language it should use to describe things such as waterboarding.

The Times' Wednesday article focuses on the debate that has sprung up in the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden about whether or not torture methods were critical in securing the intelligence that led to Bin Laden's compound. The piece sprinkles the word liberally throughout, but only when the authors, Scott Shane and Charlie Savage, are discussing "a national debate about torture" or "a partisan battle over torture." The article's online headline also reads, "Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture."

When it comes to labeling the actual methods used on detainees in American custody, though, Shane and Savage pull back, calling them, variously, "brutal interrogations," "the most harrowing set of the so-called enhanced measures," "harsh methods," "force" and "coercive techniques." These interrogations, in their own words, included waterboarding, as well as "slamming prisoners into walls, shackling them in stress positions and keeping them awake for as long as 180 hours."

Ironically, the article appeared just a day after another piece in The Times. This one focused on survivors of Iraqi torture, and did not shy away from describing their ordeals as such, calling them "enduring episodes of torture" and using the word over 35 times throughout. The article even referred to Americans as torturers.

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