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Blindness -- Writer's Poke #316

Prior to 9/11, water-boarding had long been described as “torture” in The New York Times. After 9/11, however, when the U.S. started using this “intensive interrogation technique” against “persons of interest,” the paper dropped the word “torture” from its description. For some reason, The New York Times determined that it was appropriate to describe how suspects were being interrogated by CIA agents, but that it was not appropriate to call such methods “torture.” Why?

This might seem like a small example, but what’s really at issue here is a form of censorship. Whether or not the paper still accurately describes the process of water-boarding, the fact remains that its decision to no longer label it as “torture” is significant.

It’s not unusual for The New York Times to be attacked as part of the “liberal media,” so why wouldn’t an organ of the liberal media want to continue using the word “torture” if doing so would make the Bush administration, the administration that had approved use of this technique, look bad? Did the Bush administration apply pressure on the Times to “reevaluate” its use of the torture label?

The issue of book censorship in America sometimes seems rather lame to students. After all, we live in a free and open society, and if we want information we can easily find ways to obtain it. Or can we? Certainly anyone with Internet access can read The New York Times, but how many of us stop to consider how the information we’re receiving is being censored through specific language choices (or omissions)?

This is censorship in broad daylight, and most of the time, we don’t even realize it’s happening.

How can we prevent censorship? Or, do you subscribe to the idea that some censorship is healthy because American adults cannot “handle the full truth”?

“Censorship is very American.” – Kurt Cobain


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