Accuracy in Media

For a new lesson in how to slant the news, consider the March 11 story in the Washington Post on testimony given by a Navy Admiral on Iraqi prisoner abuse. Admiral Albert Church, who conducted a major investigation, said, “An early focus of our investigation was to determine whether DoD had promulgated interrogation policies or guidance that directed, sanctioned or encouraged the abuse of detainees. We found that this was not the case.” His inquiry also found that “none of the pictured abuses at Abu Ghraib bear any resemblance to approved policies at any level, in any theater.”

But that is not how the Washington Post saw it. The story by Josh White and Bradley Graham ran under the headline, “Senators Question Absence of Blame in Abuse Report.” Who were those Senators? They were mostly Democrats who wanted to believe that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or his top aides were to blame.

The Post took its lead from those senators, claiming in its story that the Church review “did not place specific blame for the confusing interrogation policies that migrated from Washington to the battlefield?” Notice the phrase, “migrated from Washington to the battlefield.” That is the opinion of the Post writers in a so-called straight news story. No evidence of such migration was presented.

Then the Post writers went on to say that Church “told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing that no high-level policy decisions directly led to the abuse.” This was in the second paragraph of the story, but it certainly should have been the lead. The headline was that another review cleared top Pentagon leaders of any role in the prisoner abuse.

Two extensive reviews of the evidence have now shown that Rumsfeld and other top officials had no role in approving or condoning any of the isolated cases of abuse. The “Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations,” August 2004, reported that, “No approved procedures called for or allowed the kinds of abuse that in fact occurred. There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities.”

What else did the Post leave out?

At the hearing supposedly covered by the Post, Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., noted that there have been more than 50,000 detainees in the global War on Terror who have been held in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and other locations. Church had identified 70 substantive cases of abuse. So that means, Lieberman said, that only one tenth of one percent of the detainees has been involved in alleged abuse. In the overwhelming majority of cases, he noted, detainees have been treated properly.

If you go one level further, Lieberman said, 20 of those 70 cases were associated with alleged abuse during interrogations. That, he said, is one twenty-fifth of one percent of all detainees. The alleged abuse has to be put “in the proper perspective,” he said. “Most of the American personnel-service men and women-who are holding detainees and interrogating them, to the best of our knowledge, are acting within the law.”

Now why wasn’t that fit to print at the Post?




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