Friday, September 22, 2006

putting the “lie” back in Liasson

On Thursday’s All Things Considered, NPR’s Mara Liasson asserted that when it comes to torturing detainees, “I think that public opinion, in general, from what we can tell from the polls, is with the White House on this.”

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. What is so striking about Liasson’s lie is that it came only a day after a major New York Times/CBS poll found that 63% of Americans do not believe torture is ever acceptable, and a substantial majority believe the US should honor its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Neither Liasson nor ATC host Robert Siegel acknowledged this poll, nor did Siegel challenge the unsubstantiated assertion about where Americans stood on this issue.

Prior to Liasson’s “analysis,” NPR correspondent Brian Naylor laid out what he said were the central demands the White House was making of Congress regarding the torture and tribunals statute—permission to use secret evidence to convict suspects and an allowance for “coercive tactics” during interrogation of prisoners. What somehow escaped Naylor’s rundown were two of the most important points: The administration is seeking retroactive cover for transgressions of guidelines for the treatment of prisoners, and, as I have previously described, Bush wants the courts stripped of any authority to hear habeas challenges from off-shore detainees.

Habeas corpus is so integral to US-style justice that I find it hard to understand why most of the establishment media still fails to acknowledge the Bush Administration’s assault on these rights. Do reporters think it’s boring? Do they find it too complicated? Is it possible that they have missed this part of the story?

To the last point, maybe I would have—sadly—thought that possible a week ago. But, now that much of the blogosphere and the New York Times have picked up the story, I find it hard to believe seasoned journalists like Naylor and Liasson are still ignorant of the threat.

Let NPR know that you are not ignorant. Tell them that if reporters are going to assert where the American people stand, you want facts to back it up. Tell them that, in this case, you know the facts, and you know that the American people stand firmly against the president’s desire to torture. Ask them to air a clarification. And ask them why they haven’t covered the Republican desire to rip up the Great Writ.

(I will borrow this bit of advice from Media Matters:

When contacting the media, please be polite and professional. Express your specific concerns regarding that particular news report or commentary, and be sure to indicate exactly what you would like the media outlet to do differently in the future.

By the way, Media Matters might also want to hear from you on these issues.)

Correction: I flipped the numbers from two separate questions in the NYT/CBS poll. 63% of Americans believe the US should “follow international agreements” and 56% say torture is never acceptable (compared with 35% who say it is sometimes justified).


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