New York Times Fail

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Last week, Mother Jones alum and current Talking Points Memo news editor Justin Elliott nagged and embarrassed the New York Times into running an editors’ note explaining how badly it messed up a front-page story on alleged “recidivism” of Guantanamo Bay detainees. But this weekend, the Times was at it again, totally blowing yet another torture-related front-pager. Once again, the Times has obtained exclusive information about a politically controversial issue, and once again, the Times has simply regurgitated right-wing spin on what it obtained. (Sound familiar?)

This time around, the Times has obtained three emails (PDF) sent by Jim Comey, a Deputy Attorney General in the Bush administration, in April and May 2005. Any fair reading of these emails suggests that Justice Department lawyers faced enormous amounts of pressure from the White House to rule that the torture techniques the administration was already using were legal. Read the emails and see for yourself.

The Times seems to think that the news in the emails was that some right-wing Bush administration officials who were once thought not to have approved torture may have actually approved torture. Shocking, I know. It’s almost as if the story was leaked to the Times by someone who wanted to promote the Bush-Cheney line on torture: “we were assured it was all legal.” But the White House, of course, had all all the power, and pushed for exactly the opinions it wanted.

Comey even predicted in his emails that the officials who were demanding the legal backing at the time would later claim they had just innocently followed freely-given legal advice. “I told him the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the shit hit the fan. Rather they would simply say they had only asked for an opinion,” Comey wrote in the April 28 email. That’s exactly what happened. But the Times left that comment for the bottom of its story, and spun the lead and the headline so much as to make it seem like they were writing about a different set of emails entirely. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this behavior from a newspaper that won’t call torture torture, but it’s still disappointing. Marcy Wheeler, Glenn Greenwald, and Andrew Sullivan have more.

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