Torturous Wording

Friday, June 26, 2009


Last week, NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard caused a minor uproar after responding to angry emails from listeners over NPR's use of the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques" to describe treatment of terrorism suspects under the Bush Administration. Shepard talks about NPR's policy and her own opinion on the use of the word "torture."

Comments [234]

Facts don't change via mere words alone. In the absence of any such legislation where a President of USA can be tried for committing such war crimes, I don't believe any such protests will yield proper results. American Congress and Senate is powered by money, not by people. Only time will tell how long this silencing of the majority voice in USA can on. From historical pages, I don't see any such rule of minority to go on that long as is the case in USA. Probably the human history is being rewritten by American people, who knows! :)

Apr. 07 2014 02:14 PM
Harold A. Maio from Florida

The use of euphemisms is a political act and the antithesis of jounalism.

No "Ombudsman" fulfills that role defending that approach. No journalist fulfills that role defending that approach.

Harold A. Maio

Apr. 09 2010 06:32 PM
Alba from New Jersey

I am OK with enhanced interrogation techniques term for waterboarding or other techniques used on terrorists. Being trapped in a skyscraper just hit by an airliner with the only option to either die burned alive or jump from the 86th floor of the building...that I define as turture. About photographs of "abused terrorist", why no big fuss was ever done of those photographs showing people jumping from the Twin Towers to their death smashed on the sidewalk of NYC?...not gory enough to be called "abuse"? Get your "torture" term straight.

Sep. 03 2009 01:25 PM
R J Johnson from Spokane, WA

Great job, Bob.

I listen to Morning Edition every day. I would not be bothered by NPR'S policy on the T-word if Morning Edition's coverage of the abuse of detainees were otherwise responsible. However, it is not.

I've heard no recognition that American actions have often been in violation of the Geneva Conventions,
~no reporting on about the recent ICRC report,
~nothing about American resistance to monitoring by the ICRC and the denial of requests for information from the ICRC,
~nothing about the detainees who were beaten,
~no reporting on the deaths of detainees,
~few realistic descriptions of the abuses,
~nothing about the vomiting that is caused by waterboarding,
~nothing about the opinion of the UN High Commission on Human Rights on the abuses,
~no interviews with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or any other human rights organizations.

Morning Edition is not just avoiding the T-word, THEY ARE AVOIDING REPORTING ON AMERICAN TORTURE.

NPR needs to catch up with reality. The issue is no longer whether international law or federal law was broken. The issue real questions are: What do we do about it? How do we prevent this from happening again? How do we investigate? What will we gain from investigating? How do we get to the truth? Was Congress complicit? What does the public need to know? What happened? Who was involved? Who was responsible? Who will be held responsible?

These are the questions that NPR should be asking. I believe that NPR's policy on the T-word is just a symptom of the something larger: NPR DOES NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED.

I recommend Bill Moyer's May 1 interview with Bruce Fein and Mark Danner on the Torture.

Jul. 14 2009 12:12 AM
ND Teegarden from Saint Paul, MN

Everybody, I urge you to listen to the interview she gave KUOW on July 7, 2009. She freely admits to bias and doesn't even realize what she's admitting. She says it's perfectly OK for NPR to call it torture when the Gambian government does it, but not when the US government does it. She actually said that. And yet she claims journalists should be "neutral".

Jul. 08 2009 03:14 PM
ND Teegarden from Saint Paul, MN

Reading Alicia Shepard's post, I get the impression that she thinks she is promoting an acceptable form of journalism. This greatly saddens me. Until recently I had assumed that most reporters at NPR and other outlets knew they were doing public relations and not journalism, but felt like they had to do what they were told in order to earn a living. Now I'm afraid that many of them actually think that what they're doing is real reporting.

Jul. 07 2009 05:36 PM
Chuck Freeman from Austin, Tx.


Thanks for having the guts as a fellow NPR guy to challenge the weak kneed and sickening logic of NPR national and their so called Ombudsman Alicia Shepherd.

I am a Unitarian Universalist Minister. I wrote my blog about this matter last week. Here is a quote and the link.


Chuck Freeman

"It gives me no pleasure to say this but what I have privately railed about for years is dreadfully clear now. NPR has ceded its moral integrity and sacred journalistic trust to hold the powerful accountable."

Jul. 06 2009 03:33 PM
Brett Greisen from Astoria NY

1) Shouldn't guidance at this level at least discourage the client from playing WJC's "depends on the what the definition of is is” games? Changing the definition of torture is doing the same thing. To suggest that changing the definition of a crime does not change a law concerning that crime is not logical.

2) Nothing in my post suggested that I wanted a judge to give “prospective legal judgments. All of us on this post are concerned with full accountability in & of All Administrations & -> the return to the rule of law after 8 years of “double secret probation” antics by the previous administration. <- last phrase is meant to be a personal attack.

I am tired of seeing and hearing personal disagreements about provable/reportable facts, etc being characterized by 1 side ALWAYS as personal attacks. The previous Administration’s record of making vicious personal attacks + warrantless wiretapping + outing Valerie Plame, etc. make your #3 gave my best laugh of the day –


Now we can get back to the matter at hand. Honest language for honest news.

Jul. 06 2009 06:47 AM
Brett Greisen from Astoria NY

BrettG - Re: my post 146 - euphemisms fit better than pseudonyms.

Ms. Shepard seems unable to move the spotlight away from herself. In her appearances on TOTN, OTM and the KPCC show she keeps up the same cant. She seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between fact, opinion - maybe even fiction.

She's moving toward the current Howard Kurtz model - "It's ethical if my publisher does it." At this time, even the NYT Public Editor is recognizing that listeners/readers questions and criticisms can help highlight instances where a news organization's editorial process has not lived up to the standards of its reporters/presenters.

I hope you'll air any input from CJR, Harvard/Shorenstein, etc.

Keep up the great work.

Jul. 06 2009 02:55 AM
Ila Treat from Ninilchik, Alaska

Is anyone reading these responses? Is there any chance that someone at NPR will take these concerns seriously and address them on-air? Or are they just giving us a place to vent while they continue to serve their government and corporate masters.

Jul. 05 2009 06:44 PM
David Antoon from Ohio

Sadly, Ms Shepard, and NPR, are a disgrace. There reporting of "Torture" goes along with their reporting of the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land. The use of language to slant the truth have been described by many academics in the case of reporting of this issue. It is a shame that they now continue to twist language when it comes to crimes by the Bush administration which are well described by Judge Jackson in the Nuremburg trials. When NPR participates in this twisting of language in reporting these events, is there any hope for America or American ideals. They are vanishing quickly. Thank you Mr Greenwald for bringing attention to this.

Jul. 04 2009 11:37 PM
Peter Wu from Hawaii

The best way to send NPR a msg is to let them know you will longer support them with financial contributions. Ms Shepard clearly does not represent the majority of listeners of NPR. I cannot find a single comment supporting her neutrality argument. Clearly, there are voices louder than the average listener and those would be the voices of the corporate sponsors.

Kudos to the corporate sponsors who figured out, instead of trying to fight NPR, just buy it and then you can control what they say. But let's change the name and take the Public out of NPR. Unfortunately it seems NPR will do fine without the public sponsorship.

Jul. 04 2009 05:56 PM

Wow, I am truly embarrassed for Ms. Shepard after listening to that interview. She seems to admit that calling it "enhanced interrogation" is clearly taking the Bush administration's side, but then advocates avoiding torture in order to stay "neutral"???

And her suggestion is to describe the techniques? Every time? Bob is right. Torture is torture just like murder is murder. Imagine if we had to define murder ("the process whereby one human being takes the life of another") every time without passing a value judgment on the noun! This is Orwellian behavior at its worst.

This woman does not represent me as a listener and I urge NPR to find a more competent (and less arrogant) ombudsman!

Jul. 04 2009 04:54 PM
James from Arlington, Virginia

Ms. Shepard's defense is very sad and an indictment on journalism in general and NPR in particular. I am a senior U.S. government intelligence officer. It has been clear to me and many of my colleagues since 2003 that what the U.S. has been doing -- with legal "cover" -- to some people captured in the recent wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and the world-wide counter-terrorism war) is torture plain and simple. As an insider, I believe one of the reasons that this has been going on so long is that the mass media have chosen to use partisan euphemisms to describe plain illegal acts. In addition to previous comments here, I would wager that part of the problem is that these highly educated "journalists" are so fearful of offending the organizations and people they rely on for access and for nice dinner parties in Washington that they fear speaking truth to power. Glenn Greenwald aside, where are the modern heirs of H.L. Mencken, Ben Franklin, and Sam Adams? Not in the MSM, for sure.

Jul. 04 2009 01:33 PM
Chris D

There is indeed a debate about whether or not abortion is murder. There is no "debate" about whether or not waterboarding is torture. Shepard's analogy fails.

Given the overwhelming negative reaction of listeners to Shepard's equivocations about calling torture by its rightful name, she clearly doesn't act as listeners' representative.

Jul. 04 2009 01:53 AM
Peter Wu from Hawaii

It's obvious that Ms Shepard has been coopted by the establisment. Making the argument that the Bush Administration felt justified in using TORTURE to protect America is the "ends justify the means" argument.

There should be no debate because our legal system has already put soldiers to death or in jail for using waterboarding techniques to torture prisoners. As a responsible journalist, she should know that.

My only question now is "what did she sell out for?" I hope she harged a lot for her integrity, because you can only sell it once.

Jul. 03 2009 04:04 PM
Gary Seibert, S.J. from Saint Louis, Missouri

Two pieces of advice to Alicia Shepard:
1) Read Luke Mitchell's "We Still Torture" in the recent Harpers. Clearly the woman forgot how to be a reporter among reporters. It was fine until she was asked what SHE thought! She is your "watch dog"?
2) Arrange to be force-fed, waterboarded, sleep-deprived. I will join the group and, pen and pad in hand(s), ask her the following question: "Is this torture?"
If she answers "yes," I will stop.
If she answers no--and can say aloud and fast three times, "No, it enhanced interrogation,"
I will not that on my pad. Lean her back, and ask more questions.
Advice for NPR: fire her.

Jul. 03 2009 10:17 AM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

You too have obviously not read the memos either. The memos specifically describe the obligations of CIA officers under the Geneva Convention and US Sec 18.
1. The OLC did not change settled law in these memos and assertions to the contrary only highlight further your lack of knowledge about what is contained within the memo and of what the OLC does.

2. The OLC provides legal guidance. Judges in the United States do not provide prospective legal judgments only retrospective. The OLC provides analysis of what the cannon of retrospective judgments means for the tough decisions that government officials have to make in the present.

3. It is so heartening that so many people are so willing to engage in personal attacks. From this comment section it seems that the only thing that President Obama's election has changed was the viciousness of personal attacks on members of the previous administration. Good Luck with That.

Jul. 03 2009 08:52 AM
Hoyt Kuku from Ashamed in America

Shame on you. Tell it like it is and perhaps you'll become relevant again.

What would Edward R. Murrow say?

Jul. 03 2009 01:48 AM
Brett Greisen from Astoria NY

To Matt W. above:

Those OLC memos do not make any change to the treaties (Geneva Conventions or US Sec 18). OLC issues opnions which have no effect. The OLC is not in charge of changing settled US law (dating at least back to 1898) or international law. They simply don't have the power. Those memos are called opinions. They have no judicial force.

Also, the current AG has already released material that calls into question whether the memo writers have failed their oaths as officers to the courts in which they practice & hold legal licenses. In the US, tradition & law is that not even the President can decide law. He is NOT a judge & neither are the members of the OLC or other Justice employees that do not hold Justice, Judge, Magistrate or ALJ positions.

Despite the timing of her reply, Ms. Sharp does not respond to the information contained in the comments, but also ignores the daily news for which she is "ombudsman."

Jul. 03 2009 12:23 AM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

I would wager that less than 2% of the previous comments bemoaning NPR's choice of language actually read the OLC memos describing exactly where the line between torture and enhanced interrogation legally sits. It amounts to taking a standard english dictionary to a legal fight...

Jul. 02 2009 08:11 PM
evin from Washington

I am beginning to think the "P" in NPR stands for propaganda. The cowardice Ms. Shepard displayed as she confronted this issue is a disgrace to the duties her title requires of her. She should resign immediately; but I won't hold my breath.

Jul. 02 2009 06:53 PM
Geoffrey Froner from Framingham, ma 01702

re: Jack post 212. "It's not torture"?? That is plain malarky and simple-minded. Your denial is in itself tortuous.

Jul. 02 2009 06:10 PM
Jack from Chicago

It's not torture. Plain and simple.

Jul. 02 2009 06:01 PM
Geoffrey Froner from Framingham, ma 01702

The long list of comments that rebuke Ms. Shepard for using vacuous euphemisms and defending her use of them while she is supposed to be an ombudsman, indicate that listeners prefer that she should or be. I agree.


Jul. 02 2009 06:01 PM
Brian Sims from Hayward, CA

@ Al Walker:
>>>What did you call it when the terrorist's cut the heads of americans while they were alive? Was that torture or do you call it A CULTURAL CELEBRATION in your sick demented world?

I called it "beheading." WTF? The enemy commits a heinous atrocity and suddenly you're too scared to admit that we torture people? You need to come up out of that survival shelter a little more often.

>>>You anti american kool aid drinking left wing robots have no idea what to do other than critisize the man who keptr us safe and took the fight back to the killers.

Who are you talking about? Can't be Bush. Bush let 9/11 happen and then invaded the wrong country. Meanwhile Osama got away at Tora Bora while Bush dithered. What a colossal moron.

Jul. 02 2009 05:44 PM
Brian Sims from Hayward, CA

If Ms. Shephard and NPR don't want to use the term "torture" to describe the approved "harsh interrogation techniques" because it "torture" is so loaded, then it is incumbent on them to use plain language to describe exactly what acts were approved:

"Beatings" (approved Bush admin. euphemism: "walling")
"Sexual assault" (approved Bush admin. euphemisms: "forced nudity," "exploiting cultural sensitivities" and the always reliable "body cavity search" (with batons))
"Crucifixion" or "shackling to the ceiling" ("stress positions" (several deaths attributed to these, BTW)
"The Coffin" ("confinement in a small space with insects")
"Waterboarding" (hey! We can say this one!)

It defies common sense to assert that the above approved "techniques" were not torture. Each and every one of them is a well-known torture technique and has been since time immemorial. But if you must pretend we can't call the them all "torture," for short, then at least use plain language to describe the actual, individual acts.

Jul. 02 2009 05:35 PM
not against torture

I'm not sure if I'm against torture, but I'm against hypocrisy. I'm sick of people spinning. It distorts reality. Call it what it is.

Also, I know the type of reporting that "just reports," you basically film the situation, and play it without commentary (somebody said CSPAN already). Perhaps whenever the news talk about water boarding , they should show clips of actual water-boarding it in the upper corner.

also, I was listening to Forum on KQED. They mentioned it's their goal not to "just report" , but to investigate "why?" and "how?" . it's the deep coverage that attracts listeners like myself

Jul. 02 2009 05:21 PM
ken jacobsen from tempe, az, usa

Shepard is either hypocritical or a fool to think that if American soldiers were being waterboarded by Sadam Hussein she wouldn't immediately call it "torture" without even a second thought.

In either case, Shepard's stance is inexcusable and she should be fired immediately. NPR is wallowing in the same moral pigsty as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh until it fires her as an example to future ombudsmen, and to redeem its already tarnished reputation.

Or maybe NPR just doesn't care.

Jul. 02 2009 04:31 PM
Rex Bohn

I understand the inflammatory nature of the word torture. What I think is being overlooked is the word "simulated", as in the use of "simulated drowning" as a description of the interrogation technique. My dictionary has this definition of simulate: to have the appearance or form of, without the reality; counterfeit; imitate. This suggests to me that if you just tell yourself that "it's only a movie" that you might actually enjoy this ride and see it as a thrill. I think that it would be more correct to refer to this technique as one who's purpose is to elicit a "reflexive drowning response" from the subject. The point is that your body does not know that it is controlled drowning. It is the reflexive physical response that is torturous. "Simulated" is the wrong word. Would you refer to the technique where electrodes are attached to someone's toes and them a car battery as simulated electric chair execution?

Jul. 02 2009 04:30 PM
Al Gomas from here

Once again the mask slips to reveal the hidden hand at work. National PENTAGON Radio says it all.
I used to be a regular financial contributor until it became obvious they are just as controlled as the rest of the media.

Jul. 02 2009 02:24 PM
timtheviking2 from Washington, DC

I wish Bob had had more time to question Ms. Shepard. Her defense of NPR's policy, as well as her strange personal views on the subject, are so poorly constructed that I doubt they could withstand significant follow-up questioning. Perhaps that is precisely why Ms. Shepard refuses to speak with Glenn Greenwald at Salon.

The Constitution grants the President many powers, but one it does not grant him is the power to change the meanings of words. Unfortunately, NPR and the nation's other major news organizations are all too happy to cede that power to the President, as well. What use is a news organization that cannot acknowledge a simple truth that its listeners and readers already know? The fear of accusations of liberal bias is not an acceptable excuse.

Jul. 02 2009 01:44 PM
Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV

I would like to reiterate that waterboarding is neither the only, nor the most severe torture used by the U.S. Torture used by U.S. personnel included beatings (including beating to death), prolonged exposure to cold, painful forced contortions, etc.

The CIA's "Extraordinary Rendition" program kidnapped people and handed them to Syrian and Egyptian torturers for interrogation with pliers, blowtorch, and car batteries.

Furthermore, the definition of torture is not "debatable". No such debate exists. The defense of this position is a set of embarrassing OLC memoranda which redefined torture. The Bush administration refused to make these public and Bush administration officials complained when they were finally made public.

Some *dispute* the claim that prisoner treatment at Guantanamo, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan is torture. A disputed claim and a debated claim are very different things. A dispute does not require any defense. A debate requires active engagement.

We now know that when President Bush claimed "...any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture," he made that claim on two foundations. One is the legal theory that any act by the President is, by definition, legal. The other foundation is the OLC memos mentioned above.

It is easy to see that President Bush wanted us to believe that he referred to the usual definition of "torture". His statement was intended to have us believe that the U.S. treated people in its custody humanely. The truth is that the OLC had redefined "torture" in secret memoranda.

Next year, I will give no money to my NPR affiliate (MPR) and will increase my support of the ACLU, Amnesty International, and the ICRC. Torture is a very important issue to me so I will support organizations which share my values rather than those that oppose them.

Jul. 02 2009 01:06 PM
marty feeney from Iowa

The banality of evil
Would it be better to, say, describe the technique and then say some call it torture? I do not think enhanced interrogation techniques is acceptable either. That's why I come down on describing the technique and adding that some call it torture
This evasion, which Shepard repeats over and over again in each of her appearances, is simply incoherent.

NPR is not grinding its narration to a halt every time the subject comes up. They do not say "President Obama again today defended his Administration's decision to withhold memos about prisoners left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees throughout which time the prisoner is doused with cold water, prisoners bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet with cellophane wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him causing extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage or, if uninterrupted, death..."

They just say "enhanced interrogation techniques."

I almost wish I believed in Hell, in hopes that there'd be a special circle reserved for such people as Alicia Shepard.

-- Paul Daniel Ash

Jul. 02 2009 12:01 PM
Bernd Estabrook from Jacksonville, Illinois

Look at the definition of torture from the Oxford English Dictionary: "the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something." What exactly about the practice of waterboarding as "described" by NPR differs from this definition? Is there any lack of clarity here? Any lack of accuracy? Any point at which the practice of waterboarding diverges from the strict definition? If, as suggested by the definition of euphemism above, NPR is deliberately avoiding an expression that is considered to be too harsh, the question necessary arises, why is it too harsh? Who considers it too harsh? If the practitioners of waterboarding or its supporters are uncomfortable, why does NPR deliver the choose in this instance to make them feel comfortable? Which is more important: the "harshness" of the term or its factuality? In the interview with Ms. Shepard, the argument was raised by the interviewer that we do not hesitate to call "freedom fighters" terrorists when their actions are consonant with the definition of the word terrorism, no matter how harsh or blunt the term might seem to them. Ms. Shepard's response was to refuse to answer the objection and cling to her misguided position. How sad.

Jul. 02 2009 11:27 AM
Jordan R. Hill from Canada

Still waiting for NPR's answer to the torrent of criticism your Orwellian characterization of torture as "enhanced interrogation techiques" provoked among your listeners. Ms. Alice Shepherd, I guess, will do a vanishing act as her first attempt to massage the message made the position of NPR worse.

Jul. 02 2009 09:05 AM
mike from Portland, Oregon

The problem here is that Shepard has a point about torture ONLY because of another criminal act, the effort to change the laws that define whether certain acts are in fact torture.

The deep problem is that her response is giving credence to the perversion of the Justice department and the OLC by the Bush administration. Her argument is right only to the extent that she and we are blind to the illegality of the efforts to redefine waterboarding as "not torture". And because THOSE efforts have not yet been prosecuted (and no on was impeached for them), the Bush administration successfully laid the legal basis for arguing that the status of waterboarding had two legal possibilities, the Bush administration position versus every international law and treaty.

Shepard is standing on that pestilent ground when she says "maybe it is and maybe it isn't." Obama is facilitating that situation by so far refusing to prosecute people involved in rendering those decisions... although if that does happen, then presumably, eventually, it will be impossible for any fair minded reporter to fail to use the word torture when describing water boarding.

The unstated issue here is not "what is torture", but rather the status of law in the wake of Bush deprivations, Congress's failure to impeach, and Obama's failure, so far, to prosecute the fascists or undo the damage.

As long as the discussion is about the definition of waterboarding, we're sort of dealing with a secondary issue, and not the real issue of crimes against the constitution and the legal system that have undermined the possibility of making legal determinations that all can agree upon.

Jul. 02 2009 02:49 AM
Nicholas Flores from Scottsdale, Arizona

I had hoped that of all the old media, NPR would survive. Now, I no longer care. Tortured logic like this enables the sort of injustice that good journalists once fought to expose. For shame!

My automatic renewal donation is hereby canceled.

Jul. 02 2009 01:51 AM
Nathan D. Teegarden from Saint Paul, MN

Lou, it was more than three, our elected representatives ratified the treaties that call waterboarding torture, the fact that any of the victims were al Qaeda operatives is irrelevant to whether it was torture, and several US courts have ruled that waterboarding is torture under US law. Any more untruths you want to throw out there?

Jul. 01 2009 11:53 PM
lou from NYC

the egotistical "eyeful" said:

**At least 100 people died because of what the dainty Ms Shephard thinks should be called "Enhanced Interrogation."**

How could 100 people die when we only waterboarded 3 people?

**And the prisoner could have been Osama Bin Laden himself. Torture is illegal. **

Only if you believe it IS torture.

**We don't develop, write and uphold domestic and international laws in the U.S. by survey.**

No, we do so, through our elected representatives....not by what the opinions of the rest of the world.

Second, the meaning of a word is decided by the dictionary...not what political partisans want it to mean.

Most American's don't think water boarding 3 people (mostly 1) is a "torture policy". Esp when the 1 was an acknowledged Al-Queda operative.

**What a doctor does is LEGAL.
Waterboarding is TORTURE.
Huge difference between the two...*

The courts have not issued any ruling on waterboarding being illegal or torture.

You can't deny that the word is politically charged. The only people who are insisting on it's usage are politcal partisans.

Jul. 01 2009 09:52 PM
lou from NYC

**murder = lifespan reduction action**

Can we call abortion murder then? Why don't we call it what it is?

Jul. 01 2009 09:37 PM
A. Payne from ohio, usa

This "ombudsman" should resign imediatley. Unless Websters has changed the definition of ombudsman. Its obvious by the responses to the column and the interview that Ms. Shepard dosnt represent the listeners or readers . She obviously represents the management at NPR who set the policy of aiding and abetting torturers. Her basic reasoning was that NPR shouldnt use defining terms for what was done while completely ignoring the fact that that is what NPR has been doing for years, and is what started the controversy. Orwell would be proud of her, and so would big brother!

Jul. 01 2009 09:37 PM
Brett Greisen from Astoria NY

With the announcement of AG Holder on OLC "opinions," I hope you will continue to follow this story as Ms. Shepard's reply failed to actually address the credibility issues raised by her commenters & Bob G.

Eagerly awaiting Round 2.

Jul. 01 2009 06:43 PM

Hey NPR, it isnt a "fact" that waterboarding was only 20-40 seconds, it is a "claim" coming from non-credible villains.

Jul. 01 2009 06:25 PM
Kendall Watson from Seattle, WA

Agree wholeheartedly w/ sentiments of many commenters here, most specifically with Jim Burrows (98). The United States Military has ALREADY tried and convicted officers, even OUR OWN MILITARY OFFICERS, of acts of torture. Some of those found guilty were even executed for their crimes. What a tremendous shame for NPR and a real missed opportunity.

Jul. 01 2009 05:57 PM
Lew from Bay Area, CA

How can anyone be surprised by this?

First, "Conservative" or "Liberal" President, the neo-cons are still in power.

Second, take the gov's money, sing the gov's songs.

National Propaganda Radio is partly funded by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives $400M from the federal gov. This goes to NPR, NPR affiliate stations and the PBS and PBS stations.

So, don't expect this "ombudsman" to be ousted, she is doing exactly the job expected of her, and would fit in with Pravda and all other gov-funded propaganda organizations.

Read Glen Greenwald's blogs at Salon if you want to know how Obama's policies on civil liberties have NOT changed from Bush's policies.

Jul. 01 2009 05:57 PM
Jason Brice from Austin, TX

Shameful. Future generations wondering how we let this all happen need look no further.

Jul. 01 2009 03:36 PM
Richard Wang

Unlike most posters here, I thought that Bob G. didn't push hard enough. He repeatedly allowed Shephard to dodge his questions without following up. When he asked about using the term murder instead of a euphemism, she didn't address the question and then he moved on instead of reasking the question and pointing out that she dodged it. When she said there are two sides to the torture debate, he needed to reiterate that the only ones on the not-torture debate are the ones accused of committing torture. He didn't need to become belligerent, but he needed to focus on her obfuscations or he becomes a par of it.

Jul. 01 2009 03:21 PM
James Vos from Burlington, VT, USA

I've been following this discussion/debate closely. I read Ms Shepard's lame excuses (and she's a journalism professor, too!). I've read the comments. Today I learned from Glen Greenwald's site that Ms Shepard has refused an invitation to discuss NPR's refusal to call torture, torture. "Vermont's NPR Station" and North Country Public Radio (both of which have award-winning local programming) are always asking for money, but donations cannot be earmarked to local programming. So, next time they ask for a hand-out, I'll tell 'em, don't expect any dosh from me until they - as an affiliate - tell NPR to clean up its act.

Jul. 01 2009 02:52 PM
Michael Gee

The problem is obvious: Alicia is representing management not listeners. Senior management at NPR has been increasingly, over the past 5 to 7 years, tilting right, and this is the real story. NPR's news reporting is now much more entertainment and human interest-oriented with a profound cutback in serious investigative journalism.

There are reasons for this, of course, and they aren't just financial. NPR wants to be part of the mainstream, to be accepted by middle America, which management thinks is center-right. Calling torture "torture" when our government does it would, management thinks, offend the good folks in Des Moines. NB: senior management at NPR was installed during the height of the Bush years to directly counter the general impression that NPR was part of the liberal media.

So we have the oh-so perky, non-journalism of Melissa Block every evening. Nice, but boring. The thinking is, people want a brief look at the news on their ride to work or home, then mostly good news. Real journalists and controversial leads are not what NPR management wants, and poor Alicia needs to keep her job by supporting management. "Enhanced interrogation" is so much nicer than "torture."

This is the real story, and perhaps someone will investigate and publish it on Salon or Huffington. There are many editors at NPR who would love to be interviewed, off the record of course, about how controversial stories have been killed or weakened. If you want real journalism, you'll have to read The New Yorker -- it doesn't exist anymore at NPR.

Jul. 01 2009 02:35 PM
Harley Miller from USA

Perhaps America need to have two dictionaries for the left and one for the right. Not only do we no longer debate from the same facts, but now each side has it's own language and word definitions. Clearly the word torture is too politicized to trust Webster's Dictionary, leaving NPR required to make a choice...a test it failed.

Jul. 01 2009 02:32 PM

Ms. Sheppard is doing a great job as Ombudsman for Dick Cheney.

Jul. 01 2009 02:23 PM
Mary Jo from Maplewood, NJ

Good job Mr. Garfield. I wish you'd had more time.

Ms. Shepard, please resign. You are not serving the public nor NPR.

Jul. 01 2009 02:06 PM
Nathan Cederoth

Bob did as well as he could, but he is an NPR employee talking about internal matters with another NPR employee for public broadcast.
Even under those conditions, the supposed ombudsman's rickety reasoning couldn't hold up for 2 minutes. Words have meanings, and refusing to use them because they might be meaningful is not just cowardly, it's intentionally misleading.

Sometimes the truth has a political side. Journalism's job is not to avoid taking political sides, its to side with the truth regardless of politics. NPR has traded its journalistic credibility for the appearance of balance. In doing so they've lost track of actual objectivity.

I've listened to NPR for over 20 years and have gradually lost faith over the last 6 or so. I've seen an overall decline in rigorous and brave reportage, but with this... NPR has lost me. If this is the kind of dodgy thinking applied to their stories, I can't trust anything they say.

Jul. 01 2009 01:15 PM

It is both incomprehensible and ironic how Alicia Shephard can consider her formulations to be the result of journalistic integrity, which is in no small part established by thorough, investigatory research. It can only be assumed by Ms. Shephard's belief that a serious debate exists about what constitutes torture, that she appears not to have conducted even a cursory attempt at research outside of her inane musings.

Not only has the State Department under every administration routinely labeled the use of such "harsh/enhanced interrogation techniques" around the world as torture in their yearly country reports, but these techniques have been prosecuted as torture in the United States (and upheld by the Supreme Court) under the Torture Convention
Act, the War Crimes Act, and the U.S. military war crimes trials for Japanese soldiers who committed such techniques against U.S. soldiers in WWII. Surely this must meet Ms. Shephard's incredible standard of proof for determining whether a term in fact fits its existence.

Regardless, NPR has now poetically exhibited a disparity between the term “journalistic integrity” and its existence, so my last donation will remain my last donation.

Jul. 01 2009 01:04 PM
Charles Swanson from Green Valley, AZ

What a doctor does is LEGAL.

Waterboarding is TORTURE.

Huge difference between the two, and you are being disingenuous and almost lying.

I will NEVER contribute to NPR again, and I have already given my three NPR coffee cups to Good Will - who did not want them, so I threw them in the trash.

And we wonder how the media was "duped" in the run up to, and aftermath of the Iraqi war - this is an excellent example of that diffused thought process.


Jul. 01 2009 12:30 PM
Elizabeth Durkin from Chicago

I have not had time to read through other comments, so perhaps someone else has already made this point. But your guest seemed to miss the point which is at the heart of this. Waterboarding was pretty much universally defined as torture before the Bush Administration said it wasn't. So, to even claim that this is a "debatable" issue is buying in to their political agenda. I thought Bob Garfield did a nice job with the murder analogy, but she refused to see the parallel. Waterboarding is torture, waterboarding was never not torture, and it only became a debate because very powerful people chose to manipulate our language in order to break the law. It's the media's job to be a watchdog and prevent this kind of thing from happening, not to buy into it. How sad that neither she nor the NPR execs get this.

Jul. 01 2009 11:02 AM
James from France

Ditto what Thomas Fatone and Jim Burrows said.

Jul. 01 2009 10:50 AM
James from France

What a muppet. Only a muppet with strings attached to their arms and someone's hand up their wahoo could possibly come up with such a lame explanation for why NPR should be calling torture anything other than what it is. Mind boggling ignorance - rather, stupidity. It takes an incredibly stupid or naive person to give the actions of the Bush administration any legitimacy whatsoever. Elected under dubious circumstances, failed wars, an economy in ruins and she wants to keep the charade alive yet. Someone give this woman some oxygen. Or a ticket to the moon.

Jul. 01 2009 10:47 AM

Ms. Shepard is out of touch and despite her 30 years of journalism experience is wrong.

Jul. 01 2009 10:29 AM

Oh brother. She boasts that 30 years of journalism have taught her not to "characterize" -- er, what? -- crimes. It's perfect that the "public editor" of NPR is an Orwellian.

Jul. 01 2009 10:09 AM
Ed Lover

Ms. Sheperd is a disgrace, I was embarrassed for her after listening to her weak explanation. Mr Garfield, thanks for pressing her to defend her views. I wish you'd had more time to push the issue.

Jul. 01 2009 09:54 AM
Trudy Bond

Alicia, your 30 years in journalism has obviously not led you to be a true journalist. This issue of using the word torture is not about allowing listeners to form their own opinions, but about providing facts, which you remain too fearful to do.

You are not an "ombudsman" as your opinion prevails over the views of the listeners of NPR, or ex-listeners as it may be.

I would call for a moratorium on donations until you and NPR can face up to giving the facts.

Jul. 01 2009 09:36 AM
larry from newark, de

If npr doesn't want to 'characterize' but rather 'describe' then the waterboarding process should be referred to as 'forced drowning'. That is an exact description. And detainees who died should be presented as having been 'beaten to death', which they most definitely were. And they should also be 'described' as 'murdered', since, after all, the autopsy report states 'homicide' as cause of death. I'm sure bob garfield will find these suggestions 'obnoxious'.

Jul. 01 2009 09:11 AM
Jonathan Foster from East Hampton, NY 11937

Truly pathetic. torture is defined by every group except the bush administration, which practiced it. Frankly, if you can't be intellectually honest, you should not have this -or perhaps any- job.

Jul. 01 2009 08:49 AM
David Carr from Cape Cod

Undoubtedly Congressional Republicans have, in the past, squeezed NPR's balls and that lesson has not been forgotten by management. There are times when, to say that there are two sides to an issue is to obfuscate the obvious. Bob Garfield did an excellent job.

Jul. 01 2009 08:31 AM

Ridiculous! Shepard's argument is ridiculous. Yes - let's stop "characturizing things" as "enhaced interrogation techniques" and just describe what they really are - "torture." What tortured logic she invokes to make her case.
Shepard needs to be gone. If her rationale were applied uniformly we wouldn't even be able to listen to NPR anymore.

Jul. 01 2009 08:15 AM
Jim from Loganville GA

Alicia Shepard would do everyone a favor by hauling her sad self over to Faux News where she can continue to show her ignorance with confidence.

I used to give generously to NPR but Alicia gives reason to continue to refuse to support public radio.

Jul. 01 2009 08:12 AM
Joel Vogt from Tacoma, WA

Harsh Interrogation doesn't describe torture, nor is it as she says apolitical, she as much as says that her language supports the Bush administration policy position over the positions of the law, the Red Cross, and the Geneva Conventions. She is not supporting a position of neutrality, she's supporting a position of neutering the media.

Jul. 01 2009 07:39 AM
Andy Ruina from The Åland Islands

@ most comments above

I think most people are blaming the messenger (Alicia Shepard) for the message (NPR's policy of avoiding the word "torture"). Sure Shepard is, as Bob Garfield said
at the end of the interview, representing "NPR's view"
(and thus, implicitly, not the listeners'). But that NPR has an ombudsman taking NPR management's position is not as bad as the position itself.

I am offended when one group, in this case Chenney's
crowd, can make a word taboo. I am offended each time people accept the taboo, especially an institution I like to respect like NPR. But most of all I am most offended that NPR's survival might depend on its exercise of such traditionally good manners. The big word in the discussion above is "fear". Now the "fear" is diminishing slightly. So now, by virtue of the comments in this column and in other blogs (especially Glen Greenwald) one might hope that NPR might give.
But the deeper problem is that in order to survive NPR
seems to feel, perhaps correctly, that it cannot speak plainly until there is enough political backing for the position that the facts most support.

Jul. 01 2009 06:36 AM
edward from florida

Remind me to a) avoid Georgetown when I apply to graduate schools, b) take ethics with someone other than Ms Shepard.

Jul. 01 2009 06:08 AM
Colin from california

Great Job Alicia Shepard. Don't let the Left define a term that is highly controversial. They want to end debate before it is even debated. Where are you Al Gore? Global Warming anyone?

Jul. 01 2009 03:56 AM
Dan from Los Angeles

In using these terms, in particular the 'enhanced interrogation techniques' you are strongly playing into the rationalizations of those who excuse these acts.

Enhanced means improved. It means better. Nobody who has actual expertise in interrogation agrees with that. But it is so completely crucial to the Bush/Cheney spin that it was necessary to 'keep us safe' and 'save lives'. If the techniques are actually ineffective, as the evidence suggests, then they idea that they are actually keeping us safe is absurd.

Words have meaning. When you repeat the 'enchanced' term not only are you perpetuating a lie about the techniques somehow being better but you are laying the foundation for the torture excusers. The term 'harsh' is almost as bad, as it implies that the normal techniques are 'soft'.

Jul. 01 2009 03:34 AM
the weather

While our government has not seen fit in the past century and a half to apologize for slavery, there is no apparent reluctance to call it what it is. Without resorting to renaming it (impaired self-determination?), no one seems to be on the hook for it. NPR knows as we do that it's unlikely that any major Bush administration officials will face criminal charges (in this country) for torture.

It's funny to think that on "I Love Lucy" they were unable to use the word pregnant in reference to Lucy's state preceding the birth of Little Ricky. NPR is now in a similar state of oddly misplaced values, trying to not upset things. But it's not the 50s and there are actual important moral and legal issues (as well as the reputation of our nation) in play.

Jul. 01 2009 03:31 AM
Robin Russin from Los Angeles

It's obvious to me that NPR will not use the word torture because, in spite of the new Democratic administration and congress, they are terrified of losing their funding. It's hard, after eight years of living under the threat of being canceled, for them to realize that they can actually tell the truth.

Which is that members of the Bush administration, at the highest levels, including the former president, are guilty of the same crimes for which we executed other criminals within living memory.

Jul. 01 2009 03:10 AM
the weather

I'm all for the presumption of innocence in the media; an editorial stance that assists admitted perpetrators in denying the criminality of their acts is complicity. Pathetic.

Jul. 01 2009 03:05 AM
john cross from wasilla alaska

A disgrace is not the word for her reasoning. She needs to be fired asap, and any of her supervisors that agree with her need to go also.

Jul. 01 2009 02:44 AM
Ray from Los Angeles

What's most interesting about Ms. Shepard's interview with Bob Garfield is that she does not appear to be fulfilling the role of Ombudsman. She could have taken a much more interesting and healthy position by characterizing the argument that unfolded and the responses from listeners and explained MUCH MORE COHERENTLY AND ARTFULLY how NPR arrived at the decision. Unfortunately she came across more as a very defensive Press Rep. dodging questions about a poorly-informed jounalistic decision made by NPR. I wonder if this will have more lasting damage on Ms. Shepard that even she realizes. I believe she loses credibility as mediator with this.

Jul. 01 2009 02:30 AM
James from Oakland, CA

Despite the time and format constraints of the On the Media interview with Ms. Shepard, Mr. Garfield skillfully invited Ms. Shepard to provide her remarkably vacuous explanations for why NPR refuses to use the term "torture." In fact, at one point I had to re-listen to the interview because I thought I could not possibly have heard what I had: Mr. Garfield asked, "I put it to you that using a euphemism for torture validates a political position . . . and gives credence to the Bush administration's arguments, does it not?" Rather than challenge that notion, Ms. Shepard actually said without the slightest bit of irony that she agreed, yet continued illogically to explain why "giv[ing] credence to the Bush administration's position" supported NPR's position: "Using words like harsh interrogation tactics or enhanced interrogation tactics does validate the Bush administration's why not just describe it...and let the public decide?" If the logic of that response makes sense to anyone -- if that statement is intended to offer a rebuttal to Mr. Garfield's question -- please enlighten me. She apparently does not get it -- i.e., that when you give legitimacy to the administration's position, you are doing more than letting the "public decide"; instead, you are shaping the public discourse in favor of the government's position. Ms. Shepard as a lot of nerve to lecture her critics about what is "responsible journalism."

Jul. 01 2009 01:18 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn, NY

NPR's choices for "Ombudsman" would more appropriately be called "Defenders of the Faith" -- the faith in NPR's rightness and righteousness, which can be extended to include a blind, unquestioning, bigoted faith in the rightness and righteousness of the United States.

There is an extraordinarily simple, obvious test of whether hypocrisy, stupidity or bigotry is in play in the use of language: Reverse the roles and see what the intuition is.

If Arab nations do what the US (or Israel) does, it is called torture -- fact, verifiable with a survey of the past ten to twenty years of reporting. After the Second World War, Japanese officials were prosecuted for *exactly* the torture tactics Obama defends and abets (by refusing to treat it as a crime), and NPR papers over and thus also abets.

It is quite something to hear American journalists overflowing with wonder at democracy in the streets of Tehran at precisely the same time they are shutting down open speech in the United States.

The persistent refusal of NPR, or The New York Times, or others, to call torture torture when practiced by the United States does indeed amount to being an accessory after the fact. By hiding the truth, they aid criminals who seek to evade punishment.

Jul. 01 2009 01:03 AM
Nathan D. Teegarden from Saint Paul, MN

"I enjoyed this interview and agree that Ms. Shepard's opinion represents the average representative media view on how to deal with this issue, and therefore should not be personally attacked."

The fact that Ms. Shepard's views are widespread only tells us that we need to expand our attacks to more targets.

The attitude Ms. Shepard espouses has been spreading like a disease through mainstream American media for years. If we are angrier at NPR than we are at CBS, ABC, or CNN, it's because we still clung to some small hope that NPR's historical integrity would shield it from infection.

Jun. 30 2009 11:42 PM

Jesus Christ, Lou (aka concern troll).

At least 100 people died because of what the dainty Ms Shephard thinks should be called "Enhanced Interrogation."

And the prisoner could have been Osama Bin Laden himself. Torture is illegal.

Get a clue.

Jun. 30 2009 10:29 PM
Joshua Richardson from Portland, OR


We don't develop, write and uphold domestic and international laws in the U.S. by survey.

In addition to hypothetically electrically shocking and cutting off fingers, water torture is torture. For it, the US prosecuted those who did it to our soldiers. And some of those who have argued that water torture isn't torture have subjected themselves to it (clips are on YouTube...Hitchens is one). Their conclusion? Torture.

Waterboarding to prevent another 9-11 or not is a false argument. We would use the most effective means to get information. The CIA and FBI have and will argue that there the least effective means to getting information would be drowning someone. In fact, Bin Laden's driver was giving the FBI new information up to the point he was water tortured. Afterwards, nothing. (see Soufan's Congressional testimony).

Any person who is tortured in the name of the USA does damage to our morals and standing. Al Qaeda has used the torture of prisoners who are in our care as a recruiting tool which in turn puts American soldiers at greater risk on the battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. To win this war we must win over hearts and minds in addition to destroying those who planned 9-11. We must never stoop to the level of our enemies. As Americans, we stand tall.



Jun. 30 2009 10:17 PM
lou from NYC

Don't I remember a recent survey that said most of America did NOT consider waterboarding torture?

Unpleasant as it might be, I think most Americans consider torture to bet hings like electric shock, cutting digits, etc.

And I am guessing most Americans think that waterboarding is acceptable to get information we need to prevent another 9-11.

Also, as a side note..isn't it true that there have only been 3 or four (or some small number) of people waterboarded? And most of the waterboarding was done to ONE person of whom there is no doubt is an Al Queda operative?

Jun. 30 2009 09:14 PM
Ila Treat from Ninilchik, Alaska

Count me with others here who have just sworn off donating to NPR, and I have donated for many years, though more and more reluctantly in recent years. This is the final straw. Ms. Shepard's defense of NPR's usage of "enhanced interrogation techniques" for what is plainly torture is incoherent and lame. As others here have pointed out, choosing the perpetrator's language in this so-called debate (when in fact there is no debate! These "techniques" have been clearly defined as torture from time immemorial) in the name of not taking sides is so absurd it makes my head hurt. So, I'm sorry, KDLL. Until NPR grows a spine and rediscovers its journalistic integrity, you'll receive no more support from this listener.

Jun. 30 2009 08:55 PM
Mark Brooker from Chicago

You are presenting a false choice. The choice is not between naming and describing; it is between naming accurately and inaccurately. Have any of your critics actually argued that these techniques shouldn't be described? You *are* naming it-with Orwellian euphemisms. In moral matters, the test for neutrality is whether you apply the same standards to yourself as you apply to others. If it's torture when done to us, it is also torture when we do it to others. Parroting whatever the Bush administration says is not the same as "neutrality."

Jun. 30 2009 08:47 PM
Joshua Richardson from Portland, OR

I wrote directly to Ms. Shepard earlier today to express my disappointment in her and NPR's position to not use the word, "torture". While playing her interview over in my head, I'm surprised how frustrated and angry I've become. NPR should devote hours of its airtime discussing not only how it is avoiding the term, "torture", but also how it perceives itself as a news reporting organization in the future. The idea of that a news organization is supposed to be an "objective" source of information that leaves interpretation open to readers/listeners is a preposterous supposition. It is that acquiescent view that for far too long has let politicians (Republican AND Democrat) use the media to spin their messages. The role of news organizations should be, and must be, TO TELL THE TRUTH. TRUTH is what listeners and readers yearn for, not "objective" reports that are nothing more than platforms for pols to issue their talking points. Shame on NPR for falling into this philosophical trap which has already destroyed the credibility of the WaPo, NYTimes, MTP, etc. If this issue isn't addressed and actions taken, I feel I might have to sever my ties with NPR. I feel that strongly about this. Water boarding was torture before 9-11 and is torture after 9-11. To say otherwise is to take a radical political position that does nothing but obfuscate the truth. NPR has always been an organization that spoke truth to power. Don't stop now by hiding behind words. Give us the truth.

Jun. 30 2009 08:27 PM
Schvenzlerman from U.S.

Ms. Shepard can now put "torture-denier" on her resume.

Jun. 30 2009 08:10 PM
Bill from Ringoes, NJ

The various NPR euphemisms are tranparently cowardly propaganda.

The "Ombudsman's" defense of those practices is sickening.

Shame on NPR and Ms. Shepard (and I've got over 45 years in listening to NPR and reading journalism).

(ps - I strongly disliked tour original post, but listening to Ms. Shepard made me even angrier - and there is no conflict in this case between emotion and reason)

Jun. 30 2009 08:08 PM
Brett Greisen from Astoria NY

BrettG - I hope that you will continue to cover Ms. Shepard, the NPR ombudsman. I have re-read her follow-up 2x to find any comprehension of listeners' complaints. Unfortunately, I think she needs continued close questioning. She gives equal weight to ALL definitions of "torture." She gives equal factual & legal stature to multiple Geneva Conventions, other treaties & US law with the highly questionable opinions of the GWB DOJ - OLC. That is bull****. She thinks that word definitions & pseudonyms are just conflicting opinions instead of matters of found legal facts & past legal precedents & findings of fact.

If I haven't made this simple enough, I hope for corrective editing by either BG on the show.

Jun. 30 2009 08:02 PM
John Tkach from maryland

I thought it was a fair interview.

I don't feel that Ms. Shepard did a very good job of defending her position and I find it difficult to believe that Garfield thinks she is in an untenable position.

The MSM is controlled by the neocons, the corporations and the establishment elite. They don't like anything that diminishes their position so they use the media to sway public opinion.

That is why, as one commenter stated, the MSM used the words "Freedom Fighters" during the Reagan years. No one questioned the use of those words. But these "Freedom Fighters" were terrorists in the full meaning of the word and did exactly what they were told by the CIA. Which was slaughter innocent people.

Jun. 30 2009 06:56 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

Thanks for correcting the erroneous picture first published along side this segment. Now if we can just get the Jonah Goldberg attribution correct...

Jun. 30 2009 06:33 PM
Francois from Philadelphia, PA

@ Bob Garfield,
"The position she articulated is one shared by most news organizations, all of which fear the consequences of using "loaded" language."

Excuse me Bob, but the above statement is a pure, steaming pile of enzyme-free bovine digestive remains that some would be so indelicate has to use the "loaded" term "bullsh*t".

If news organizations consider the word "torture" "loaded", when Treaties and Laws use it without salamaleks, pray tell us WHO qualifies the word "torture", "loaded"? NPR? Reuters? AP? Agence France-Presse? Some of them? ALL of them?

Or could it somebody else entirely? Like, say, those who perpetrated the acts to begin with along with their apologists? In this case, why would news organizations go along with this charade?

While we're at it, would you be so kind to elaborate about these "consequences" you alluded to? Does someone get to be called names? Is the access to the building lavatories curtailed? Has anyone suffered a demotion or got fired for that?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Jun. 30 2009 06:14 PM
Mike Frassetto

I doubt that Alicia Shepard sets policy. It is, apparently, her job to defend it. Can we please find out who the responsible parties are and demand their dismissal. No since pulling out a weed if we're just going to leave the root behind.

Jun. 30 2009 06:07 PM
Matthew Watkins from Brooklyn, New York

A cowardly embarrassment; to journalism, and NPR. Of course, that said, I now feel like I really don't know what NPR IS anymore. Like many other posters, I will not give another dime to NPR until it takes some clear steps to restore its credibility.

Jun. 30 2009 05:18 PM
Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV

I would like to thank Bob Garfield for putting Ms. Shephard's feet to the fire on this.

Shame on NPR for holding this policy.

Shame on Ms. Shepard for acting as a mouthpiece instead of ombudsman.

I have support public radio and I believe it has been a worthwhile service in the past.

While public radio has never had a Liberal or Progressive editorial stance it had given a useful perspective -- nonpartisan and separate from corporate interests.

That no longer seems to be the case. It appears that criticism from the far right (always under the banner of 'fairness') has robbed public radio of perspective and neutrality. Witness the On The Media coverage of Lamar Smith's "Congressional Media Fairness Caucus" -- a transparent attempt to punish all media coverage that is less than 100% supportive of right-wing interests.

Media bias exists, no doubt, but it serves power, money, and ratings -- not political ideology.

Jun. 30 2009 05:12 PM
trina stehlik from Connecticut

Add my voice to the 360-plus comments re: non-use of the "T" word. Call it what it is, Aliicia and NPR.......

Jun. 30 2009 04:58 PM
Rune from Norway

While most people think that killing doctors who perform abortions is wrong, there are some Americans who disagree. I take it that NPR's ombudswoman will make sure that loaded words like "murder" and "terrorism" are not used about the killing of abortionists in the future, so that the reporters of NPR can't be suspected of choosing sides in this debate?

Jun. 30 2009 04:50 PM
Steve Horwitz from Moraga, CA

Ms. Shepherd portrays NPR's preference for using such euphemisms as "enhanced interrogation techniques" rather than torture as the news department's attempt to remain neutral. Personally she believes waterboarding--which is only one form of the methods employed by US interrogators--is torture but her personal view, she assserts, should not color NPR's coverage. Can I suggest that if NPR wishes to remain netural it just plug in the following whenver it needs to reference what US interrogators did in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantamo and god knows where else: "acts of what courts in the United States and elsewhere have judged to be torture and which the previous administration referred to as "ehanced interrogation techniques." This would present both sides of the "debate" without NPR having to stain its journalistic integrity but which some might consider cowardice (see how easy it is to present both sides of the coin and let the listener decide?).

Jun. 30 2009 04:50 PM
Jeff from New York, NY

"I totally understand, though, that a news organization needs to be as neutral as possible..."

Until Bush administration figures started protesting the definition of torture because they were worried about being prosecuted, it *was* neutral to refer to torture as torture. Ms. Shepard and the NPR management have swallowed this argument hook, line and sinker. There is about as much "debate" about the definition of torture as there is "debate" among scientists -- the people who are informed enough to know whereof they speak -- about evolution.

Jun. 30 2009 04:43 PM
Karen Twyman from Michigan

Bob Garfield you are a treasure! ... it was so refreshing to here your clear sighted questions and come back as Ms Shepard attempted to justify her wretched column. I applaud you. In the current culture at NPR I imagine this type of journalism takes courage.

Jun. 30 2009 04:35 PM
Auntie Tyranny

Notice how Ms. Shepard brings in the abortion issue saying pro-life listeners "write me all the time" asking NPR to equate abortion doctors with terrorists. Non-sequiter deluxe.

What a bunch of propaganda. Oh wait I forgot, this is "National Public Radio". Faithful arm of the fascist state, faithfully *not* reporting what matters most while simulatneously putting appropriate government spin on what does pass through its filters.

Good work Mrs. Shepard! Hope your loyalty is remembered when the regime turns nasty.

Jun. 30 2009 04:26 PM
Christopher Bingham from Snohomish, WA

I stopped sending my money to KUOW when it became obvious that NPR swung to the right on it's over all political coverage.

"Waterboarding" has a centuries long tradition of being defined as "torture" - there is nothing inaccurate or ambiguous about using the word "torture" to describe what has for centuries been called "the water torture."

Can you imagine the outcry from the politicians if we DARED to say John McCain was "harshly interrogated" as a POW in Vietnam?

Clearly Ms Shepard is building her resume for a job with NRC. If she had any ethics, she'd resign.

Jun. 30 2009 03:44 PM

Very simply: Waterboarding is torture. Our own attorney general has declared it so. Call it what it is, NPR.

Every time I hear NPR using terms like "enhanced interrogation techniques," it makes me bristle; it seems not like reporting facts, but more like offering an opinion.

Jun. 30 2009 03:13 PM
Alex Plumb from Alameda, CA

As long as NPR is fiscally dependent on corporate sponsors who stand to gain or loose substantially from the outcome of the Iraqi Oil agreements, NPR will continue to make every effort to stay on these sponsor's good side, even if it results in horrible journalism and laughable excuses for it. This policy is not Orwellian, as some have suggested, but clearly Oilwellian.

Jun. 30 2009 03:08 PM
Gary from San Francisco

Here's Glenn Greenwald's response to Ms. Shephard's refusal of an interview. What a shame NPR lacks the courage to call spades spades. Perhaps she should look for a gig at the National Review, for, like her, they're masters of Orwellianian-speak.


TUESDAY JUNE 30, 2009 06:31 EDT
NPR Ombudsman refuses interview regarding "torture"
NPR's Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, wrote a column last week justifying NPR's policy of using euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogation tactics" -- while barring the use of the word "torture" -- to describe the interrogation tactics used by the Bush administration. I wrote a critique of that column which was widely cited, and the comment section to her column was filled with hundreds of angry criticisms -- many times the number of comments her column typically attracts (usually in the range of 10-20). As a result of all that, last week I extended an invitation to Shepard to discuss her column with me on Salon Radio, and was told by an NPR representative that she would respond to the invitation by Monday.
Yesterday, we received Shepard's response: no. According to the Salon intern who tenaciously pursued Shepard all week and spoke with her yesterday:
I just got off the phone with Alicia Shepard. She declined to have an interview, or to go on Salon Radio. To quote, she thought "misleading things" were written about her on Salon, and said "I don't want to get into a shouting match." As for what the "misleading" statements were, she didn't clarify.
I've conducted close to 100 interviews since we launched Salon Radio in July of last year -- including numerous interviews with people expressing views I criticized rather harshly (one of whom was NPR's Tom Gjelten) -- and not a single one could be characterized as a "shouting match."

Jun. 30 2009 03:07 PM
Jon Allred from Seattle, WA

No, using the word torture is very important. In fact, the word torture is critical to the debate surrounding whether Americans should be torturing their captives. In fact, the word is so critical that there are people who are actively trying to purge it from the debate, and what is most startling is their effort is actually working. Here in the US, where free speech is written into the foundation of our laws, one group of citizens has been effective in banning the word torture from a debate on torture.

And Sheppard, whether she realizes it or not (I won't pretend to know which), is a part of this cleansing of the debate. She talks of staying objective and putting a story in perspective, but what she, NPR, and the rest of the "mainstream" new media are promoting is the exact opposite. America has objectively tortured its captives, and the context of what America has done is torture. Our nation cannot have an honest public discussion when the subject of the discussion cannot be named. Otherwise all we have is an Orwellian muddle of newspeak that reveals nothing and from which nothing can come. And that insidious doubletalk is much worse then an outright ban on public discourse over the subject.

Jun. 30 2009 03:02 PM
Billy Bob Tweed from Buffalo, NY

New English for NPR 101 -- (memo)

Old Noun: "Ombudsman."

New Euphemisms: "Government Stooge," "Criminal Apologist," "Whistle Swallower."

Jun. 30 2009 02:51 PM
WhenPigsFly from USA

Oops! I failed to thank Bob Garfield for a job well done. I hope he has a long-term, iron-clad contract.

Jun. 30 2009 02:21 PM
WhenPigsFly from USA

While I agree with the other reviewers who think Ms. Shepard is a poor excuse for an ombudsman, I place the blame for the "tortured logic" on NPR's leadership and a mission statement which appears to have moved to the right over the last few years.

Jun. 30 2009 02:18 PM
Don German from New York City

After listening to the Garfield/Shepard interview where defending euphemisms in news reporting is debated, I
can only conclude that NPR has joined CBS, NBC, ABC,
Fox, etc. in their placebo news "product".
Bob Garfield's excellent questions were so confidently
ignored throughout this brief, brief interview that I can't
see the value of posting it. This woman is so full of shit
you can smell it from here. She actually receives a paycheck?

Jun. 30 2009 02:08 PM
Douglas Moran from Austin, TX

I'm sorry, but it is becoming very clear that NPR's avoidance of the word "torture" is simple cowardice. For centuries, physical abuse ("walling," "stress positions," enforced hypothermia), psychological abuse (prolonged sleeplessness), and water boarding have been considered--with no debates, questioning, or discussion--torture, pure and simple. It wasn't until *we* started doing it did any questions arise, and those "questions" only came from Cheney, Addington, and their apologists.

At the risk of sounding crude: grow a pair, NPR. I honestly doubt that Ms. Shepard believes the weak rationalizations she has been forced to disseminate; she's simply stuck with an NPR editorial policy. So NPR: I don't know who or what you're afraid of, but let me pedantically reapeat: grow a pair.

Jun. 30 2009 01:57 PM
Edward from California

The "tortured" logic of Alicia Shepard needs to be addressed by NPR. It would be best if she just resigned. She has zero credibility, and therefore, is useless as an ombudsman. Her self-serving statement that she has almost 30 years in journalism just adds to the emptiness of her reply.

Jun. 30 2009 01:14 PM
kent kanoy from north carolina

terrorism : enhanced political expression

Jun. 30 2009 01:14 PM
Nadav Tanners from Boston, MA

These excerpts really say it all:

"BOB GARFIELD: The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights says that waterboarding is torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross have called what the U.S. did “torture.” Waterboarding is unambiguously in violation of the International Convention on Torture, which has been ratified by 140-some countries.

It seems to me that the only people who think it’s a debate are the Bush Administration, who are the culprits. So how does that constitute a debate?


BOB GARFIELD: In other respects, NPR hasn't taken a position against, you know, nouns. Why this one, in particular?

ALICIA SHEPARD: I think because it is a hotly debated topic."

So, according to Shepard, it doesn't matter at all that the debate is between international human rights organizations on one side and the actual perpetrators of torture on the other. According to her perspective, as long as there is a debate, it doesn't matter that one side has self-serving motives and poorly-reasoned arguments. All journalists have to do is describe what happened, present both sides of the "debate," and let the public decide. It's clear that this journalistic "standard" is really nothing more than cowardice.

Jun. 30 2009 01:08 PM
Peter Bokulich from Boston

To Bob Garfield: Thanks for standing up (quite brilliantly) to this Orwellian Newspeak.

A comment on the following exchange:

Garfield: "In other respects [e.g., "acts of terror"], NPR hasn't taken a position against, you know, nouns. Why this one in particular."

Shepard: "I think because it is a hotly debated topic."

It is *not* a hotly debated topic; Garfield made this point quite clearly. The Bush administration and its supporters have *manufactured* the semblance of a debate to try to escape the legal and moral force of the word torture.

NPR is allowing itself to be manipulated, and is helping in turn to dupe its listeners.

Use some critical thinking, and stand up for honesty.

Jun. 30 2009 12:50 PM
Greg from Mission Viejo, Ca

I too think that Mr. Garfield did an excellent job in this interview, exposing the unbelievably flawed reasoning of Ms. Shepard. She actually does deserve this harsh backlash she is taking on the web site. True, much of the MSM is guilty of the same thing, but she is another enabler and as such deserves to hear how her rationalizations and nonsense are contributing to the decline of our nation and it's moral standing in the world.

Jun. 30 2009 12:49 PM

Regarding eyefull's comment about pledge week: since it is clear that the P in NPR now means Propaganda, not Public, perhaps the institution should be funded directly by the White House instead of audience fundraising.

Jun. 30 2009 12:46 PM
jeff pritchard

Stunning, shocking and repulsive all in one. I for one don't understand why NPR doesn't release Ms. Shepard from her contract. Two objectives would be simultaneously achieved: Ms. Shepard would be free to pursue a career in politics, and NPR would regain some measure of its objectivity and credibility.

Jun. 30 2009 12:34 PM
Moon Mantooth from California

Ms. Shepard's commented that the use of the word "torture" in the context of America's use of water boarding was improper because "torture is illegal." By calling water boarding torture, would be saying that America engaged in illegal acts.

As a self-described journalist with 30 years of experience, Ms. Shepard should already know that presentation of facts must include all relevant information, such as the history of international declaration of water boarding as torture, the prosecution of individuals and governments for the use of water boarding, relevants facts that needed to be presented in her report. It is obvious that Ms. Shepard violates her own standard as an impartial journalist by choosing the term "enhanced interrogation techniques" over torture.

She further commented that it would be improper to call abortionists "terrorists" yet her use of the term abortionist is already using a loaded word. The proper term for a doctor who performs abortions is "gynecologist". There is no medical specialty called abortionist. The term abortionist was first used to describe the person who performed abortions in violation of the law. These persons may or may not have been licensed doctors but they were performing an illegal medical procedure. Apparently it is okay for Ms. Shepard to use a loaded term if it conforms to her own personal biases or that of the management of NPR.

Jun. 30 2009 12:33 PM
pmorlan from Louisville, KY

My sympathies to all of the NPR employees who vehemently disagree with the NPR "torture" policy. Is NPR unionized? If not, maybe it should be.

Jun. 30 2009 12:22 PM
Grumpy Demo from Dallas Texas

"To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful." -Edward R. Murrow

"the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate. People have different definitions of torture and different feelings about what constitutes torture. NPR's job is to give listeners all perspectives, and present the news as detailed as possible and put it in context." -Alicia C. Shepard NPR Ombudsman, Journalism Professor

Ms. Shepard is also a journalism professor too. God help us all.

Jun. 30 2009 12:22 PM

As to the prior comments regarding NPR's credibility, perhaps this is a fitting epitaph for NPR as a whole (in Alicia Shepard's own words):

"All news organizations have is their credibility. Squander it at your own peril." - Alicia Shepard, Blog, June 8, 2009

Famous last words, maybe?

Jun. 30 2009 11:58 AM

One last point.

If NPR had actually spent the right kinds of time doing a good job on really getting the facts out to the public (and I know you've done a little - but look at the comment on "torture lite" and 3 waterboardings and see how it comports with reality), it wouldn't matter that it doesn't use the word "torture" The failure is not that just the language has been whitewashed, but that the facts were whitewashed. And are still being whitewashed. How much coverage was given to the details of the recent Leon Habeas opinion, where he describes how we took an al-Qaeda torture victim (oh, no, wait, let's say someone al-Qaeda treated "not nicely" ok?) and shipped him to GITMO for our own "not nicely" treatment for years and then argued to the court that after all, being tortured for months by al-Qaeda and then imprisoned for over a year by the Taliban was "association" with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and should justify our continued detention of the man.

Unfreakingbelievable, whether you ever mention the word torture or not, and yet somehow NPR hasn't seared that story into anyone's consciousness.

Jun. 30 2009 11:56 AM
Ian Finlay from New Jersey

"it's not the role of the media to take on characterizing things" - when did that happen?

Surely it's precisely the role of the media to identify when somebody is hiding behind a euphemism? I wonder how would Watergate have been reported on NPR using Ms. Shepard's model?

The media in the US has a huge responsibility which it has largely abdicated and this is why newspapers are struggling, will Radio and TV follow in their downward spiral?

I now get most of my news from European sources where the tradition of adverserial, investigative journalism still flourishes. Very disappointed in NPR, bith for their stance and their response to criticism on this issue.

Jun. 30 2009 11:56 AM

cont - bc if you have to actually describe why the word torture should be used, it takes more space to do it
d) not 3 waterboardings, but drowning and reviving someone over and over, not once, not twice, dozens and dozens and dozens. Take a moment - actually, it will take several, and count to 1, imagine being drowned, revived, count to 2, imagin being drowned, revived, count to 3 ...

e) we had a Iraqi General (now substitue Petraeus or Odierno and see what language you use) and kidnapped his sons, then when he turned himself in to be able to see his sons, we started the beatings and suffocations and torture - handing him off to local terrorists (but "our" terrorists) for evenings and using the military for daytime torture, while we threatened to murder his children and then repeatedly suffocated him in a sleeping bag until we killed him and he died thinking his youngest detained son was being killed as well - and you think "harsh" is the right adjective?

I could go on and on, but not because of the information NPR has provided, with the exception of Frontline. I actually am not nearly as upset over the choice of using the word "torture" or not as I am over NPR allowing the debate over torture to be uncritically cast as a debate of "left" v. "right" and to fail to inform about what has taken place. Where is the NPR investigative special on KSM's children? We know that the WH was advised, in writing, in August of 2002 that a minimum of 1/3 of those it held in GITMO were innocent, not only innocent of being al-Qaeda (which was the supposed grounds for sending them there) but also innocent of being Taliban members (oh wait - yeah, the guy who was impressed to cook for them, we got him) and more than that, were even innocent of being any kind of mujahadeen, even "our" mujahadeen of the northern alliance. Where is the NPR piece on that?

Jun. 30 2009 11:54 AM
Jane Huey from Austin, Texas

Alicia Shepard is, I suspect, a political appointee who is obediently following the orders of her Republican overlords. This is what they do. The question is, why hasn't she been replaced?

Jun. 30 2009 11:54 AM

I can't believe the approach that using the word torture to describe torture is somehow a "left" or "right" or "political" type determination.

First off, in how many instances where the world authority on torture, the ICRC, has declared that people were tortured has NPR instead leaped in to say "nonononono we can't use *that* word, how about if we say they were treated "not nicely" and sometimes were "not nicely-ed to death?"

Absolute crock.

And someone above tries to claim that 3 waterboardings are not the same as real torture - which shows just what a disastrous job NPR has done at actually describing - without the use of the word torture - what has been going on.

Let's see we had -
a)military policies to take family members hostage;

b)intel community policies to take family members hostage and KSM's children have never been accounted for after taken hostage by the US and despite Suskind writing about how they were used in KSM's torture;

c)live burial of Zubaydah and al-Libi and likely others and al-Libi's gave us lies that were a contributing factor in how many deaths? how many maimings? how many refugees?

Jun. 30 2009 11:53 AM
pmorlan from Louisville, KY

Ms. Shepherd this is undoubtedly the worst wishy washy BS that I've ever heard. You should be ashamed of yourself. This policy isn't good, solid journalism it's a cop out.

I agree with some of the other people posting that Mr. Garfield did a great job asking the questions. What a shame that Ms. Shepherd was just not up to the task of giving honest, believable answers.

Jun. 30 2009 11:41 AM

What a disappointment NPR has become. To adopt the euphemisms of the Administration is a total abdication of true journalistic responsibility. Shame on you, for taking the government line and for no longer being the voice of honest reporting.

I have ceased to listen, and that is sad.

Jun. 30 2009 11:41 AM
marty feeney from Iowa

Shameful, ABSOLUTELY shameful-go read Orwell's essay on language.... My wife and I have contributed thousands of dollars in 20 years to NPR.


How does someone like this get to represent NPR? Was it a state university degree? I will share this with my persuasion class and they will laugh so hard NPR might report on it.

"Language is motive!"

Jun. 30 2009 11:37 AM
Tom Castle from Dayton, Ohio

Ms Shepard, if you're still confused about why so many of NPR's listeners are agitated over this, hear me out for a second. One of the most dangerous things government can do is to distort the language and, unfortunately, government's great power means that it can and often does bastardize language in order to accumulate power. Language, of course, is the currency and the lifeblood of journalism. I - and most of NPR's listeners - would assume that if there's anything on Earth good journalists are more jealous of, it is the respectful and truthful use of language. I would expect nothing to bother you more than the Orwellian abuse of language in defense of a war crime. Yet you defend it anyway. That's what's so amazing about this. You wrap yourself in fathomless shame, but of course you do not realize it and probably never will. You should resign.

Jun. 30 2009 11:25 AM
Bryan Wright

In an earlier comment, Bob Garfield said:
"The issue at hand is whether that insistence on appearing neutral a) implicitly validates an untenable political or legal position, b) obscures truth."

No, that is not the issue. Your comment has, built in to it, the assumption that NPR's terminology is neutral. But, in no way can a term like "enhanced interrogation techniques" be construed as neutral. If NPR wanted neutratlity, it could use a descriptive term like "alleged torture", which simply states the undisputed fact that many people believe that acts of torture were committed.

In any case, "fair and balanced" reporting should not be NPR's goal. A journalist should search for the truth, which seldom lies squarely between two extreme opinions. If truth is less important than neutrality, then what's the purpose of journalism?

Jun. 30 2009 11:25 AM
Manni Wood

Torture should be called torture. It's not political to call something what it is; it *is* political not to call something what it is when that thing has become politicized.

Jun. 30 2009 11:19 AM

This was a disgrace - what are they really thinking. They have no problem calling it torture when any other country does it, but when the US does it somehow it is justified? I have never heard such a pathetic excuse - she should be removed and replaced by someone willing to do her job.

Jun. 30 2009 11:19 AM
Tom Castle from Dayton, Ohio

As vacuous and distressing as the ombudsman's comments are, I thought Bob Garfield did a superb job in this very brief interview.

Jun. 30 2009 11:18 AM
Jim Burrows from Maynard, MA

I've been meaning to comment here since I heard this while riding in the car on the weekend.

Bob Garfield is to be commended -- for doing Ms. Shepard's job and representing the listeners while she acted as a PR flack for a questionable, one is tempted to say disingenuous, NPR policy. Waterboarding has been torture for hundreds of years, right up until the wordsmiths in the Bush administration changed its name from "the water torture" ( as distinct from "Chinese water torture") or "waterboard torture" to simply "waterboarding", a form of "enhanced interrogation".

Playing games with words and semantics has become a key tactic of the Republicans over the years and acquiescing to it is taking a side.

If there is any controversy over the language, one would have thought that the ombudsman's job would have been to ask hard questions of NPR management or on-air talent, perhaps from the positions of different sets of listeners, to insure that our concerns were heard. Ms. Shepard abdicated her role for that of apologist.

I only hope that the role of ombudsman will once again be filled. Whoever takes the job should follow Bob Garfield's lead in challenging Ms. Shepard and the other spokesmen for NPR's management.

Bravo, sir. Shame on you, Ms. Shepard.

Jun. 30 2009 11:18 AM

seems NPR had no problem using the term "freedom fighters" when it was the Reagan-approved Contras who were doing the terrorizing.

Please play this interview again during pledge week. I need to be reminded why I'll never give you another cent.

Jun. 30 2009 11:04 AM
PC Howse

Ms. Shepard? Are you reading these comments? Are you beginning to "get it"?? Torture is illegal. The US Government condoned torture. Calling torture something other than what it is CONDONES it further and makes it "OK". It leads to conversations about "does it work" or "when is it OK" or "did it save lives", etc., etc. Instead, the conversation SHOULD be about "how will our government be held accountable and how do we prevent this from happening again"? I second the motion(s) made above...OTM should be discussing this from the angle of: how is NPR perpetuating the meme about the efficacy of "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Jun. 30 2009 11:02 AM

I'm very dissapointed in NPR on this one. The media should question the spin offered by those in power, not to uncritially buy in to it.

Jun. 30 2009 11:01 AM

Also, by using the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques," Shephard is taking a "position" in this "debate."

Jun. 30 2009 11:00 AM
David Surlaw from NYC

The kind of journalism makes would-be torturers breathe much easier knowing that what they do won't be "characterized" by the spineless lot of morons who control our mainstream media. She admits that embracing euphemisms like "enhanced technique" validates the Bush administration position, and yet she doesn't want to be seen as taking sides??? What a load of crap. Thirty years experience as a journalist and to her that means torturers must be allowed to define the terms of the debate? Oh, poor torturers, we don't want to be unfair to you!!!

Jun. 30 2009 10:59 AM
Greg G from Dallas, TX

Interesting that this "not characterizing things" applies only in the United States. Or does NPR intend to talk about Iran's shameful use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" against its protesting citizens? Of course not. Torture is only an "enhanced interrogation" when *we're* doing it. If they really believed this policy, they'd have to tiptoe around the behavior of every dictatorship on Earth.

Why not be a little more honest and say, "We're terrified of being accused of bias, so we're going to let the people responsible for instigating torture by the US government tell us how we can talk about it."

Jun. 30 2009 10:58 AM

The fact that NPR pays Shepard to be an "ombudsman" will give me serious pause the next time I consider donating to NPR. Her justification for her position is incredibly weak, to put it kindly, and the fact that she won't go on other shows like Glenn Greenwald's to defend it shows she is aware of this. Shame on her.

Jun. 30 2009 10:52 AM
Thomas Fatone from NYC

Actually, I have now committed myself to avoiding any donations to NPR until they replace Ms. Shepard with someone who takes her job seriously and respects even the most basic standards of good journalism.

Jun. 30 2009 10:52 AM
Thomas Fatone from NYC

Ms. Shepard,

When you find yourself in a hole, the last thing you should do is continue to dig. At this point, you are setting yourself as the perfect example of journalistic malpractice. As feeble as your original argument was, this vacuous "explanation" was even worse. If you have a shred of dignity remaining, you would do well to either recant everything you have stated in this situation and admit you were wrong, or hand in your resignation.


Jun. 30 2009 10:47 AM
Henry F from New York, NY

Time to find a new ombudsman, at least one that is able to use the appropriate words to detail the events of our times rather than hiding them behind convoluted phrases. As listeners of NPR, all we can do is stop donating to NPR for the time being.

Jun. 30 2009 10:47 AM
Tom Byers from Waterloo, ON

BH @ 76

The tortured Orwellian language reminds me of a government death squad in apartheid-era South Africa that called itself the "Civil Cooperation Bureau."

After listiening to Ms. Shepard's vomitous ecuse, I have no doubts whatsoever that if death squads were operating under the direction of GWB, that she'd trot out the same trite "two sides to every story" excuse.

Jun. 30 2009 10:40 AM
Bonnie Tamres-Moore from Austin, Texas

What's the big deal in using the word torture? It is ILLEGAL- as MS. Shepard mentioned. The illegality of torture triggers a whole host of legal imperatives to investigate and prosecute. That's why the Bush Administration ( and their enablers like Ms. Shepard and NPR ) won't use the word.

I never thought I would see NPR engaging in such invidious and meretricious hypocrisy. What a falling off was there.

Jun. 30 2009 10:39 AM
kent kanoy from north carolina

Because there are so many loaded criminal legal terms, I applaud NPR for respecting their sanitization so as not to offend. I have a few more terms to sanitize :

rape : enhanced insistent seduction
murder: unapproved planned ending of life
child abuse : enhanced harsh discipline
robbery/theft/blackmail/extortion : forced gifting
perjury : oath differing testimony

Jun. 30 2009 10:38 AM
Michael W from Montreal

Why has she not been fired? Obviously NPR has no more accountability for facilitating war crimes than the administration.

Jun. 30 2009 10:31 AM
joshua jennings from Texas

If the ombudsperson's job is to represent NPR's listeners, Ms. Shepard doesn't appear to be doing it. Her defense of the position using the word "torture" makes very little sense. She continues to say that there is a spirited defense however, the highest military judge in the land appointed bu GWB said that the combined effects of enhanced interrogation amounted to torture. This an official statement from a objective definitive source, yet Mrs Shepard continues to state that there is a spirited defense? That is like saying that the "enemy combatants" where being prosecuted being given all protection under the Constitution of the US. In that case the Supreme court has shown ruling after ruling that the Military Tribunal for Enemy combatants has constitutional issues unresolved. The GWB admin told the American people that they were using techniques which did not violate any intnat'l treaty or the constitution but we have had countless officials tell the press that the techniques used amounted to torture, including the top military official in the land in Susan J. Crawford.

Her defense is defenseless and NPR's policy should change and come in line with the facts on the ground.

Jun. 30 2009 10:24 AM
Kathy Wooten from Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA

NPR and Alicia Shepard are wrong. "Reporting the facts" is not about using euphemisms is exactly the opposite. You want the listener to evaluate? Then, at the very least, use BOTH terminologies in the same sentence EVERY TIME. Although that seems ridiculous, that would supposedly serve your "purpose" of allowing the listener to evaluate.

You see, we learned what torture was as is self evident. You don't create journalistic detachment by mis-reporting. You are assisting and abetting the effort to obfuscate.

NPR, we have every reason and right to direct our dismay and outrage toward your management position, and to expect better from you......far better. You are willing to accept our donations, but, perhaps inconveniently, we are still thinkers. An omsbudsman supposedly represents us. That is patently untrue in this case.

Jun. 30 2009 10:23 AM
Mary Kirtz from Oberlin, Ohio

Shepard claims that to use the word 'torture' is 'taking sides'. Since 'enhanced interrogation techniques' is the former Bush administration's term for these inhumane acts, is it not taking sides to insist on using this doublespeak phrase, as the interviewer asked her? Ms. Shepard's defense of her decision --that journalism must use 'neutral' language --is truly disingenuous at best. Journalism is NOT neutral -- that is the conservative right's desire so that their acts (killing doctors, torturing prisoners, wiretapping citizens) will be presented as moral equivalents to their opposites. It is shameful that NPR has capitulated to this right wing definition of media "neutrality". Real journalism interprets, not just describes, events, and certainly not in 'neutral' tones that allow inhumane activities to masquerade as just another kind of normal behavior.

Jun. 30 2009 10:16 AM
BJ from Omaha, NE

As several others have pointed out above, this is continuing evidence of our slide into an Orwellian dystopia. Words mean things. Different words carry strikingly different connotations. To dispute the truth and sow confusion has unfortunately been a goal of national politicians for far too long. The media has heretofore been an accomplice mainly to the extent that they decide which stories are "newsworthy", but this is bringing propagandizing in America to a new level.

If the whole world agreed that the sky was blue, and the Bush administration called it yellow, the truth is not somewhere in the middle-- they sky is not, in fact, green. As a journalist, you should not report the news as though the truth is always in the middle- you should have the gumption to say that the whole world views this one way, with the exception of a few war criminals that are desperately trying to manufacture cover for themselves. To report the news any other way is dishonest, which is why there's such an uproar among your listeners on this topic.

Ms. Shepard's argument is actually one step worse than reporting the truth in the middle, she's taking the Bush Administration's side in the debate. "Torture" is abhorrent (or should be), "enhanced interrogation techniques" sound faintly positive, and "pouring water down someone's nose and throat for 20 seconds" completely minimizes the distress and horror of those actions. Perhaps Ms. Shepard would be willing to undergo waterboarding, and then see if she would still be loath to describe it as torture?

Jun. 30 2009 10:14 AM
Ethan from New York, NY

How is this woman representing us, the listeners? Please get a new ombusman.

Jun. 30 2009 10:13 AM
John Pottle from Washington State

The NPR policy being discussed here is just a typical example of what journalism, broadly including NPR (sadly) has become over the last decade or so: Avoid any possibility of offending establishment thinking by presenting both 'sides' of a topic regardless of how intellectually dishonest (or preposterous) one of the 'sides' is. This torture "debate" is perfect in that regard: "enhanced interrogation techniques which some critics call torture". Ms. Shepard, as mouthpiece for NPR management, is just conforming to today's journalism norms: toe the company line especially when that means avoiding statements of fact that are potentially uncomfortable for management. 30 years of journalism experience? I think Ms. Shepard has lost her way (along with most of her profession).

I've been a daily listener of NPR for over 20 years. I used to be able to count on NPR for in-depth, factual and honest reporting. I also used to contribute regularly to my local public radio stations. I stopped about 5 years ago because the value of NPR's reporting has sunk to the level of any (and all) MSM news organizations. The torture topic is just the current example.

Jun. 30 2009 10:11 AM
alex lerman from chappaqua ny

Alice Shepherd "tortures" logic and honesty, in my point of view, in the service of "neutrality".

She states that calling waterboarding "torture" is similar to calling an obstetrician who performs and abortion a "terrorist" - and states that NPR will remain "neutral" in both cases.

There's a difference, of course. The doctor is performing a legal, recognized medical procedure. The interrogator is performing an illegal procedure that has been a defined and widely practiced torture technique for centuries.

There's plenty of room for nuance and debates about what words mean to different people. But not in this case.

Ms. Shepard's "neutrality" is in fact a posture of deceptive cowardice. What a shame that NPR has descended into word games of this kind.

Jun. 30 2009 10:06 AM
Ben Alpers from Norman, OK

@ Patrick Luck and Peter Shirley: I actually wrote my local station manager about Ms. Shepard's blog post NPR's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and said exactly this: I'd been a contributor in the past, but not a dime more until this policy changes.

I got back a long and thoughtful e-mail from the station manager that expressed strong disagreement with Shepard and NPR's policies.

That hasn't changed my mind about giving to NPR, but it does make me think that local station managers might play an important role in getting NPR to change its policy. If NPR's ombudsman refuses to act as the listeners' advocate, perhaps those who most directly rely on our donations can do so instead?

Jun. 30 2009 10:05 AM
BH from Atlanta, GA

Henceforth the following substitute terms shall be used on NPR:

murder = lifespan reduction action
rape = disputed sexual encounter
robbery = possession reallocation
lying = creative fact manipulation

This way, NPR journalists will no longer be required to take a stand on whether a particular act is right or wrong.

Jun. 30 2009 10:02 AM
Pamela Troy from San Francisco

I don't use euphemisms and I have no respect for so-called "journalists" who do.

So I have no hesitation in using useful and accurate words like "cowardly," and "disgraceful" to describe Ms. Shepard's behavior.

Jun. 30 2009 10:02 AM
Joseph Blowe from Dallas, TX

Suggestion: Howzabout NPR uses the phrase [such and such a technique] "which members of the former Bush administration deny is Torture"? That would accurately depict the situation while fulfilling your apparent role as "Bushie position" advocate, wouldn't it?

Jun. 30 2009 09:56 AM
Peter Shirley from Salt Lake City, UT

Vote with your feet. Not another dime to NPR until this policy and this ombudsman are replaced. As a lifelong NPR financial supporter, I have implemented it.

Jun. 30 2009 09:54 AM
Will Stites from Stevens Point, Wis.

Excellent bulldogging, Mr. Garfield. Your questions clearly brought out the appalling weakness of NPR's position. If the ombudsperson's job is to represent NPR's listeners, Ms. Shepard doesn't appear to be doing it--that is obvious from reading these comments. She should be fighting NPR management on this indefensible policy.

Jun. 30 2009 09:54 AM
Patrick Luck

What a fool. The interviewer clearly points out that EVERYONE but the criminals agree that waterboarding is torture yet she refuses to accept this. For years I've felt guilty about not giving money to NPR. No longer.

Jun. 30 2009 09:53 AM
George Orwell's ghost from USA

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them."

George Orwell "Politics and the English Language" 1946

Jun. 30 2009 09:51 AM
Ben Alpers from Norman, OK

@ Bob Garfield:

First, thanks for an excellent interview. OTM is one of the few NPR programs that retains the general excellence that was once more typical of the network.

On the question of NPR's good faith in this matter: while not the topic of this segment, may I suggest that this might be the topic of another OTM story? How did NPR actually arrive at its decision to use the term "enhanced interrogation techniques"? How did it decide to continue to use that term when even our own government began to acknowledge that waterboarding constituted torture? And what was the origin of Ms. Shepard's blog post? Listeners and media critics have been after NPR for this particular Orwellian abuse of the language for years. What personal--or corporate--decision led her to write about it now?

In short, how does a series of such monumentally bad journalistic decisions get made? Was it mere incompetence, bad faith, or something else?

On the issue of Ms. Shepard's competence: In a terrific recent interview on PRI's The Sound of Young America, Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone made it clear that OTM has always ruffled a lot of feathers higher up in NPR. In the best possible way, Bob Garfield's interview of Alicia Shepard is a good example of why OTM might trouble higher ups at the network. Standing up to one's employers is always difficult and risky. I can only imagine what it must be like to do it in such a public fashion (of course, this is a model of what journalism should be). Under these circumstances, perhaps Bob Garfield's comment on this thread is his own little bit of CYA. He really wasn't setting out to attack Ms. Shepard personally. And given his position, it's understandable that he'd want to reiterate that fact. Nevertheless, I hope he understands that we in the audience might reasonably conclude on the basis of his interview (and the evidence of her own work) that Ms. Shepard is incompetent, not only as an ombudsman, but even as a flack.

Jun. 30 2009 09:51 AM

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.


Jun. 30 2009 09:49 AM
PJ Burke from Carlsbad, CA

Apologists for the prior administration -- including Ms. Shepard and NPR -- refuse to use the appropriate word of 'torture' because torture is both a crime and a war crime, and to use the word is to implicitly make the appropriate accusation: Bush, Cheney & Company committed crimes and war crimes (and have even publicly admitted to such). War Crime: THAT is where Ms. Shepard and NPR are refusing to go.

Instead, the Apologists -- including Ms. Shepard and NPR -- make the same choice (and use the exact same obfuscatory euphemism... a point of historical fact) as was made by the Nazi propagandists: obfuscate with ambiguity. "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" is exactly what the Nazis called their torture program, and numerous officials including top-level government lawyers were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg for it.

Ms. Shepard and NPR have made a partisan decision to actively cover for the prior administration's crimes and war crimes with propaganda and euphemism, so they have told us what they are.

Jun. 30 2009 09:48 AM
M. Wolf

Re. Bob Garfield [17]:

The personal criticisms are not only warranted, they are an imperative from any decent person. This is not he-said-she-said politics as usual. This is about the very soul and moral viability of the country, about unabashed evil and its enablers.

The euphemism 'enhanced interrogation' for torture was first used by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. We prosecuted and convicted people for putting that torture regime in place. We executed Japanese soldier for the crime of waterboarding American soldiers.

Torture is unmitigated evil, and is only good for producing false confessions and for gratifying the vile instincts of sadists and authoritarians. There is no controversy, legal or otherwise, that waterboarding is torture. The only people pretending that there is any controversy are the morally deficient and those who want to cover their crimes -- and the moral cowards who enable them. By being one of those enablers, Alicia Shepard is today's banality of evil.

Jun. 30 2009 09:45 AM
Paul from Massachusetts

It's not just a word. It's a crime and should be referred to as such. There is no debate on this.

Jun. 30 2009 09:45 AM
Kirk Fields from san antonio, tx

For weeks I cringed every time I listened to NPR daintily tippy toe around George W. Bush's pile of crime. Today I am just amazed at what passes for professionalism, journalism and integrity at National Public Radio. To listen to Ms. Shepard's "explanation" of her actions is like watching reruns of Bush's infamous "we do 'not torture'" clarification. Orwell's prediction of American language is more amazing than his novel 1984.

For consistency, I suggest Ms. Shepard set the policy of using the former president's term of "not torture" for these torture techniques. We subject detainees to "not torture". This would be more clear than NPR's current policy.

Jun. 30 2009 09:40 AM
Tom Byers from Waterloo, ON

Alicia Shepard's lame milquetoast defence is yet another embarrassment to the seat she holds. It really is cowardice, pure and simple. Ms. Shepard is not an Ombudsman; she's the go-to call-girl for the indefensible.

She claims "there are two sides to the issue." Sure, the ethical, moral and legal side; and the criminal side. She says NPR has to stay "neutral."

I s'ppose if Ms. Shepard was asked whether the earth orbits the sun, or vice-versa, she would stake out a position of neutrality there, too. He said, she said, make up your own mind.

She then exhibbits woeful convoluted logic, arguing, "I'm not sure why it's so important to call something 'torture'," and proclaims it's better to provide euphemisms that "sound like" torture.

She needs to give up the ghost, and offer her seat to somebody who'll take the position and responsibilities seriously, and stop shilling and excusing criminality. NPR listeners deserve better. They deserve the truth.

Jun. 30 2009 09:08 AM
JS Finley from Columbus, OH

Alicia Shepard, that is the biggest load of crap I've ever heard. You do not deserve your position with NPR. I highly doubt that if you remain as ombudsman that I will ever again give any financial support to my local NPR station.

You do not belong in the business of journalism.

Jun. 30 2009 09:07 AM
Brock Bernstein

"Why is it so important to call something torture?" betrays such a lack of awareness of the function of journalists that I wonder how NPR can continue to characterize its activities as journalism. I don't blame Ms. Shepard; I blame NPR for enforcing a spineless policy that reminds me of the double speak so brilliantly described by George Orwell.

The simple answer is because that's what it is, based on international treaties, US law, and numerous legal precedents established in war crimes trials and other proceedings. No one is asking NPR to adjudicate this on its own; it appears the many commenters are merely asking NPR to abide by the commonly accepted legal definition without going through contortions to appease those who have manufactured a controversy for political purposes.

I note that there was never any reluctance to describe as torture John McCain's treatment as a prisoner, or that of US soldiers captured in the Korean War, until that term inconveniently became applicable to US treatment of detainees. Some basic consistency from NPR would be nice to see, rather than such obvious attempts to distort language because a made-up term is more comfortable.

Jun. 30 2009 08:54 AM
Rob Mankoff from Girdwood, AK

Add my name to the list of people who think Ms. Shepard is incompetent and has done a disservice to NPR listeners.

Jun. 30 2009 08:46 AM
Alexei Panshin

I'll show you your chains if you show me mine
There's no place to hide if everyone's lyin'
And the watchman sings "The Song of Jolly Roger"

Jun. 30 2009 08:37 AM
Karin from Chicago

It's difficult to listen to the strange rationalizing of NPR's refusal to use the word 'torture' in its reporting of torture. The reporter's job is to present the facts, and subscribing to and parrotting the government's euphemisms is sad evidence of what now passes for reporting. Thanks, Bob Garfield for asking the right questions. Shame on NPR for keeping such an 'ombudsman' on the payroll.

Jun. 30 2009 08:10 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

@jerry June 30, 2009 - 04:06AM
"Today on ATC, Bernie Madoff was referred to as a swindler, which I think is a harsh, partisan, ad hominem attack on the guy. I am guessing that in the name of balance we can find several people who think he is a Laissez Faire entrepreneur."

No, no, no. It's OK to call Madoff a swindler, since he was found guilty in a court of law. The torturers, on the other hand, have managed to avoid their day in court, in large part because of a media complicit with clouding the reality of the crimes they are accused of committing.

Jun. 30 2009 07:49 AM

Today on ATC, Bernie Madoff was referred to as a swindler, which I think is a harsh, partisan, ad hominem attack on the guy. I am guessing that in the name of balance we can find several people who think he is a Laissez Faire entrepreneur.

Jun. 30 2009 04:06 AM
Dan Brekke from Berkeley, California

As a journalist who works in public radio, I want to say first how disheartening it is to see the lack of intellectual probity in Ms. Shepard's position on using the government-endorsed euphemism for torture. Her question, "Why is it so important to call something torture?" sounds to me like a capitulation, a refusal to engage the moral and ethical dimensions of a question that is of vital interest to NPR's audience and indeed to the country at large.

Second, I want to applaud Mr. Garfield's questioning. It was pointed and tough without becoming belligerent. Nice job.

Jun. 30 2009 02:27 AM
Bob Potter

@George Bendemann

An ad-hominem attack would be to say "she is incompetent, therefore her arguments lack merit". What I said was "her arguments lack merit, therefore she is incompetent". Don't confuse the two.

Now, you could probably make a case that I was rather rude ... but that would be an ad-hominem attack, no?

Jun. 30 2009 12:37 AM
Bob Potter

@Bob Garfield:

I feel that your scold was mostly in reaction to my post, so let me respond.

I did not make a "personal attack" on Ms. Shepard. I "attacked" her work, as exhibited in your interview. Is that inappropriate? Isn't it pretty much what "On The Media" does every week?

Regardless of the topic under discussion, isn't inflaming, rather than soothing, the friction between NPR and its listeners a sign of incompetence for an ombudsman?

I get it that you didn't intend this interview to be ABOUT Ms. Shepard. But the way it came out, it was.

Jun. 30 2009 12:22 AM
Grumpy Demo from Dallas Texas

Oh my God, she teaches journalism! She doesn't know the difference between a legal medical procedure and torture an illegal clearly definded immoral action?

Thank you for proving what a Right Wing gutless hack the so called "Ombudsman" is. Pathetic weal words form someone who's suppose to teach journalism.

Exhibit A in the degradation of of journalism in America. NPR News programs ATC and ME and turned into nothging but FOX & Friend Lite

Also, nice proof that a paycheck will always trump speaking the truth.

Thank you Mr. Shepard, I will be donating to directly to specific programs that have journalistic integrety, like OTM (gratuitous pander)

It also explains why she will no repsond the my complaint that NPR

Jun. 29 2009 08:22 PM
RichM from New Hampshire

Alicia Shepard's rationale is both confused and confusing. How is is that “harsh interrogation techniques” is any less a characterization of waterboarding than "torture"?

To have Ms. Shepard agree with Bob Garfield that "to embrace terms like 'harsh interrogation tactics' instead of calling a thing by its name, in effect, gives credence to the Bush Administration’s argument" displays an utterly muddled understanding of the discussion. Having made that concession, she cannot expect her argument about not taking sides to be taken seriously.

If, as Ms. Shepard argues, news outlets should "just stop characterizing things, just describe what they are," then waterboarding should be described as -- to use her words -- "pouring water down someone’s nose and throat for 20 seconds." THOSE are the facts.

If Ms. Shepard and NPR want a way out of their quandary, the solution -- hinted at by Bob Garfield -- is to reference the judgment of the institutions to which the global community assigns the legal and moral standing to make these kinds of calls. In this case: The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Convention on Torture, and likely others. NPR can readily reference the judgment of those institutions as the final word on the matter.

That approach also serves to explain why, to answer Ms. Shepard's self-posed question, "why ... NPR [doesn't] call a doctor who performs abortions a terrorist." The answer is that the institutions with the legal and moral standing to judge abortion -- the AMA and the courts, for example -- do not determine it to be terroism.

Jun. 29 2009 06:40 PM
Ché Pasa from Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?

Bob Garfield needs a good strong slap upside the head. Ms. Shepard has already received her's (got her attention, anyway.)

Here's where Garfield goes way wrong:

He asserts the issue is to avoid being seen as "partisan." But when he mentions that by using euphemisms for torture instead of the word itself, NPR is in effect endorsing the Bush administration view, Shepard agrees that is what is happening.

In other words, both Garfield and Shepard endorse NPR's partisanship on this issue.

Not cool.

Jun. 29 2009 05:40 PM
David M. Boehm from Manhattan

The decision not to use the word "torture" in reference to waterboarding is a direct attack on our language.

If we do not have and use a word, we make ourselves incapable of thinking the concept.

Members of primitive tribes who have no words for quantities larger than four or five, resorting to the word "many" instead, make lousy mathematicians, military leaders, or journalists.

Members of news organizations that are incapable of using the word "torture" when it is appropriate also make lousy journalists.

Jun. 29 2009 04:41 PM
Ian Johanson

Ms. Shepard:
"our language in general is totally evaluative and loaded with meaning and so whatever someone uses if someone else disagrees with it, then that language is wrong."

What a bizarre assertion. No. Just because someone disagrees with what I have said, it does not necessarily mean that my "language is wrong." There is a question of truth here. I may, in fact, be speaking the truth, not merely using a "loaded term".

Particularly in the case of "torture" we have these pesky things called "laws" which use unambiguous language in referring to torture and describing torture.

The root of this entire issue does not rest upon some wonderful "impartial" principle of journalism which NPR and Ms. Shepard are attempting to uphold. It rests upon fear, and the cowardice in action which is a result.

As Mr. Garfield quite accurately stated in his comment above: "The position she articulated is one shared by most news organizations, all of which fear the consequences of using "loaded" language."

And what are the "consequences" of using truthful (not "loaded" but truthful and accurate) terms? Well, the consequences are that the government might object, might tinker with their media passes, restrict who they get "access" to, and so on.

Jun. 29 2009 12:35 PM
Jeremy Powers from Minneapolis

I won't pick on Shepard, per se, but this is exactly the kind of fuzzy-headed thinking that had me leave journalism 20 years ago with a "what the hell was I thinking of writing this pap" attitude. This fairness fault has meant that newsrooms everywhere are filled with intellectual do-nothings that have allowed journalism to flounder to a level of complete irrelevance. We see this in Minnesota where no one is willing to call Rep. Michele Bachmann what she really is – a paranoid nutcase. Only the people being covered and the stupid want complete objectivity. Smart people don't need to be spoon fed. And this doesn't even get into the whole collection of vocabulary that is needed summations – schools for building with teachers and students; rape for forced intercourse, murder for wanton killing and on and on.

Jun. 29 2009 12:28 PM
MrJM from WBEZ

"[It's] not the role of the media to take on characterizing things."

How many people need to disagree with an established fact before NPR bows to that minority view? If it is no more than the number who believe waterboarding isn't torture, can we expect NPR to use the following "non-characterizing" language:

• the so-called "globe"
• the so-called "Kennedy Assassin" Lee Harvey Oswald
• the so-called "moon landing"
• the so-called "Holocaust"
• the allegedly "Hawaiian-born president"
• the allegedly "Christian president"
• the allegedly "illegal" Watergate break-in, and
• purportedly "listener-supported" public radio

Sometimes A=A.

-- MrJM

Jun. 29 2009 12:03 PM
Ian Johanson

@Bob Garfield
"This has nothing to do with Alicia Shepard's or NPR's competence or good faith. It has to do with an institutional aversion to the appearance of partisanship. The issue at hand is whether that insistence on appearing neutral a) implicitly validates an untenable political or legal position, b) obscures truth."

And if the answer to both a) and b) is yes, THEN would it have something to do with Alicia Shepard's or NPR's competence or good faith?

Are you saying that a journalist can insist on validating untenable legal positions and obscuring truth, yet still be acting competently and in good faith?

Jun. 29 2009 11:44 AM
Jaosn Peppers from TX

By Alicia Shepard's logic, if Roman Polanski's apologists were to claim that sodomizing a middle schooler (the crime Polanski was charged with before fleeing the country) isn't really child molestation then she would agree to adopt a euphemism to describe what Polanski (and other pedophiles) did because to call a spade a spade is "taking sides".

This kind of thinking is both moronic and morally repugnant.

Jun. 29 2009 11:18 AM
someBrad from Philadelphia

Ms. Shepard never answers the central question -- why is it OK for NPR to take the side of the accused culprits when it comes to the torture discussion? "There are two sides to the issue" completely ignores who is on each side and what their motivations are. Neutrality is a practice, not a principle. And it's a practice that is only selectively used. Doctoral theses will be written on the debate over the use of the word "torture." We are living through a case study in the failure of mass media.

Jun. 29 2009 10:51 AM
Wade Leonard from

Where's George Carlin when you need him?

Jun. 29 2009 10:24 AM
Bill Michtom from Portland, OR

US Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C, § 2340: Definitions
As used in this chapter—
(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality

US Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C, § 2340A. Torture
(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

This seems pretty clear to me. I am left with the question:
Is Alicia Shepard ignorant, delusional or merely lying?

Mr. Garfield: I just can not agree with your interpretation of Ms. Shepard's behavior, or that of the rest of the media perpetrating or defending this behavior. Once news organizations "fear the consequences of using 'loaded' language," they stop being journalists and become stenographers.

We were fortunate that you didn't follow that premise in your interview.

Jun. 29 2009 02:45 AM
George Bendemann from new jersey

Wow… 38 comments! And maybe 3 were dissenting voices in support of Mrs. Shepard. (and one was Bob Garfield!) What an embarrassment for NPR whose audience appears so monolithically left wing. An ombudsman s job is to be fair to both sides. Mrs. Shepard has shown a tremendous amount of courage in the face of this McCarthy like onslaught.

Most Radical Far Left bordering on scary.....
See comments #2 ('john nuzzi') # 16 ('bob potter') and #32 ('jerry') for an examples of ad-hominem attacks ('pussy footing jerk'....'incompetent'.....'should have enough brains') . Many opinions were expressed respectfully but too many showed repressive intolerance.

Jun. 29 2009 02:00 AM

Whenever I listen to NPR, I'm reminded at the top of every hour that NPR and its affiliates are 'listener-supported radio.'

What I'm seeing here, as well as in the comments to Ms. Shepard's original column, is that your listeners are not supporting you on this one.

Jun. 28 2009 11:18 PM
dbuls from Pittsburgh

Alicia Shepherd should resign.
Would you prevaricate on the Holocaust, the genocide in Africa, or the genocide in the Balkans?
The WORLD has long considered water boarding to be torture. Use the word.

Jun. 28 2009 09:45 PM
sean Taylor

A thousand thanks to Bob Garfield for holding Alicia Shepherd's feet to the fire on NPR's maddening insistence on parroting the Bush admin's gobbledegook about "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." I want to throw my radio across the room every time they use this term. It's true that language is "evaluative," but words also have reference; they mean things. And as Garfield ably pointed out, the only people who don't recognize waterboarding as torture are Bush and Cheney.

Jun. 28 2009 09:23 PM
sean Taylor

A thousand thanks to Bob Garfield for holding Alicia Shepherd's feet to the fire on NPR's maddening insistence on parroting the Bush admin's gobbledegook about "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." I want to throw my radio across the room every time they use this term. It's true that language is "evaluative," but words also have reference; they mean things. And as Garfield ably pointed out, the only people who don't recognize waterboarding as torture are Bush and Cheney.

Jun. 28 2009 09:23 PM
nj unaka from Milwaukee, WI

Based on Ms. Shepard's comments, I no longer consider NPR a news organization, nor do I consider them journalists. By her logic, these things are now in dispute and according to their policy, they should not be in the business of characterizing what they do as news or themselves as journalist.

Jun. 28 2009 06:25 PM

"Not characterizing things"? What about NPR's (and other media's) willingness during the illegal-immigration debate, to "characterize" the Republicans as "anti-immigration", when that was, and is never, ever the case?

What about NPR's insistence on using the term "undocumented immigrants", as opposed to "illegal aliens"? "Undocumented Immigrants" makes it sound as if they just forgot to pick up their papers as they came across the border.

NPR, you're hardly innocent in the coloring and editorilizing of news content.

Jun. 28 2009 04:36 PM

In what sense is Shepard acting as ombudsman and in what sense is she mere corporate flack?

Contrast and compare Shepard's "journalism's job is to let the listeners decide" and the ABC President in your prior segment saying that that can be A role, but is not THE role.

In this case, Ted Koppel of both ABC AND NPR got it right. The US calls it torture (and prosecutes and gives death sentences to perpetrators of) to these techniques when opposing countries do them to US Soldiers. Therefore it's torture.

Alisa Shepard and NPR should have enough brains and integrity to be able to call propaganda propaganda and stick to legal definitions.

P.S. You don't need Javascript to have comment forms, and you should test your system with Firefox.

Jun. 28 2009 04:29 PM
Brian Byrne from Chicago, IL

During this week's discussion of whether or not NPR should use the word Torture when referring to waterboarding, Ms. Shepard stated more than once that it was not up to her or to NPR to define what is and is not torture. In the process, she also mentioned enraged people e-mailing her demanding to know why abortion doctors aren't called murderers on the air.

The answer is the same in both cases: Abortion doctors are not referred to as murderers because the legality of performing abortions is not in question, nor is the proper terminology for referring to them. In other words, it has been determined by our nation's legal authority that abortion doctors are not murderers.

In fact, multiple legal authorities, across a great many nations -- all of whom were mentioned in the OTM discussion -- have determined that waterboarding IS torture. In other words, this has been decided by people and organizations that have the authority and the gravity to make such decisions.

As such, by calling waterboarding torture, NPR would not in any way be making this decision for people -- it would be referring to a practice in a manner that is entirely appropriate and in no way misleading.

While it is certainly up to the public to decide for themselves whether they believe waterboarding is morally wrong -- just as they must decide for themselves whether they personally consider abortion to be murder or a legal medical procedure -- it is utterly unambiguous that the term torture applies to waterboarding. Indeed, the decision is not NPR's to make: If they wish to refer to waterboarding accurately, they have a responsibility to acknowledge it as torture, not to hide behind the disgusting euphemism coined and clung to by those who would seek to justify it.

NPR's defense, and Shepard's espousal thereof, is insulting and wrongheaded, and does a tremendous disservice both to its reputation for honesty and its esteem among contributing listeners, myself included. Fie.

Jun. 28 2009 04:10 PM
art woods from wilmette, IL

I am a regular NPR listener, sometimes agreeing with the slant and sometimes not. Here in the Chicago area the WBEZ slant is habitually left rather than right, so it is ironic that Ms. Shepard is being criticized from the left. Most of my friends who listen to NPR also tend to be left of center, so I am not surprised that the comments almost universally attack Ms. Shepard.

Let me express another view.
1. I believe that waterboarding is torture. All of the "enhanced techniques," however, are not so obvious. Some are discomforting rather than painful. Thus the use of the milder wording to cover both torture and non-torture used on detainees is appropriate for a neutral report.

2. There is "torture" and "torture Light." By that I mean that the word covers too much territory. Even the waterboarding done to the three captives does not compare with shooting people in mass graves, severing digits to cause gradual death, live burial, smashing babies' skulls, starvation, the rack, rape, Holocaust practices, etc. All are torture. Indiscriminate use of a word that makes waterboarding the same as these other horrors is also imprecise at best--and lends itself better to propaganda than to neutral description.

3. Ms. Shepard's problem was in her lame defense of her decision--probably more the media practice of CYA than anything else. Be "neutral" even if it misleads to avoid censure. Had she made the points above, I could stand with her decision. Since she copped out, she made a very typical mistake of someone long affiliated with news media.

Come to think of it, I have not heard "On the Media" feature forceful and persistent questioning of this as was directed at Ms. Shepard re "torture."

Jun. 28 2009 03:59 PM
Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte from Austin TX

As a professional journalist and a professor in journalism, I respect the drive to be totally accurate and fair. But to disregard signed treaties that define torture, findings by such long respected organizations as the Red Cross by ignoring their findings on whether or not torture took place is hard to defend in the name of impartiality. To say that instead, into already tight air time one should ignore established defintions and instead describe these actions, just doesn't seem to make sense.

Jun. 28 2009 03:03 PM
Clinton Fein

Referring to forms of torture as "enhanced interrogation techniques" is like calling rape "enhanced reproductive organ stimulus." Torture is torture and rape is rape. To paraphrase Alicia Shepard: "why's it so important to call it rape?"

Jun. 28 2009 01:23 PM
alex from Brooklyn

Clearly, there are two sides to the question of whether Ms. Alicia Shepard has the judgment and intelligence to serve in the role as ombudsman for NPR. There clearly are are many people out there who think that she has no conception of the role or nature of journalism, regardless of her years of experience in the field.

Therefore, I think that she and the rest of NPR should refrain from labeling her the "ombudsman" and instead simply describe what she does. To use that label or title is to bias the discussion, presenting a conclusion where there really is much debate.

I am confident that she will agree, based on standard she so clearly elucidated in her interview -- as presented in this piece.

Thank *you*, Ms. Shepard.

Jun. 28 2009 01:12 PM
News Skeptic from U.S.

I think Alicia Shepard needs to be shown the door and someone like Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, or preferably Daniel Schorr, or Walter Cronkite needs to be brought in as Ombudsman. They might at least have some credibility in this position!

Jun. 28 2009 01:07 PM
News Skeptic from U.S.

If I'm not mistaken, Edward R. Murrow took sides.

Firmly AGAINST McCarthy - when it wasn't POPULAR and even dangerous to do so!!!

Truth NEVER has two sides (I think that's journalism 101, isn't it)!!!!

What's happened to (once courageous) journalism in this country!?

Jun. 28 2009 01:00 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Garfield,
The misuse of an erroneous photograph by OTM in this segment speaks more to NPR's INcompetence and BAD faith than any use of language could.

Using an blatantly incorrect photograph is an untenable journalistic position that does more to obscures truth than any discussion of language.

I look forward to your correction of this grievous error on Friday if not before.

Jun. 28 2009 12:19 PM

Why doesn't NPR *require* its listeners to be waterboarded, in order to form the best opinion possible. That would clearly be more informative than simply describing it....

Jun. 28 2009 11:24 AM
Brett Greisen from Astoria NY

aka BrettG - WNYC

As I have posted on Ms. Shepard's site, I find her "neutral" stance not only not neutral but insulting to both the public & our armed services. The fact that those with little or no military experience have started a false debate over an international treaty-defined term seems to hold no weight. If she really wants to "neutrally" report the factsm why doesn't she have NPR report that waterboarding has been outlawed under long-settled international treaty law (Geneva Conventions, etc.). Instead she opts to prolong the fiction that whoever is POTUS has some extra-Constitutional power to "define" torture & have it accepted by anyone except that Administration.

Furthermore, her statement seems to have been made without research @ the DOD JAG offices or any veteran organizations. She's made her statement, arguendo, without benefit of any knowledge or research of why the POTUS/Cheney ignored the DOD lawyers & let lawyers who saw the WH as their main client & ginned up a "new" definition to satisfy their boss. And they did this to criteria dictated by the WH, not by experience with relative laws, etc. She also neglected to mention that these poor DOJ "opinions" have endangered & will continue to endanger our armed forces & citizens for years & maybe decades to come.

Thanks to Bob for his close questioning of Ms. Shepard. She has narrowed ethics to such a narrow portfolio that she could have written all the Iraq investigation whitewashes for both the UK & the US.

Jun. 28 2009 10:41 AM
Robert from NYC

I think you should get a new ombudsman. She does a good spin and that's NOT the job of the ombudsman. So she's been in journalism for 30 years and gets a D grade for her work.

Jun. 28 2009 10:20 AM
Maciej from USA

I enjoyed this interview and agree that Ms. Shepard's opinion represents the average representative media view on how to deal with this issue, and therefore should not be personally attacked.

However there is a major flaw with her argument. As a project manager for a municipality, I hear the same argument from every average contractor: 'Why do I need to do a better job here, since it was never well done in the first place?' That's essentially Ms. Shepard's argument: 'That's what the average media outlet is doing, so with some thought, we are following suit.' My answer is always the same: 'Had I wanted a mediocre job I would asked (specified) for it." I ask a lot from NPR and in situations like this I do not get it.

Furthermore her example of the (I am sure many) requests to call a doctor performing abortions a terrorist has not value in this argument since performing abortions is LEGAL! Most of the western world allows doctors to legally perform some form of abortions, while ALL of the of the entire world considers waterboarding torture.

Lastly, Ms Shepard's argument about the descriptive power of the English language and the euphemisms we use daily is precisely why the use of the word torture should be used by NPR.

Jun. 28 2009 07:49 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

@Bob Garfield: "Attacks" on Shephard are totally justified, as soon as she comes on as the spokeswoman and apologist for NPR. In addition, her own performance in carrying out this mission was so pathetic in her failure to reconcile her own statements with the policy she's defending, that it's worthy of comment.

Jun. 28 2009 06:11 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

"It's a hotly debated topic. Isn't that why any news organization is studying it, analyzing it, trying to figure out what's the right thing to do?"

Yeah, that sounds right. So what's the problem about doing that for "torture"?

She goes on to claim that all's OK, because NPR may refer to specific techniques such as waterboarding as torture. So here's my compromise: "enhanced interrogation techniques including torture". But since space is tight... let's just call it torture.

Jun. 28 2009 06:09 AM
Bob Garfield

I think these personal attacks on Alicia Shepard are obnoxious and misplaced. The position she articulated is one shared by most news organizations, all of which fear the consequences of using "loaded" language.

This has nothing to do with Alicia Shepard's or NPR's competence or good faith. It has to do with an institutional aversion to the appearance of partisanship. The issue at hand is whether that insistence on appearing neutral a) implicitly validates an untenable political or legal position, b) obscures truth.

Jun. 28 2009 04:05 AM
Bob Potter from New York

Great interview!

Alicia Shepard appears to be incompetent. She is not acting as an ombudsman; she is acting as a mouthpiece for an editorial policy that even she can't defend coherently.

She also does not appear to understand journalism: how are you going to fit 'a detailed description of the facts' into a headline? You aren't. So you're either going to say "torture", or you're going to say "harsh interrogation". One of those terms is upheld by historical usage and all legal authorities, the other term is a euphemism coined by the perpetrators. Which one would an unbiased journalist choose?

Finally, she doesn't even understand the listeners who she's supposed to represent. She can't imagine why we are so upset about this blatant one-sidedness.

Jun. 28 2009 12:27 AM
Freedem from Florida

Halfway between Orwellian absurdity and actual facts is not anything like balanced. Neutral is to make judgment about what the actual facts are even if they favor one side over another, perhaps especially so.

The whole point of Orwellian propaganda is to stake out all the extreme points and insist that your fantasy world and actual reality are just different opinions. The absurdity of the claim or hugeness of the lie is irrelevant, as long as they can get at least some people to doubt reality, they have won the day.

The only value of news (as opposed to sycophancy) is to wade through the lies and half truths and report what the real facts are. Fail that and you are just another partisan.

Jun. 27 2009 10:15 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

How disgraceful of OTM to use a picture along with this segment that has nothing what so ever to do with the actual story. This is another example of shoddy source work by OTM designed to mislead consumers of NPR news. OTM ought to be ashamed of itself for this lapse in not only journalistic ethics, but of journalistic standards. The picture used was neither an enhanced interrogation nor torture. Lets get some good solid journalism back in OTM's coverage of the media. The image mistake is so irresponsible it takes what was a tough interview by Mr. Garfield look like pure posturing. You need to get the basic facts right before you take on someone on language like Mr. Garfield did in this segment.

Jun. 27 2009 07:11 PM
Ken from Baltimore

Are you kidding me?! What in God's name is this "Ombudsman" saying? That the role of journalism is to present both sides of an argument and let the listener decide. Hell, we have CSPAN for that. Get real, perhaps the role of a good journalist is to present the argument, and say, oh by the way, these are the facts.
This blatant use of PC language in the face of FACT in the hope of avoiding the Rush and the Papa Bear is cowardice. You do a disservice to both NPR and the loyal NPR listener. You are NOT my Ombudsman!!!

Jun. 27 2009 07:05 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Jim's last sentence says it all.

Guess the "new" ombudsan I last wrote to got canned. It is not a job that seems to have longevity associated with it, at NPR.

Jun. 27 2009 07:04 PM
Jim from Fairfax, VA

Ms. Shepard's argument is simply disgraceful. She attempts to equate a hypothetical listener's argument that a doctor performing abortions should be called a terrorist to a term that is defined by law and by treaty. This nation has ratified treaties empowering the International Committee of the Red Cross to determine what is torture, and they have determined that waterboarding is torture. The only thing that has in common with the hypothetical listener's arguement is the likelihood that NPR will receive criticism, which is all too likely the actual reason this policy.

Ms. Shepard's logic embraces the worst of "he-said-she-said" journalism that pretends "balance" is objectivity. The highest principle of journalism should be to tell the truth, not to avoid taking sides.

Jun. 27 2009 04:54 PM
Frank from wnyc

Mr. Garfield, very good interview. Direct, blunt, well phrased and fair questions.

Jun. 27 2009 04:01 PM
geo8rge from New Yawk

NPR should find as many people as they can that believe waterboarding is not torture, and then offer to waterboard them to see if they are for real, or just BS-ing. When I say people, I mean anyone, big and small, former president to Joe the plumber willing to publicly state it, and be waterboarded.

Usually opinions cannot be rigorously tested, lie detectors are flawed. This is one case where you can actually test if someone believes waterboarding is torture or not.

Jun. 27 2009 03:08 PM
Christopher T. Wood from Boston, MA

The NPR reps preposterous back peddling was the most tortured logic I have heard since listening to Alberto Gonzales trying to rationalize the actions he and Bush/Cheney put in place.

Bob, I want to thank you for not accepting the line of wackiness and it was obvious that you also were taken-aback by the 'spin.'

I guess NPR takes seriously the GOP stats on 'media bias' so they want to give a 'fair and balanced' approach to the news. But we already get that from FOX-News.

I continue to hope that NPR will be the voice of sanity between FOX and MSNBC, but after listening to the Ombudsman I guess I'll have to go back to the British media to get unbiased/unpolitically correct news.


Jun. 27 2009 12:26 PM
Charles Cates from Austin, Texas

"'s not the role of the media to take on characterizing things." Ms. Shepard may try to walk a razor's edge to placate the many critics who feel NPR is a far-left mouthpiece but she serves no one by her specious reasoning in this matter. This nation has convicted and executed people who used these same exact methods. Those who argue the definition turn away from the act to tone down the rhetoric or move the dialogue forward but the act remains the same.
Will the terms 'treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors' be next for a language cop to neuter?

Jun. 27 2009 11:56 AM
Stephen Lett from Champaign, IL

Shepard says, "[Journalists should] stop characterizing things, [and] just describe what they are." Wouldn't this imply referring to "water-boarding" as "water-boarding" rather than either "torture" or "enhanced interrogation?" The use of either term asserts an ideology. Due to the necessity of succinctness in journalism it seems necessary to generate a categorical analysis of events or people. As Garfield mentions, the term "terrorist" is problematic with a journalism that must describe and not characterize. Thus the problem journalists face is to create a term from such a categorical analysis that asserts as little ideology as possible (though these terms themselves will inevitably become laden with ideological connotation). In the case of water-boarding, there is really no reason to refer to it as anything other than "water-boarding." Indeed it is the happy syllabic medium between "enhanced interrogation" and "torture." A news that "describes" rather than "characterizes" would fascinating feat, though it would definitely be quite a laborious read.

Jun. 27 2009 11:15 AM
Mark Sullivan from Rochester, MI

Ms. Shepard's tenure as NPR Ombudsman has been consistently hard to fathom. This bazaar ruling on the use of the word torture associated with water boarding is just the latest example of questionable findings by Ms. Shepard. It is long past time that NPR replace her with someone who understands what the word ombudsman means.

Jun. 27 2009 10:20 AM
David Winn from New York

Alicia Shepard's take on the use of the term torture to describe techniques like water boarding was mind blowing. What she recommends is not good old-fashioned journalistic objectivity, but a lobotomized form of reporting that refuses to state the obvious: water boarding has long been considered torture and conforms in its particulars to any legal or dictionary definition of the term. The only people contesting the use of the term are former Bush administration officials and their apologists.

Jun. 27 2009 08:54 AM
Don McAdam from Atlanta

I was so encouraged to see the enormous number of comments to Mrs. Shepard's article. Currently, there are 360 comments, almost all of which rebut NPR's defense of not calling torture by it's proper name.

Mr. Garfield, thank you for featuring this little tussel on your program. Your interview was excellent, as usual.

I am curious, did Nina Totenberg decide to use the phrase, "enhanced interrogation techniques" in her story, or did her editor ask that she use it? What are her thoughts about the use of the phrase? Is it "company" policy to use the phrase in certain circumstances? What are those circumstances?

People are still adding comments at the NPR Ombudsman web site. Check it out.

Jun. 27 2009 08:53 AM
john nuzzi

Alicia Shepard is a pussy footing jerk. She should be replaced. Call a spade a spade. Torture is torture. I never heard such a weak justification of avoiding the use of the word torture. NPR shame on you.

Jun. 27 2009 08:45 AM
Jennifer Heintzman from United States

"Not the role of the media to take on characterizing things?" It is the role of the media to inform as opposed to endorse -- the terms 'enhanced' or 'harsh interrogation' are endorsements of the Bush administration's spin on the entire topic of torture. How intentionally misleading is the term 'harsh'. And what about 'enhanced' -- try defining that one! We tend to 'enhance' good features or attributes of things, not bad or destructive ones.

What on earth is the problem with calling something what it is? Why the fear of the word torture? Not using the term accurately and where it is called for, calling torture by another name, evokes frightening reminders of George Orwell's "1984" and thought speak. It contributes to societal denial and is thus a very disturbing and potentially disasterous practice.

Jun. 27 2009 07:38 AM

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