NYT, ABC and Waterboarding: An Update

We noted recently that a New York Times story about the waterboarding of two Al-Qaeda detainees included a bit of media criticism. The Times mentioned that in 2007, ABC featured an interview with former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who claimed that “Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.” This would be hard to square with what we now know–that Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times.

The Times pushed the story further on today’s front page, with Brian Stelter putting the focus squarely on that 2007 ABC report and the effect it had on the public debate over torture–namely, to bolster the claims of pro-torture pundits:

“It works, is the bottom line,” Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the next day. ‘Thirty to 35 seconds, and it works.”

Perhaps most shameful is the reaction the Times got from ABC reporter Brian Ross:

Mr. Ross, who received a George Polk Award for a series on interrogation, expressed no regret about the Kiriakou interview and praised him for speaking publicly. He said ABC was preparing a story that would address the previous reporting.

“Kiriakou stepped up and helped shine some light on what has happening,” Mr. Ross said. “It wasn’t the huge spotlight that was needed, but it was some light.”

Really? A reporter learns that his only source for a major report that sought to vindicate government-sanctioned torture wasn’t telling the truth, and his reaction is to praise that source? Kirikaou didn’t “shine some light” on anything, unless that phrase now means the opposite of what it’s always meant.

The always-thorough Glenn Greenwald documents other missteps by Ross in his coverage of torture. And don’t forget to listen to Greenwald on last week’s CounterSpin, or read the transcript.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.