As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Media Enablers

Many are justifiably angry at the Democrats for enabling the stupid Republican bedwetting about real live terrorists coming to American maximum security prisons. But the media plays right along with this fearmongering and enables it to a frightening degree.

The front page headline in yesterday's New York Times blared: 1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds. Disturbing! Although how this would reflect on the Obama Administration and not the one who released all these "jihadists" is an open question.

Problem is, the Times and other outlets have run this story before. And scratching just an inch beneath the surface always reveals there's no actual evidence for the claim. The last time such a report was released, back in January, the Pentagon got caught including among those who had "returned to the fight" former detainees who wrote newspaper editorials criticizing US policy.

Meanwhile, the writer herself is disavowing the story in an interesting way.

New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller is now casting doubt on the claim in her front page story today, pounced on by the right and quickly picked up on cable, that one in seven detainees released from Guantanamo "returned to terrorism or militant activity."

Appearing on MSNBC today, Bumiller said "there is some debate about whether you should say 'returned' because some of them were perhaps not engaged in terrorism, as we know -- some of them are being held there on vague charges."

Aside from the fact that the Pentagon has no real statistics on this (they don't tag the detainees they release), there's what Bumiller alludes to here, which is that seven years unjustly detained in a confined cell probably makes you at least open to hating the United States, whether you were a "terrorist" beforehand or not.

The Times actually changed their lede in online editions, but of course not in the paper - and cable news ran with their headline yesterday. The Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet has no problem with this:

I think Elisabeth answered it properly in this interview. Reading some of the criticism it seems that people are saying it undercut the story. It did not. The story was about the estimate of the number of people who ended up, by DOD"s account, as being engaged in terrorism or militant activity after leaving Gitmo. That still stands. The change was an acknowledgment that some assert that not everyone in Gitmo is truly a terrorist. Some critics have said that Gitmo is also filled with people who aren't truly terrorists.

Anyone who is reading a significant retreat in the story, or as us somehow saying the story is wrong is looking for politics where it ain't.

The point is this: traditional media outlets have abetted the blatantly false argument that the "worst of the worst" sit in cells at Gitmo and must never be set free. This not only serves Republican ends as they cling to an issue to get a victory for themselves, but serves the White House, as they try and make this distinction of suspects who can neither be tried or released. Once again, the forces of the status quo and the media megaphone are uniquely aligned.

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