December 15, 2014

It's a question worth considering, particularly with the media enabling it. When the torture report was first released, I joked that Fox News would have Cheney on to defend it. I intended it as a joke, but sure enough, the very next day was Dick Cheney Day on Fox News.

Not only Fox News, though. Here we have Dick Cheney sitting down with Chuck Todd for a lengthy discussion of why it's just fine to inflict unspeakable acts on people we call enemies.

Why? Who's next? Charles Manson?

Ed Kilgore:

This stuff is obvious. And yet the TV shows and newspaper stories are full of balance given to the pro-torture side. Why? Despite objections to the contrary, journalists do not always give balance to both sides of an argument if the other side is deemed irrelevant or depraved. Whenever the deficit bugbear rolls to the forefront, almost no balance is given to the Keynesian point of view despite their predictions being consistently correct: the idea that one needn’t actually cut the deficit during a recession is treated as so outre as to require no journalistic attention.

More pointedly, when journalists write about torture and depredations of current or former regimes, journalists don’t feel the need to get the torturers’ side of the story. No one is rushing to ask Assad’s torturers in Syria if their tactics are necessary to keep “terrorists” in check. No one is asking North Korean guards if their treatment of their people is OK because some other country is worse. No one rushes to counterbalance the accounts of Holocaust victims with the justifications of Nazi guards. It simply isn’t done, any more than we “balance” stories of child sexual abuse with a hot-take counterpoint from a member of NAMBLA. The reason we don’t provide “balance” in these cases is that to do so would be to normalize those behaviors as part of legitimate discourse.

So why in the world are the torturers who subjected innocent people to anal feedings and dungeon ceiling hangings given the courtesy of “balance” in the press? Where is the line that separates issues that require balance from those that do not?

In a decent moral universe, torturers don’t get the benefit of explaining themselves to the press any more than serial killers do, except potentially out of morbid curiosity.

The answer is in that last paragraph. We no longer live in a decent moral universe. We live in a universe where torture is defended, taking food out of the mouths of poor children is perfectly fine, and oligarchs own politicians unapologetically and openly. That's not a decent moral universe.

So yes, expect at some point we'll see Chuck sit down with Charles Manson to ask him why it was fine for him to murder Sharon Tate et al in cold blood. Because after all, we do need to hear both sides of the story, right?

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