- - Wednesday, December 17, 2014


It should come as little surprise that many media outlets seized upon the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s partisan analysis of the CIA because many journalists don’t like the intelligence community.

Let’s look at some points from the report that reporters tended to downplay:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein put out the analysis, which was reportedly finished two years ago, just days before she had to step down as the chairwoman of the committee.

Only Democrats supported the final report.

No CIA representatives were called to testify for inclusion in the report or to defend themselves about the alleged abuses.

The events occurred a decade ago.

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The Democratic view and the media backlash against the CIA came under the rubric of a “conspiracy of shared values,” a theory put forward in the 1960s that the elites, including the media, were undermining democracy.

My analysis of more than 100 news and opinion articles underlined those shared values. As the late community organizer Saul Alinsky, one of President Obama’s heroes, put it: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

That’s exactly what many journalists have done. For example, the Senate report is titled, “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.”

That title rarely appeared in the media; instead the document became the “torture” report.

Another of Alinksy’s principles was change the dialogue. For example, instead of tax savings make it budget cuts. People will follow the meme if it’s repeated enough.

I found numerous headlines about “torture” in newspapers from the San Jose Mercury News to the New York Times. Moreover, the report provided fodder for news organizations in the Arab world, China, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Russia — all places that have few democratic sensibilities — to criticize the United States.

Here are a few more points many journalists chose to ignore:

Only three detainees underwent waterboarding, including Abu Zubaydah, one of the architects of 9/11.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Zubaydah, after undergoing waterboarding, provided more than 700 reports about terrorist activities. As a result, Mr. Chambliss said he believes the CIA interrogations provided intelligence about al Qaeda and saved lives.

Four of the five detainees who suffered rectal feeding had engaged in hunger strikes.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and NBC’s Richard Engel did challenge the authors of the report and its timing — notable exceptions from the mainstream media’s rants.

I spent nearly a decade in the Middle East and saw how hostages suffer from techniques far more brutal than what the CIA did. Also, I talked with a variety of intelligence officials over that time whose goal was to keep people safe.

An important comparison needs to be made with the Obama administration, which outlawed the CIA’s tactics, and its use of drones, otherwise known as “unmanned aerial vehicles” or “remotely piloted aircraft.” Two persons died accidentally under enhanced interrogation techniques — far fewer than from drones.

As of January, the impersonal drone attacks — the preferred tactic of the Obama administration — against terrorists reportedly resulted in no significant intelligence and killed more than 2,000 people. In Pakistan, for example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based organization, estimated earlier this year that nearly 1,000 civilians, including nearly 200 children, had been killed in drone attacks.

Is it better to use drone strikes that kill rather than enhanced interrogation techniques?

The answer seems obvious. Journalists may not like the use of the CIA’s tactics, but they seem far preferable to simply killing people.

Christopher Harper is a longtime reporter who teaches journalism at Temple University. He can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @charper51.

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