Harvard Study Documents Media Bias and Misreporting

This writer’s November 2009 article titled “Paid Lying: What Passes for Major Media Journalism” also discussed this topic in detail.

It called major media journalism biased, irresponsible, and sensationalist — misreporting, distorting, exaggerating, misstating, or suppressing vital truths — serving state and corporate interests over the common good, including bankers controlling the nation’s money, unpunished corruption at the highest levels, democracy for the select few, sham elections, a de facto one party state, imperial wars, occupation, and torture.

Harvard Report on Waterboarding

Prepared by Neal Desai, Andre Pineda, Majken Runquist and Mark Fusunyan, Harvard’s JFK School of Government published their April 2010 Harvard Student Paper titled, “Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media,” documenting how the practice was covered by America’s four largest newspapers over the past 100 years — the New York Times (established in 1851), Los Angeles Times (established 1881), Wall Street Journal established 1889), and USA Today (established 1982, America’s most widely circulated newspaper, why it was chosen for the study).

Waterboarding Defined

By any definition, it’s torture, strictly prohibited under US and international law at all times, under all circumstances, with no allowed exceptions.

Yet the Bush administration defended it, saying it’s used to train US service members to resist torture, when, in fact, training involves a cloth placed over their face one time (perhaps twice) for about 20 seconds, a love tap compared to detainee torture, using so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

It involves six or more 40-second “applications” in each two hour session, multiple ones daily, forcing water in detainees’ mouths and noses for 12 minutes, repeated daily, sometimes for weeks.

Harvard writers defined it as follows:

….the practice of intentionally inducing the sensation of drowning in the victim….achieved in a number of ways, including but not limited to (1) placing a cloth or plastic wrap, (2) pouring water directly into the mouth and nose of the victim, (3) placing a stick between the victim’s teeth and pouring water into his or her mouth, often until the victim’s stomach becomes distended, then forcing the water back out of the victim’s mouth, and (4) dunking and holding the victim’s head under water.

Merriam Webster online calls it “an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee’s mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning.”

The Duhaime.org legal dictionary defines it as:

A criminal investigation technique whereby a person suspected of having or withholding relevant information is blindfolded and bound on the back, sometimes with the face covered with porous or nonporous material, and subjected to water poured over their mouth and nose such as to simulate drowning and to thus, under duress, elicit information.

Wikipedia calls it:

a form of torture that consists of immobilizing the subject on his/her back with the head inclined downwards; water is then poured over the face into breathing passages, thus triggering (a sensation) of drowning. In contrast to submerging the head face-forward in water, waterboarding precipitates an almost immediate gag reflex (causing) extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to (the) lungs (and) brain… from oxygen deprivation (as well as) other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage or, if uninterrupted, death.

Imagine enduring it 183 times in one month, what CIA interrogators did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (besides years of other horrific tortures), forcing him to admit being the 9/11 mastermind, when, he’s almost certainly innocent, confessing only to stop the pain, or because he was so psychologically damaged, he regurgitated words told him with no comprehension.

Press Coverage of Waterboarding

Mentioned or examined for over 100 years, almost uniformly it was called torture until Bush administration usage became public in 2004. 

The New York Times

From 1901-1925, the Times seldom called it torture, doing so in only 11.9% of its articles. From 1931-2004, it called or implied it torture in 81.5% of articles, then from 2002-2008 in only 1.4% (2 articles), neither about America. Times opinion pieces “were more likely than news (stories) to call waterboarding torture during all time periods,” but not often or in detail enough to matter.

The Los Angeles Times

During America’s war on the Phillippines (1899-1902), the Times used the term “water cure,” calling it torture in 63.6% of articles in 1901 and 02. From 1902-1917, in only 3.1%. From 1917-1935, no coverage. Then from 1935-2001, it was called torture 96.3% of the time. No mention again until 2006. From 2006-08, in only 4.8% of articles. Only one Times opinion piece mentioned it before 2003. Thereafter, it followed the same pattern as in New York Times’ editorials and op-eds, mentioning it more often than in news articles, not  enough or explicitly, however, to matter.

Wall Street Journal and USA Today

Neither paper has a long history of coverage, USA Today publishing only for the past 28 years this September. It first mentioned it in 2004, thereafter never saying or implying it was torture, except in opinion piece coverage like the above papers.

Before 2005, the Journal mentioned it only in two articles, one calling it torture. From 2005-08, one mentioned it in East Germany under its communist government. In 2008, the paper either had no coverage or quoted others calling it torture. Unlike the above papers, Journal opinion pieces followed the same pattern as its news stories, only one saying or implying it was torture, steering clear (like the above papers) of condemning Bush administration practices.

Articles in the papers studied “were far more likely to classify waterboarding as torture” in other countries or individuals in them, regurgitating government propaganda about domestic use, even though America’s longstanding policy condemned the practice, a November 4, 2007 Evan Wallach Washington Post article saying so.

Headlined, “Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime,” it called it “simulated drowning,” explaining the procedure as follows:

Victims experience “sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one feels after being punched in the gut.” It added that studies show “it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”

Further, America knows a lot about waterboarding, the government — “whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community — has not only condemned (it), but has severely punished those who applied it,” including Japanese soldiers against US and allied POWs, and their superiors for ordering it.

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with “subject(ing) prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal (to) coerce confessions,” waterboarding by any definition. They were convicted, the sheriff getting 10 years for using torture.

The public record shows that US military tribunals and civil courts examined water-based interrogations, concluding they constituted torture. Evan Wallach should know. He’s a US Court of International Trade judge and law professor at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School.

Final Comments

Harvard’s report showed “a sudden, significant shift in major print media’s treatment of waterboarding at the beginning of the 21st century,” during the GW Bush administration, at best calling it “harsh” or “coercive,” not torture. 

Most often, however, they reported nothing, staying neutral, suppressing the truth about government lawlessness, except others, not allies, regimes America vilifies to justify targeting them, including isolation, sanctions or war, the major media in lockstep defending US policies, even illegal ones like high-level corruption, suppressing the nation’s worst ever ecological disaster, premeditated war, occupation, and torture – official  policy under Bush and Obama.

Stephen Lendman wrote How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Contact him at: lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.

15 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on July 19th, 2010 at 9:46am #

    A similar study of the internet would reveal at least as dismal a picture. Don’t forget that the kettle who is calling this particular pot black is the one who claimed that aircraft were spraying swine flu virus over Kiev and that the Hatian earthquake was set off by the testing of a nuclear bomb intended for Iran! Mr Lendman is criticising a problem of which he himself is part!

  2. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2010 at 10:03am #

    My grandson and I were in the front looking at the sky and talking about the Sun, Stars the Moon and then I said astronomer. Well out of the clear blue sky he said nobody at my school cares about the Sun the Stars how much they weigh and if you don’t mind I want to work in a chocolate factory and work in peace if you don’t mind. He then went to the yard and got some dirt and was going to throw it at me but I yelled stop star dust look at it. He threw it at me anyway, strange.

  3. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2010 at 12:07pm #

    China is now the world’s biggest energy consumer, knocking the U.S. off a perch it held for more than a century, according to new data from the International Energy Agency.

    The Paris-based agency, whose forecasts are generally regarded as bellwether indicators for the energy industry, said China devoured 2,252 million tons of oil equivalent last year, or about 4% more than the U.S., which burned through 2,170 million tons of oil equivalent. The oil-equivalent metric represents all forms of energy consumed, including crude oil, nuclear, coal, natural gas and renewable sources such as hydropower. wsj

    And everything was going so well. The free ride is over now what a good question

  4. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2010 at 12:28pm #

    BP has confirmed that there is an oil leak on the sea floor several miles away from the Deepwater Horizon’s damaged blowout preventer. The undisclosed specific location of the sub- sea leak is reported to be billowing oil and deadly methane gas.
    While the live BP video feed has been focused on the BOP, some oil industry experts have suggested that the leak being reported today has been played down, despite a report from Florida Senator Bill Nelson last month. (See video below)
    The third oil leak, which was admitted to by BP shorty after the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20,1020, may now be emerging from behind what many believe has been an oil spill media blackout.
    On May 5, 2010 BP confirmed that one of three initial leaks had been plugged. The second leak is the one millions of people have been watching through the BP live video feed. However, the third leak has been virtually ignored.
    In the early stages of the 90 day-old disaster, oil industry expert Matt Simmons told NBC News that a major area of seepage was coming from an area about 7 miles from the well. Simmons called it the “elephant behind the mouse.”
    Residents in the Tampa Bay area have been concerned over the lack of available information on the potential risks from the disaster.
    Should the sea floor leak announced today be confirmed in same location as the one Simmons and Senator Nelson have reported, then BP and the government have been aware of it all along, further substantiating fears of an oil spill media blackout. examiner

    Misreporting how about no reporting ignorance is strength it’s just better this way then again maybe it isn’t.

  5. hayate said on July 20th, 2010 at 12:06am #

    Interesting article. One can see how the reporting changes with u.s. guv policies. Now the media in the usa is as poor as it was during the Philippine war.

  6. Don Hawkins said on July 20th, 2010 at 4:09am #

    Sent this to the greatest minds in human history this morning in the media.


    See this


    Many other changes happening but this one tell’s the story. Of course the turn your mind into mush people say oh no big deal just think we can then get the oil and gas and just maybe the gold up there. Never mind about the little fact it also means the end of the human race and other life forms as we know it as a start. Why is China doing what they are doing well does water run up hill or down hill? If we look at history this has been the thinking and how did it work out not well. This time it’s about the whole ball game not this civilization or that civilization and it’s going to get ruff. In China like the States it’s about staying in power in all it’s different forms the big push will be on here in the States and oh those messages and just on the off chance we are all headed down the drain in not such slow motion what is the big plan? Well in China and India and the States some will get on a C-130 some a private jet and off to the secure location and let me add most will be in there seventies and eighty’s what’s wrong with that picture? We took the free ride a bit to long so a try will mean slow down that is if we wish to survive. Of course a few will not want to slow down that little addiction money and power not uncommon in history and so far how does it play out not well. After Rome what happened well the oil was still in the ground but this time as our forests burn the ice melt’s and crops either under water or no water millions on the move and yes here in the States also it’s already started. Granted a CME could shut it down and again if that did happen still the big plan is. So just on the off chance how many people know many and could be the reason strangeness is spreading through out the network’s. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive. It’s a tuff one can we try yes cup of coffee nice game of checkers.


  7. mary said on July 20th, 2010 at 6:10am #

    Best news I’ve had so far today.


    “visits to the Times site have fallen to 4.16% of UK quality press online traffic”

    “The huge drop matches the industry expectation before the Times instituted the paywall that traffic would fall off by 90%, which is the standard experience when a site moves to a paid-access model instead of free access.”

    “News International’s accounts to June 2009 show a daily loss of about £240,000 for both Times titles, and last month’s ABCs show a year-on-year headline monthly circulation slump of 14%, to 503,642.”

    “Sabbagh goes on to calculate that the typical Times print reader is worth “at least two and a half times” the average online reader.”

  8. Don Hawkins said on July 20th, 2010 at 9:16am #


    Breaking new’s from an average citizen as the media in the greatest nation on Earth seems to have there head up in a very dark place. Ignorance is strength I think not.

  9. Don Hawkins said on July 20th, 2010 at 12:40pm #

    With alcohol in the mix, there is a sinister side to the heatwave gripping eastern Europe as dozens more people are dying as they try to keep cool.

    Last weekend alone, 52 people drowned in Poland, where temperatures have reached 36 degrees celsius in some regions.

    People have been taking to fountains, park lakes and rivers, some of them the worse for drink.

    “People drink alcohol in the water, on water beds, in dinghies,” said Krzysztof Sadowski, a lifeguard in Nysa in the south. “There are several such cases every day. We warn them but usually in vain.”

    In Russia, whether the worse for drink or not, fun in the sun has also turned to tragedy. Last month, more than 1,200 people drowned nationwide.

    Moscow has not been this hot since records began, with temperatures well into the thirties for weeks.

    In Ukraine, more than 800 people have drowned since the start of the so-called “swimming season” on May 1. Some 115 of them were children.

    As for the heatwave, there is no end in sight. euronews

    Moscow has not been this hot since records began, with temperatures well into the thirties for weeks. Oh dear it appears Europe is having a little problem with reporting the truth. Why is Moscow this hot since records began why.

  10. Don Hawkins said on July 20th, 2010 at 1:31pm #

    Euronews is a pan-European multilingual news television channel launched on 1 January 1993 in Lyon. It covers world news from a European perspective,[1] and is available in nine languages.[2]
    Euronews is available in 300 million households in 151 countries worldwide. It reaches more than 179 million European households by cable, satellite and terrestrial.[2] This compared with 147 million European households for CNN International, 88 million for BBC World News and 76 million for CNBC Europe.[3][4] In terms of audience, Euronews is the most widely distributed news channel in Europe, ahead of CNN International and BBC World.[5]
    Euronews is unusual in that it uses voice-over narration to accompany all news footage save for live coverage, and features a “no comment” segment dedicated to reports which exclusively consist of visual content. Wiki

    Alright it look’s like whoever tells the truth first will win will it be Euronews, CNN, CNBC excuse me while I stop laughing, BBC, wait let’s not forget FOX but that’s right they are already fair and balanced. I know maybe we will get an official new’s channel here in the States well just maybe we already have that sort of.

  11. Don Hawkins said on July 20th, 2010 at 1:40pm #

    I’m about to celebrate my 70th birthday. I live in a rural intentional community, close to land that feeds us and supports us. I’ve lived long enough now to be very aware of how different the world has become, how the cycles of nature are off kilter, how the seasons and the climate have shifted. My garden tells me that food doesn’t grow in quite the same patterns, and we either get weeks of rain or weeks of heat and drought. This is the second year in a row that our apple trees do not have apples on them. But most people get their food in grocery stores where the apples still appear, and food still arrives, in season and out, from all over the world. This will soon end, and people won’t understand why. They don’t see the trouble in the land as I and my friends do. I grieve daily as I look on this altered world. My grandchildren are young adults who think their lives will continue as they have been. Who will tell them? They can’t hear me. They, and many others, will have to see the changes for themselves, as I have. I can’t imagine that anything else will convince them. My grief for the world, and for them, is compounded by this feeling of helplessness because there is no way we can have the collective action you speak of when the ‘collective’ is still in denial. Thank you for listening. Elder

    Who will tell them? Who will tell them?

  12. Don Hawkins said on July 20th, 2010 at 1:55pm #

    Who will tell them?


    This man is doing his best and if you read what he wrote above this seems to be the best kept secret of all time. I never see this online on TV new’s I never hear it on the radio yes the media seems to have overlooked this and rather strange as it just could be a start to save the human race and every other life form on the third planet from the Sun. Strange isn’t it?

  13. Don Hawkins said on July 20th, 2010 at 3:07pm #

    I think Glenn Beck reads DV well I think the people at Fox New’s in general read DV. I just watched Beck and he did about a half hour on the media at the end he said the media is suppressing stories. Oh my God Glenn what gave you the first clue. Now just on the off chance Glenn Beck reads DV or maybe one of his people he has people now Glenn in the above comment is a web page that James Hansen wrote. Go ahead and read it as this just could be one of those stories the media suppresses and just on the off chance what James Hansen wrote is true heck Glenn it could be the story not of the century but of all time. Maybe James Hansen will come on your show and of course you could get someone on the other side of the argument fair and balanced let the cat out of the bag so to speak. We are talking about the survival of life on Earth ever hear of it? Think about it and get back to us oh and use your real name.

  14. Don Hawkins said on July 21st, 2010 at 3:53am #


    Here’s a little something you will not see from MSM in the greatest nation on Earth. I report you decide.

  15. Don Hawkins said on July 22nd, 2010 at 3:18am #

    Sent this to media this morning and yesterday I sent them this.



    What did you think the Sun? Can we say it is what it is? In the history of the human race is there more it is what it is or it is what it isn’t? It is what it isn’t and I guess we could call it perception of reality work’s if you can get people human’s to believe in the isn’t part. In the first part of the twenty first century and the greatest minds in human history the isn’t part has reached levels never seen by us silly human’s. Here’s a great example yesterday that’s a day in the past sort of Glenn Beck did his show. and like so many things we see that isn’t he was not saying the things he said for the many but the few. Who are the few come on put on your thinking cap. This thinking of course can be seen almost everywhere do you need those special glasses I found in a dumpster a few years ago to see this well no not really. Almost all we do is to make money or spend money and remember 6.8 billion in the past was it different yes a little and now to keep going all we need is 4 more Earth’s to keep going. Talk about it is what it isn’t. Technology will fix the little four Earth problem well just here in the States let’s watch the Senate on the climate bill and watch it is what it isn’t not even a band aid. The free ride is over the last hundred years and why do we keep going well does water run up hill or down hill.

    From the beginning of preparedness in 1939 through the peak of war production in 1944, American leaders recognized that the stakes were too high to permit the war economy to grow in an unfettered, laissez-faire manner. American manufacturers, for instance, could not be trusted to stop producing consumer goods and to start producing materiel for the war effort. To organize the growing economy and to ensure that it produced the goods needed for war, the federal government spawned an array of mobilization agencies which not only often purchased goods (or arranged their purchase by the Army and Navy), but which in practice closely directed those goods’ manufacture and heavily influenced the operation of private companies and whole industries.

    Ah ha now suppose we did just that except this time we don’t destroy but create would China do the same thing heck they want to be like America. The hardest part of course is working together and not so much what we want but what we need. Ok never mind let’s just use history as a guide and keep the status quo. Oh and on the whole it is what it isn’t part watch the monitor you do have one right and you tell me.