Is calling torture 'torture' political correctness?

The New York Times is one of the many newspapers which, after calling torture "torture" for generations, switched to euphemisms ("enhanced interrogation techniques") during the previous administration. The prevalence of such language is summed up in a paper by Harvard University students, who found that its use became ubiquitous after prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib was exposed.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, is unhappy with the report. To him, it is direct language such as 'torture' — not the elaborate, vague euphemisms the government prefers — which amounts to politically correct terminology.

"I think this Kennedy School study — by focusing on whether we have embraced the politically correct term of art in our news stories — is somewhat misleading and tendentious."

His defense, summed up, is that the word 'torture' takes sides. But this is nonsense: using the word to describe waterboarding, sleep deprivation and similar techniques was accepted long ago. To now claim that doing so is 'controversial' is the side he's sided with.

Moreover, according to the NYTpicker, Keller wrote more than a dozen stories describing such techniques as 'torture' before his administration-approved change of heart. Glenn Greenwald's criticism of Keller's position is not afraid of using direct language.

Keller's saying, in effect, that serving the government's desire for it to stop calling torture 'torture' just happened to coincide with the Times' switch to the impartial language it should have used all along. What luck! If nothing else, it illustrates how ingenious we can be at rationalizing competitive self-interest as journalistic propriety.

But what the last few years should have taught the mainstream media is that maintaining the approval of one's subjects isn't what you should be competing for. Every time an establishment hack serves their subjects to preserve their access, God gives a photoshopped kitten 1000 page views.

Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media [Harvard University]