Failing newspapers provide another reason not to read them

What better way to welcome this weekend’s “White House Correspondents Dinner” than with a big lawsuit pitting the Washington Post against the Bush Administration?

Speaking for the paper in an online forum, congressional reporter Paul Kane said the Post won’t call waterboarding people and slamming them into walls torture because it fears a lawsuit for libel — because the paper is in no shape to weather the costs.

New York, N.Y.: What’s the difference between the “harsh interrogations” I keep reading about in The Post and actual “torture”? If it’s the same thing, then why not just call it “torture”? I don’t get it. Aren’t you guys continuing to catapult Bush-era propaganda when you use such NewSpeak euphemisms for what we all (finally) know was clearly torture, based on U.S. and International law?

Paul Kane: You can’t call someone a convicted murderer until he/she has actually been convicted.

Understand? Get it?

The reason we say “alleged” murder and things like that is for our own legal protection. So we can’t be sued for libel. Take a look at financial reports on the newspaper business. We’re not going to do anything that leads to us losing any more money these days. [h/t Mark Peters]

That’s what we get from one of the leading names of our financially crumbling, utterly on its heels newspaper industry: the whining retreat of a whipped pup instead of the toothy growl of a watchdog.

What could be better, ultimately, for the Washington Post than if Dick Cheney sued it for using the word “torture” in reference to the Bush Administration’s enhanced interrogation policies?

Nothing could be better. Imagine the material that would have to be brought into the courtroom. Imagine members of the former Bush Administration called to the stand to explain away the truth of the Yoo-Bybee memos, the Post’s lawyers free to question them at length, the threat of perjury hanging in place of the klieg lights of the softball Sunday talk shows. Imagine the Washington Post coverage of the trial and the millions of readers and TV watchers reveling in the story. Imagine journalists standing up for themselves against the Bush Administration, albeit belatedly, and asserting their right to speak truth to power.

But no. Instead we continue to get absurd stories like this one last week from Post reporter Carrie Johnson:

Former Bush administration officials have launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to urge Justice Department leaders to soften an ethics report criticizing lawyers who blessed harsh detainee interrogation tactics, according to two sources familiar with the efforts.


The memos offered support for waterboarding, slamming prisoners against a flexible wall and other techniques that critics have likened to torture.

“That critics have likened to torture”? It forces the reader to suspect the former Bush administration officials working behind the scenes may have gotten to Johnson, too.

When the President (Obama), given the opportunity, adopts a posture of pity toward the press instead of mocking rivalry, well then it is a time for bold moves, not lawyerly cowardice. Washington Post, go for it: Dare them to sue you. Get sued by Cheney. You win even if you lose.