Ombud’s advice on the torture question: “show don’t tell”

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“I recognize that it’s frustrating for some listeners to have NPR not use the word torture to describe certain practices that seem barbaric,” writes NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard in a column responding to complaints about NPR’s editorial policy. “But the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate.” Shepard shares excerpts of a recent memo by David Sweeney, managing editor of NPR News, advising journalists to use euphemisms such as “extreme” or “harsh” interrogation techniques. She proposes that journalists describe rather than characterize controversial methods such as waterboarding: “[R]eporters could say that the U.S. military poured water down a detainee’s mouth and nostrils for 40 seconds. Or they could detail such self-explanatory techniques as forcing detainees into cramped confines crawling with insects, or forced to stand for hours along side a wall. A basic rule of vivid writing is: “Show, Don’t Tell.” Be sure to read comments reacting to Shepard’s online column. More reactions on’s Romenesko and Salon.

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