The Blog

How To Write A Hit Piece

10:22 AM, Apr 28, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

New York Times reporter Brian Stelter puts on a clinic this morning with a front-page story about John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who claimed in a 2007 interview with ABC (available here) that the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah "disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks." Kiriakou also claimed that Zubaydah broke after just 35 seconds, and "from that day on he answered every question." That statement seems at odds with recently released documents showing that Zubaydah was "waterboarded" at least 83 times over the course of one month (the number refers to each application of water, not the number of sessions, which were limited to two a day and five days out of every 30).

Rather than report out this discrepancy by interviewing people familiar with the events (a little something those of us in the journalism business call journalism), Stelter's piece, headlined "How '07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate," traces the effect Kiriakou's comments had on the debate over waterboarding -- something only a New York Times reporter with a login and password to Nexis could do. The piece sheds no new light on the interrogation of Zubaydah and fails to offer any insight into the apparent contradiction between Kiriakou's original statements and the new documents, but Stelter aims to undermine the argument that waterboarding works by casting doubt on the credibility of a key witness and embarrassing ABC for having contributed to the defense of the Bush-era tactic. In this he certainly succeeds.

For those who actually wanted to know what happened in Abu Zubaydah's interrogation -- whether waterboarding worked, whether he broke quickly, whether he subsequently offered information that disrupted a future attack -- you'll have to wait for the truth commission.