A torture advocate comes under fire from the blogosphere.
I have to admit: When I called Harold Jackson on Monday and asked him why the Philadelphia Inquirer keeps printing columns by torture memo author John Yoo, I expected something of a pro forma response — something along the lines of “We believe in vigorous debate from voices across the political spectrum etc. etc.” And Jackson, the Inquirer’s editorial page editor, did get around to saying stuff like that.
But this is what he said first:
“The short answer is he is under contract,” Jackson told me. “We have an obligation to fulfill the contract and we intend to.”
I hope Jackson — who was very cordial during our short talk — will forgive me for this observation: Citations of contractual obligations don’t exactly amount to a ringing endorsement of Yoo’s presence on the Inky’s editorial page.
Yoo’s columns for the Inquirer have become increasingly controversial: He's the White House lawyer most identified with the "torture memos" that laid the legal foundation for the Bush Administration's "enhanced interrogation" of torture suspects. That's why blogs like Phawker, Young Philly Politics and even Will Bunch at the Inquirer’s sister publication, the Daily News, have all been raising a ruckus. Starting today, Yoo's column has also drawn national attention from the likes of the Romenesko media blog, Think Progress, Media Matters for America and uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan.
Bunch, in fact, has gone so far as to announce a crusade against a paper whose owner also signs his paychecks.
"Last Sunday's column by Yoo should also be his last, period," Bunch wrote Monday night at his blog. "While Yoo is a free man who is thus free to utter his detestable viewpoints on any public street corner, the Inquirer has no obligation to so loudly promote these ideas that are so far outside of the mainstream. People should write the Inquirer -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- or call the newspaper and tell them that torture advocates are not the kind of human beings who belong regularly on a newspaper editorial page, officially sanctioned."
Jackson told me he’s heard from angry readers, as well.
“We get a lot of e-mails, a lot of people have threatened to cancel their subscriptions,” Jackson said.
Jackson said that Yoo is under a year-long contract to provide a monthly column to the Inquirer. He did not disclose compensation or the contract’s expiration date. He said Yoo had been given the contract because A) he has Philadelphia ties, B) he’s distinguished enough professionally to hold a faculty position at Berkeley law school and C) he has insight into legal matters facing the country.
Fair enough. But, I asked Jackson, isn’t there some concern that the Inquirer is being used as a platform by a man believed by many to be a war criminal?
“I think that we’re concerned about the content of everyone, everything we publish,” Jackson said. “Certainly John Yoo is a controversial person. He himself will admit he has become a lightning rod.”
Jackson then noted the possibility Yoo could face “judicial action” for his authorship of the memos that provided the legal groundwork for the Bush Administration’s torture of terror suspects.
“We have not reached that point. The description of him as a war criminal would not be accurate. He’s a member of a distinguished university faculty with interesting things to say,” Jackson said. “If at some point it goes beyond that, we’ll have more concern about our relationship to him.”
I had one final concern: Here is the Inquirer’s description of John Yoo at the end of his column:
John Yoo (email@example.com) is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas.
Notice what it omits? Only the resume item that makes him most-known to the public — and, arguably, the resume item that put him on the Inky’s editorial page: His service in the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush. That, I think, is a terribly curious omission, one that obscures Yoo’s history to readers who may not have followed the torture debate closely.
“We aren’t trying to hide anything. There’s nothing to hide,” Jackson told me. “It’s just pretty standard identifier for most of the writers we have. It doesn’t go into all the curriculum vitae … Certainly, he’s got a background and a track record our readers are familiar with.”
For more commentary on this topic, check out an expanded version of this post at the Cup O' Joel blog
The hottest media controversy in Philly is over the Philadelphia Inquirer's hiring of "torture memos" author John Yoo as a regular columnist. PW Twitterfriend Steve Gengler challenged PW's criticism of the hiring.
A small rally against torture -- including a demonstration of waterboarding -- was held Thursday afternoon in front of the Philadelphia Inquirer building. The protest, sponsored by Philly World Can't Wait, targeted the Inquirer because of its hiring of John Yoo as a regular columnist for its op-ed pages.
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor