Not a Lie, Not the Truth

One of the tactics the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld Damage Control Team (BCRDCT) is using to try to contain Torturegate is to show the world how utterly forthcoming they are — have always been — about the issue of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib facility. Rumsfeld testified, backed up by an official Pentagon timeline, that in January “the Central Command public affairs people went out and told theworld. They told everyone in the world that there were allegations of abuse and they were being investigated.” That statement set everyone running to Web and news archives to find the January release. Saturday, the LosAngeles Times reprinted the information the military actually put out on January 16, 2004:

“An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility. The release of specific information concerning the incidents could hinder the investigation, which is in its early stages. The investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner. The Coalition is committed to treating all persons under its control with dignity, respect and humanity. Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the Commanding General, has reiterated this requirement to all members of CJTF-7.”

The Times’s story notes that the release — what you might call understated, given the fact someone had just presented officers with a pile of hot photographs of prisoners being abused by soldiers — was one of three released that day (the other two focused on U.S. military activities). BCRDCT did some Nexis homework before Rumsfeld hit the Hill on Friday, because one of the points mentioned to show how the authorities have done their best to bring this whole situation to light was that the media picked up on the story in January. And in fact, a Nexis search shows that the bare facts of the press release did make it into dozens of news outlets the day after the military put it out, almost always as one item in an extended digest of other developments. The Associated Press, NewYork Times and others talked to the Pentagon about the release, and came away with statements saying that the abuse allegations were”serious” and “credible.” The story got wide, but not deep, play in Canada. Two days after the release, London’s Sunday Times ran a longerstory on detainee abuse, highlighting the case of a man who had fallen into the hands of U.S. forces, then was imprisoned and beaten.

But for the most part — with notable exceptions, such as a March 3 Salon story that detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib — the story stopped for most of the media. Bottom line for now: the damage-control folks downplayed the events in January and got away with it; it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that most of the media never looked hard enough at what was there.

More on Torturegate (the Word)

The number of Google references was at 13 on Thursday and is 31 this evening (mostly on blogs, and counting my two earlier posts). Nexis shows two mentions: One during "Hannity and Colmes" on Fox News on Thursday and
one in a short news item in a paper somewhere. Google News shows one reference, Yahoo! News shows zero, and Google’s search ofUsenet groups shows three (all Thursday). "Torturegate" doesn’t appear at all on two
select indexes of blog content, Daypop and Blogdex.

OK, so that’s today’s unscientific take on one new word. However, some people are trying to be a little more scientific about how new wordsand ideas spread in cyberspace. Wired News has a story today called "How the Word Gets Around," on an experiment to follow the spread of a new memeonline. After reading the article, I’m not sure what the project proves, though, because it invited people to participate as a sort of self-conscious exercise. It’d be more interesting to trace an idea that just sort of gets thrown into the collective consciousness. Like

Man, I’m a Genius

Language history was made right here, or several posts below this one, on Sunday afternoon. That’s when I published
the first known (to me) use of the term "torturegate" to describe the
current furor and recriminations over the U.S. Army abuse of prisoners
in Iraq. I know it’s a big claim. But earlier today, I noticed that
someone had visited the blog from a Google listing for "torturegate."
At that point — it was about 2 in the afternoon, Pacific time, that
was the only indexed reference to that word. Now, about eight hours later, the Google search
on "torturegate" shows two more references, both more recent than mine.
Also, a search of Nexis for the last couple of months shows zero
instances of "torturegate."

Before you use the word, just remember this blog is copyrighted, and
words invented here can only be used by the express written consent of
myself and the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Royalties for
using this new word will be set at rates affordable to all. And stay
tuned for our full line of Torturegate (marca registrada; patent
pending) products (and if there’s a particular Torturegate product
you’d like to see, please write the management).