Not sure this one's Notable--The Dark Side by Jane Mayer

October 06, 2009 by PatLeach

I'm coming to the end of my annual exercise to read most of the books on the American Library Association Notable Books list (for adults).

I'm disappointed in "The Dark Side: the Inside Story of how the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals" by Jane Mayer. I knew that this book was about torture, U.S. participation in torture, and the politics surrounding all that. I didn't expect a pleasant read. I did expect sound journalism and nonfiction writing. Mayer fell short of my standard.

Mayer's credentials are as a newpaper reporter, and a writer for the New Yorker. Too often, she included what struck me as hearsay information without following up on it.  For example, when she introduces Timothy Flanigan, a lawyer in the White House Counsel's Office, she concludes, "A friend said he drove the family in his own school bus."  (p. 50) Granted, this seems an insignificant detail, but did she not follow up by learning if a bus was registered to him? Did people observe Flanigan driving the bus?

I also see her language as often biased. One paragraph begins, "As the Bush Administration swept away the old rules, becoming unfettered and unchecked, it began to authorize the rendition of suspects for whom it had little or no solid evidence of guilt." (p.125)  That language ("swept away," "unfettered," "unchecked") leads me to question Mayer's objectivity.

I understand that in the course of her investigation, Mayer came to believe that the Bush administration went widely astray in regard to torture and treatment of detainees. It's fair for her to share that point of view. I would have preferred that she present the information she found in a way that lets the reader make his/her own conclusion.

To be clear about my own point of view, I probably agree with Mayer'sconclusions that the Bush administration was wrong here. But I still want her to present this information differently.  I want her to use less-charged language.  I want her to show that she's followed up on information that could be considered hearsay. I want her to present the factual information in a way that both sides would consider fair.

I'd like to know what you think of this...what responsibility do you believe this writer has to her information and her readers? IS it possible for a writer to develop a strong point of view as a result of investigation, and not employ language charged to bolster that view? IS that what readers want?



Tagged in: Notables, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer, torture, nonfiction,

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