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meat the press! by Terry Bisson


Welcome, sir, to Meat the Press. I hope you are prepared, as the Administration's chief spokesperson, to answer some tough questions.

You bet. The President is dealing with tough times, which call for tough policies. If that means tough questions, I'm ready to endure a little "stress and duress" from the press, ha ha. That's what democracy's all about, isn't it? But isn't one word on your logo misspelled? And where are the other reporters? Aren't Newsweek and the NY Times supposed to be here?

We decided it was time for restraint, as the President himself has said. We formed a pool, so the wrong questions wouldn't be asked. We realize that the War on Terrorism requires a heightened sensitivity to security.

Admirable. I appreciate -- no let me say, since I can speak for him, that the President appreciates your spirit of restraint and responsibility. It's an example to us all. But the show would look better with the usual format, don't you think? I know I can count on you to ask the proper questions. And you can count on me not to answer any that might impinge on or impede our national security efforts.

You never know. We have some new interview techniques, and you might find yourself answering questions you didn't intend to. And the pool format gives us a certain institutional deniability, which keeps our options open.

Since when does the press need deniability? And where are the cameras? Isn't this supposed to be a live program?

That was before 9/11. We changed our format in the interest of security. We're not going live until we're sure of our Q&A. We have a responsibility to the sensitivities of the public.

Well, if you insist. I guess all that comes under Freedom of the Press. So let's get on with it. Fire away. Ask me whatever you want.

First of all, we'd like to ask about the administration's use of torture in interrogation. In a recent Washington Post article...

Whoa! We agreed that there wouldn't be any questions on that subject. That was off limits by agreement, remember?

Well, yeah, but we would have agreed to anything to get you on this show. Surely you can understand that special circumstances call for special measures. Let me rephrase the question.

Can I get a glass of water? I notice they didn't bring me a glass.

There'll be water later on. First, let me ask you about the men being held in Guantanamo. Are any provisions of the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war being violated in--

Damn it, you know I can't answer that. And can I get another chair? This thing is digging into my back.

I'll see what I can do. But first, tell us about the conditions of detention at Bagram Air Base.

They're rough. What do you expect? This is not a tea party, and these men are not prisoners of war. They are combatants in a war of terror.

Aren't we all, these days. Certainly as as the chief spokesman, excuse me, spokesperson for our Commander-in-Chief, you yourself would come under the designation of combatant.

There's a distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants. And in the meantime, this chair is extremely uncomfortable. It's cutting off the circulation in my legs.

I guess the distinctions are getting a little blurry. And I'm sorry about the chair. We can fix you up with something better if you will be a little more cooperative. We have no interest in making you uncomfortable.

What do you mean, cooperative? Let me remind you that I am here as your guest.

Oh, we're very conscious of that. The two gentlemen behind you, who just came into the studio, are here to make sure that you remain here as our guest.

Hey! Let go of me. Who are these guys? Why are they duct-taping me to the chair!?

It's just a precaution, so that you don't harm yourself. Now let me ask again, are there currently any legal or ethical restraints on your methods of interrogation?

Let me go! I protest!

That's certainly your right. And we will let you go as soon as you answer a few questions. Would you like a glass of water?

Yes, please, for God's sake. And this tape is too tight.

It's hard to adjust tape. But I'll have some water brought in. I should point out that you're making it harder on yourself by squirming like that.

You are asking about highly confidential matters. I can't be expected to-- Ow! That hurts!

These guys can get a little rough. They're Israelis, you know. They lack a certain subtlety, but they're pretty good at not leaving marks.

What the hell is that thing? Ow!

Some kind of electrical device. They have all sorts of high tech ways of persuading people to talk. But surely there's no need for that. All we want is a candid conversation about a matter of interest to all civilized people.

What do you know about civilized people, you monster! This interview is officially over. This ... Ow! Take that thing off my head. I can't breathe!

Don't panic, that just makes it worse. Try breathing more slowly.

Why are you doing this to me? You know I can't tell you anything. It would cost me my job.

I understand, You have your principles, and I respect that. But are you sure there isn't something you can tell us before the Pakistanis get here?

The Pakistanis? How did they get involved in this?

It's an international press pool. We had to include them, which is a problem, because they sometimes do leave marks. But they give us the operational flexibility we need.

I'm an American citizen. My God, you can't show this on TV.

We can edit around it. Of course, it gets more difficult after the Pakistanis get started.

Please, let me go! Let me breathe! I'll tell you what you want to know.

We can talk? Lift the hood a little, guys, so we can talk. I feel like Joan Rivers, ha ha. I think we are ready to go live at last. Welcome, sir, to Meat the Press. You said you were ready for some tough questions, so here goes: Are you torturing prisoners for information?

All right, yes, but only when we have to. Only in the interest of national security. We have determined that certain persuasive techniques are necessary.

Such as the ones described in the Washington Post article?

Yes. Yes, those, and others we don't want to know about. Some of our allies are not so squeamish.

Squeamish. I like that word. I'll bet there's no place for the squeamish at Diego Garcia, is there? Or Guantanamo?

No! Certainly not. Now let me go, damn it!

First I have to ask this question in the interests of journalistic disclosure. Are you sharing this information with the American people of your own free will?

Yes, of course, damn it. You're not going to get away with this, you know.

No coercion of any kind was used?

No coercion of any kind was used.

You just wanted to speak up, so the American people could have a full and open debate about the subject of torture, right?

Right. Yes, right.

There, that's a wrap. We're off the air. Good show! Now, how about that glass of water. Do you take ice? Get him some ice, you guys.

For God's sake, let me go!

Of course, we will, soon enough. We're just going to have to hold you for a few days in an undisclosed location in case we have some follow up questions to ask. You know how we journalists are about follow-up questions. Do you prefer a cage or a box?

You bastards ! Take these chains off my legs!

The boxes are warmer, and we have several sizes, including one that's almost big enough to stand up in. Are you ready for some good news? Since you've been so cooperative, you're next in line for a full-size five by five. More water?

Terry Bisson is a winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards and the author of numerous books and essays.

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