Media reporting of terrorism

by Chris Bertram on September 8, 2004

No-one should treat Daniel Pipes as a reliable source of information, but his claims get endlessly recycled through the internet. Today he gets prominence on Arts and Letters Daily for this piece which claims that journalists have shied away from using the word “terrorist” in connection with the terrorist murders at Beslan. The Arts and Letters Daily intro reads:

Call them assailants, bombers, captors, commandos, fighters, guerrillas, gunmen, militants, radicals, rebels, or activists. But please, not terrorists…

Pipes himself writes:

The press, however, generally shies away from the word terrorist, preferring euphemisms. Take the assault that led to the deaths of some 400 people, many of them children, in Beslan, Russia, on September 3. Journalists have delved deep into their thesauruses, finding at least twenty euphemisms for terrorists.

He also refers to “this unwillingness to name terrorists”.

He then links to twenty news sources to exemplify his claims. These are the examples cherry-picked by Pipes to support his case. I’ve followed them all.

National Public Radio This is a five-line intro rather than an article. It dates from September 1st and refers to the breaking news of the attack when details aren’t clear. Verdict: too slight and ephemeral to support Pipes.

Economist “After a wave of terrorist attacks across Russia …. Though the terrorist attacks have continued ….Moscow and other Russian cities continue to suffer terrorist outrages….The terrorists apparently bribed their way through a series of checkpoints”

Associated Press As Pipes claims, the word terrorist is not used, but the moral outrage of the article is clear to anyone who can read.

Agence France Presse “Ce dénouement sanglant porte à plus de 420 le nombre de personnes tuées dans des actes terroristes en Russie en dix jours …. Selon les autorités, les terroristes, dont une dizaine originaires de pays arabes, ont utilisé des armes et des explosifs entreposés à l’avance dans l’école, ce qui suppose une préparation minutieuse de l’opération.”

The Times The words “terror”, “terrorist” or “terrorism” are used 25 times in this column by Simon Jenkins, and only one of this instances is in inverted commas.

UPI “The hostage death toll in Russia’s Beslan school crisis topped 100 Friday as police cornered three terrorists—with hostages—in a basement….the terrorists’ leader and two associates …. the terrorists’ leader in the basement ….aced with explosives by the terrorists ” etc.

The Australian “the number of terrorists killed and captured”.

New York Post “40 heavily armed Chechen terrorists….the terrorists began shooting at fleeing children.” etc.

Reuters
As Pipes claims, the word “terrorist” is not used.

Los Angeles Times The words do occur, but mainly in the context to direct quotations.

New York Times Here Pipes’s complaint is confined to the use of the word “insurgents” in the headline. Which is just as well, since terrorists are clearly mentioned as such in the article, repeatedly.

The Observer “According to witnesses, this was not the only group of terrorists….Two years ago, when Chechen terrorists seized 800 theatre-goers in the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow ….inside the school the terrorists were also separating men from women ….the terrorists were also busy rigging up a series of bombs….The terrorists moved quickly to establish their control over the captives.

Chicago Tribune “terrorists who, in the course of just two weeks, have significantly raised the nation’s level of fear”. There may be slightly more evidence of reluctance to use the words in this case than in some of the others.

New York Times (again) “one of the most horrific terrorist acts in recent times, with the massacre of hundreds of children, parents and teachers” (and multiple other references).

BBC No mention of terror, terrorism or terrorists in the article linked to which is an assessment of the performance of the Russian security services rather than a general article on the massacre. Some support for Pipes here then. (Let me report, though, that I heard BBC commentators on Radio 5 this morning clearly referring to terrorists by that name).

Sydney Morning Herald Pipes limits himself to mentioning the headline. Odd that, as the article doesn’t use the words so offers him some support, though, again, it isn’t a general article about Beslan.

Christian Science Monitor “As Russians bury their dead, officials look at terrorist links to Chechen rebels…..sophisticated terror operation”.

Pakistan Times All mentions of the words are in the reported speech of others (which makes up much of the article).

Further comment seems superfluous.

{ 108 comments }

1

Aidan Kehoe 09.08.04 at 10:50 am

/çɛsus/, I’ve never read this guy, but this constant demolishing of what he says makes me wonder why anyone does.

2

Russkie 09.08.04 at 11:10 am

Further comment seems superfluous.

That’s too bad, because I really would like to know what your specific criticism is.

Pipes’ general point is that the media shies away from the term, and that the alternatives are often forced or absurd ie. he writes Journalists have delved deep into their thesauruses, finding at least twenty euphemisms for terrorists

Ergo the list, which includes an NYPost editorial because it used the ridiculous term “guerilllas”. NYPost is a right-wing Murdoch paper which throws around “terrorist” all the time as you note yourself. The “thesaurus” bit is also the reason that Pipes quotes only the headline of the SMH article.

Separately: Pipes’ general point that many media outlets loathe to use the word is basically correct – don’t you think?

3

Bruce Baugh 09.08.04 at 11:21 am

When more than half of a person’s citations directly contradict his claim, I generally feel confident in saying “No, he’s not basically correct.” It’s one thing to push ambiguous data into sharply defined categories – this is the fun of taxonomy, and it’s a game the whole family can play. It’s another to say “A, and you can see it here”, except that if anyone goes and looks there, what they see is B. My cat is about 15 pounds and pure black, and I saw two dogs yesterday who were 10-15 pounds and pure black, but my cat did not become a dog when I got home, nor at any other time.

Pipes has a history of this. He writes things that sound plausible to a lay reader concerned about truth and moral judgment in a time of (as Tom Lehrer put it) “universal crisis and general bruhaha”, but he can’t deliver the truth reliably, and that makes his moral judgment irrelevant.

4

Tom Doyle 09.08.04 at 11:59 am

[An encyclopedia article on the term “terrorism,” discussing its history, political contentiousness, other items of interest. Links to related resources.]

Terrorism is a tactic of violence that targets civilians, with the objective of forcing an enemy to favorable terms, by creating fear, demoralization, or political discord in the attacked population.

“Terrorism” is a pejorative characterisation of an enemy’s attacks as conforming to an immoral philosophy of violence, in a manner outside of warfare, or prohibited in the laws of war.

“The use of the term terrorism or terrorist is politically weighted, as it (and historically, other terms like it) is often used in propaganda used to drum up support in opposition to “terrorists.” A nation that supports forms of organized violence (particularly where citizens are affected) tends to dissociate itself from the term, by using neutral or even positive terms to characterize its combatants—such as soldiers or freedom fighters—both of which can be ambiguous terms for describing terrorist actors.”

[…]

Much more

http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/terrorism

5

nick 09.08.04 at 12:01 pm

The Reuters policy is long, long-established. And a good one: this is not a matter of resorting to euphemism, but rather to avoid resorting to laziness.

But I want a survey of news stories about Daniel Pipes that, unjustifiably, refrain from using the word ‘arsehole’.

6

des von bladet 09.08.04 at 12:23 pm

Cf. Scott Marten’s debunking of Pipes’s twisting smeary ungoodness about Tariq Ramadan, in which Pipes relied especially on the unlikeliness of his readership checking sources in the Frenchy-French.

There are two (2) things to note here:

* The Internet can and will fact-check your sorry ass, Pipes, and don’t think it won’t.
* It is qute likely Pipes knows this and doesn’t care. The FDRUSAian Right hasn’t got where it is today by caring about things like that.

Which is not to say that a systematic Pipeswatch would not be a worthy contribution to the common weal.

7

Jeffrey Imm 09.08.04 at 12:32 pm

I completely disagree with this author’s critic of David Pipes’ comments. It is completely evident from these articles, which I have also looked up, that there is some inherent “rationalization” by the media for the terrorists’ actions, by refusing to use the word “terrorist”.

Moreover, I think this author here at Crooked Timber is doing a disservice to free people by suggesting that the media is NOT accountable for their actions in “humanizing” such terrorist monsters. This teflon treatment of the media hurts all people – liberal and conservative. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Daniel Pipes in general, the media’s kid-gloves treatment of such terrorist monsters is a TACTIC that terrorists count on to promote their cause, and to have far-left media editors “rationalize” no matter what horrible things they do.

The media wants to treat these individuals as “alleged” criminals as if public opinion was a court of law. But these terrorists are not alleged criminals; they relish their crimes against humanity. The media plays the fool by suggesting that West somehow is “guilty” for their monsterous actions. This is within the same week that UK television broadcasts a program showing the “human side” of 9/11 attackers, and Germany has a new film showing the “tender side” of Adolf Hitler.

The moral relativist idea is that calling a terrorist by their name must be avoided to prevent “offending” anyone’s point of view. Such moral relativism is the philosphy of the mainstream media. However, with such vicious predator terrorists as our enemy, moral relativism will be the death of us all. One can imagine the reporters reading international terrorists their Miranda rights while terrorists murder more innocents.

One poster here has suggested that terrorism should be avoided as a “pejorative” term – why? Isn’t terrorism a condemnable act? Isn’t that the point of Pipes’ article? Isn’t murdering innocent children in cold blood condemnable? Isn’t the word “murder” also “negative”? Again the path down global moral relativism can make news reporting totally abstract from human experience. How far do we need to go with euphemisms for terror to keep from offending evil people?

I urge readers here to read the original Daniel Pipes article, and not to just take this author’s cricitism for granted here on Crooked Timber. The original article is at:

http://www.danielpipes.org/article/2066

Lets look at some of Pipes’ references again. Note I am certain that some of these that are news feeds got “edited” with more “current” versions, since Pipes’ original references. However, lets look at a sampling to see how “unfair” Pipes’ critique of the media really is.

Guardian:
“Witnesses reported that the hostage-takers had attempted to justify their brutality by claiming it was an act of revenge for the killing by Russian forces of Chechen children.”

Economist:
“Russian forces have stormed a school where hundreds of children and adults were being held by rebels demanding Chechen independence. “

Associated Press:
“Captors’ cruelty terrified hostages”, “Gadieyeva said the hostage-takers were clear in their intentions.”

London Times:
“Dealing with criminals, however fanatical, is a matter for the police and security services.”

Washington Post:
“Hundreds of children, their parents and teachers died in the bloody culmination of a 52-hour siege that began when heavily armed Muslim guerrillas stormed their school Wednesday and ended in an hours-long battle with Russian troops Friday.”

Australian:
“This man personally took part in the attack, he was part of that gang, he took part in shooting.”

Reuters:
“Up to 20 people were believed to have been killed when the gunmen seized the building last Wednesday and herded their captives into the gym. Officials said security forces killed all the estimated 26 hostage takers.”

LA Times:
“On Saturday, authorities laid out the bodies of all 26 hostage-takers in the schoolyard here. Authorities believe they are linked to rebels from Chechnya, the nearby republic that has been engaged in a separatist war with Russian forces for most of the past 10 years, or neighboring Ingushetia, where rebel violence also has broken out. Russian officials said 10 of the fighters were Arabs but provided no proof.”

NY Times:
“Heavily armed insurgents, some with explosives strapped to their bodies, seized a school here in southern Russia on Wednesday, herded scores of schoolchildren, parents and teachers into its gymnasium and threatened to kill them. More than a dozen guerrillas, including men and women, stormed Middle School No. 1….”

Chicago Tribune:
“Many children among 200 killed as Russians rush rebels after explosion”. “The raid lasted more than four hours as commandos fought militants holed up in and around the school.”

OK does this read like terrorism to you? We can infer, but the terrorists can also infer that they have a friend in the Western media – which sugar coats their actions and somehow “rationalizes” them. That is problem for all free people and something that needs to be condemned. If Daniel Pipes can help do that, then God bless him for his help.

Remember – terrorists do not distinguish who they kill – US or UK – right or left – young or old – these predators have no respect for human life.

Jeffrey Imm
http://www.unitedstatesaction.com

8

Des von Bladet 09.08.04 at 12:43 pm

Oh, I forgot; there is also a third thing to not, bringing the total to three (3):

* Criticising Pipes brings out the wingnuts like you wouldn’t believe.

9

David Velleman 09.08.04 at 12:50 pm

The idea is that *every* reference to the perpetrators must use the word “terrorist”. They did take hostages, but to call them “hostage-takers” is to miss an opportunity to call them “terrorists”. They are part of a rebellion, but to call them “rebels” is to miss an opportunity to call them “terrorists”. They carried guns, but to call them “gunmen” is to miss an opportunity to call them “terrorists”. They committed crimes, but to call them “criminals” is to miss an opportunity to call them “terrorists”. It doesn’t matter how many times you do call them terrorists; you must never call them anything else. “Terrorists terrorist terrorist terrorist terrorists…”

What this is called, of course, is bad writing.

10

Martin 09.08.04 at 12:57 pm

We all know where the original article is, it’s linked in the second sentence of this post, you idiot.

11

Robin Green 09.08.04 at 1:04 pm

Both sides have a valid point, I think.

“Rebels” is dubious because it has positive connotations, and “activists” is even worse – perhaps it was a mistranslation by Pakistan Times. Unfortunately, Pakistan is a hotbed of state-supported Islamist fanaticism, so it may not be.

But “gunmen” and “hostage takers”? Would anyone really read an article about these horrific crimes and come out of it thinking:

“Oh, but they were gunmen so that makes it OK!”

Please.

Substituting “gunmen” for “terrorists” some of the time is not necessarily born of any sinister intentions. Nor is it evidence of “rationalisation”.

12

Tom Doyle 09.08.04 at 1:14 pm

“Criticising Pipes brings out the wingnuts like you wouldn’t believe.”

Bring ’em on.

13

R. 09.08.04 at 2:26 pm

Chris,

1. Richard Pipes has big axes and he’ll keep grinding them at every opportunity. Are we now going to get a weekly Pipes post (I like the sound of that but not its implication) to remind us of that tiresome fact?

2. Some media have twisted their Middle East and South Asia reports into pretzels trying to avoid the word “terrorists”. The original motive for that may have been understandable, i.e. (to simplify outrageously): don’t take sides. As well, as any writer knows, re-using the same word over and over in a single piece makes for very bad reading, hence the search for synonyms. But it is makes no sense whatever to avoid calling the people who slaughtered the children in Beslan terrorists. Or, for that matter, the bombers of those two buses in Beersheva, or the murderers of those Nepalese workers in Iraq. If the word has any meaning at all, it is applicable in these cases. Indeed, the argument could now be (an argument that Pipes distorts for his longstanding purposes) that any medium not calling the perpetrators terrorists (i.e., not once in a long report) is taking sides.

3. This is a disappointing post in that it is clearly “tit for tat”. After all the criticism that CT has received in recent days, it is natural that some prominent CT-ers would feel defensive. But the criticism was (mostly) intelligent and equanimous and Pipes is hardly an appropriate strawman.

14

praktike 09.08.04 at 2:31 pm

Am I the only one who thinks that “terrorist” may be an emotionally satisfying word but ultimately not very descriptive?

After all, there are different kinds of terrorists with different aims.

Some terrorists are insurgents, are they not? I don’t think that necessarily validates their claims; it merely describes them.

15

catfish 09.08.04 at 2:33 pm

This strange obsession with policing the language of others for the “Correct” terms regardless of the context should be encouraged. After all, this sort of nonsense has done irreperable harm to the left over the last 20 years. It’s time for the right to indulge in self-defeating language games.

16

Ron 09.08.04 at 2:48 pm

Pipes is a swine, but there may be other reasons for the dainty treatment of people who shoot children as “rebels”, per a comment in this “Guardian article”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1299318,00.html on how neocons see Chechens as US friends.
ron

17

Chris Bertram 09.08.04 at 2:53 pm

Yes Ron, the Guardian piece is by the somewhat barmy John Laughland. “I wrote a post about him a few weeks back”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002269.html .

18

S. 09.08.04 at 3:02 pm

“3. This is a disappointing post in that it is clearly “tit for tat”. “

Tit for tat for what? WTF is “R” talking about?

19

theCoach 09.08.04 at 3:05 pm

Mr. Pipes often uses the euphemism “terrorists”, shying away from what they really are: “Evil Terrorists.”

20

Steve Carr 09.08.04 at 3:06 pm

Pipes is off his rocker here, as Chris’ demolition aptly shows. There’s no doubt that some Middle Eastern media outlets will do anything rather than use the word “terrorist,” but with the exception of Reuters there’s no evidence of the Western media shying away from the phrase.

One of the things Pipes seems not to understand is that if you’re a writer, you can’t keep using the same word over and over again. Readers will find it incredibly annoying. But if you call someone a terrorist early on, and then later refer to them as a rebel or a hostage-taker or a gunman, believe me, no one is forgetting that that person is a terrorist.

21

mona 09.08.04 at 3:06 pm

This is within the same week that UK television broadcasts a program showing the “human side” of 9/11 attackers

I imagine this is referring to “The Hamburg Cell”. For the sake of accuracy, it wasn’t a “tv broadcast” in the sense of a documentary or political programme – it was a film.
Here is the director explaining her choice of subject:

“The film is in no way supporting the horrific act these individuals perpetrated,” says Bird. “But these guys were not demons. They were not psychopaths. They were ordinary young men, who came from middle-class families, with money and education. I think that is something we have to confront and be aware of.”
(…) “We talked about how to tell the story of these men without eliciting sympathy for them, which we don’t have,” says Bird.
(…) “The difficulty was the obvious distaste that all of us who made the film have about those sentiments,” says Bird. “It’s very hard to put those kinds of arguments up on screen.
“I once directed a play at the Royal Court Theatre – Oi For England, by Trevor Griffiths. It was about a bunch of skinhead boys who get recruited by the British Movement [a forerunner of the BNP], and the British Movement guy had the most persuasive, fantastic speech I’ve ever read. People said, ‘You can’t do this.’ But yes, we had to!
“The audience at the Royal Court is a good liberal audience. They needed to know what kind of speech the British Movement were using to get these kids.
“It’s the same here. I don’t agree with it in any shape or form, but we have to be aware that this is what those who’ve twisted Islam to their own purposes are doing.”

Germany has a new film showing the “tender side” of Adolf Hitler.

See above. Same concept applies.

On the topic – I tend to agree with Robin Green and David Velleman. Also, sometimes use of the word “terrorists” is left for when there is actually a claim by a terrorist organisation. I don’t see how terrorists could care how you call them, their acts speak quite clearly. It’s a bit preposterous, this idea that Al Qaeda sits scouring the news like Daniel Pipes just to keep a database of the appellations they’ve been given. It’s also preposterous to imply people hearing terrorists referred to _also_ by other synonyms would suddenly think that terrorist acts take on a different meaning, politically or ethically. You can call a killer Mickey Mouse, it’s not going to make his actions less repulsive, unless one has a brain dysfunction by which a different word makes murder ok.

Either that, or use of a thesaurus is a terrorist activity in itself.

22

Steve Carr 09.08.04 at 3:08 pm

Pipes is off his rocker here, as Chris’ demolition aptly shows. There’s no doubt that some Middle Eastern media outlets will do anything rather than use the word “terrorist,” but with the exception of Reuters there’s no evidence of the Western media shying away from the phrase.

One of the things Pipes seems not to understand is that if you’re a writer, you can’t keep using the same word over and over again. Readers will find it incredibly annoying. But if you call someone a terrorist early on, and then later refer to them as a rebel or a hostage-taker or a gunman, believe me, no one is forgetting that that person is a terrorist.

23

Peter 09.08.04 at 3:08 pm

The reason that folks are unwilling to call the chechins “terrorists” is because we are pissing on the russians legs while calling it rain. The current administration lacks any sympathy for the russians due to 2 major reasons:
1 – The old cold warrior mentality is still strong at bushco.
2 – The russians did not drop their pants and bend over when we wanted to invade iraq.

That is why administration officials are meeting with chechin leaders of “the rebellion.” We would have had shitfits if some country had binLaden over for tea.

Rememeber that paragraph in Putin’s speech that you were worried about? I think that is Putin calling us out.

24

Jack 09.08.04 at 3:11 pm

I don’t necessarily want someone deciding whether they are terrorists or not. Describing them as people and what they did ought to be enough to convince that they did wrong (and if its not, perhaps it wasn’t).

Doesn’t terrorist sound cool, hard and powerful in a way that muderer or child killer do not? There are people with posters of OBL, Carlos the Jackal and maybe even Martin McGuinness on their walls. Not so many I think have Harold Shipman.

25

JamesW 09.08.04 at 3:15 pm

Journalists should be encouraged to use as informative terms as possible.
– Rebels: why is this thought positive? The reporting problem is that it’s still only inference they the terrorists were in fact Chechen separatists.
– Guerillas? Factually misleading : a reference guerilla is a rural combatant in an organised unit, usually in some sort of uniform. Similar to maquisard. In Chechnya itself, some separatists are fighting as guerillas.
– Insurgents: where’s the insurrection or the barricades? Insurgents may be only semi-violent (stone-throwing) and the occasion is limited in time.
– Gunmen: also applies to non-political criminals or nutcases; not helpful.
– Hostage-takers: accurate but limited.
The non-evaluative political description would be something like “clandestine combatant”. Almost all terrorists are clandestines, but not vice versa. Clandestines may limit themselves to more or less military targets, like al-Sadr’s militia or the Irgun, but regular soldiers on the receiving end see the behaviour as worse than unfair and describe it as terrorism.

26

Zizka 09.08.04 at 3:17 pm

Not only did you get a wingnut, but you got a few on-the-other-handers.

The language policing is not strange — it’s intimidation with the goal of cleansing the sphere of public debate.

A lot of the right-wing indignation is timeless and Platonic. What Pipes said may have been a little bit true in 1978. In the same way, once you have a crime wave, it’s a permanent political fact, even though the actual crime wave ends and crime recedes to previous levels.

Indignation is also geographically indifferent. As we speak, people in Fargo, N.D., U.S.A., the safest and most boring city in the world, are watching the news and worrying about street crime. (“As we speak”: If they watch 9:00 a.m. news in Fargo, I mean. “Later today” wouldn’t be at all effective.)

27

Katherine 09.08.04 at 3:20 pm

Guardian:
“Witnesses reported that the hostage-takers had attempted to justify their brutality by claiming it was an act of revenge for the killing by Russian forces of Chechen children.”

Excuse me, but that is an eyewitness report of what the terrorists had claimed. Reporting what the terrorists say is now appeasement? Jesus.

I think Reuters should pick a definition of “terrorist” and stick to it, but their approach is preferable to other extreme–using terrorist for “an attack on the U.S. by Muslims.”

Most of the other Western sources seem to guilty only of using synonyms in the same article, which is just good writing. Pipes is full of it.

And really, even Reuters’ policy does not matter all that much. We know what these guys are. Their actions speak for themselves.

28

MKP 09.08.04 at 3:25 pm

I think David Velleman hit the nail on the head.

The question arises what Pipes wants to call armed opposition to the occupying forces in Iraq. A few months ago, as I recall, CENTCOM was promoting the phrase “anti-Iraqi forces”, which in its own way is as ludicrous as calling the Chechen hostage-takers “activists”. But this bit of rhetoric didn’t take, and now the press generally use the neutral term “insurgents”.

I wonder whether Pipes has a problem with this. Perhaps every time journalists refer to “insurgents” in Iraq, Pipes would insist on “anti-American fanatics” or “religious zealots” or something of the sort?

29

Delicious Pundit 09.08.04 at 3:34 pm

The Right’s war against the media has gone pretty well if this is the biggest straw man they can build.

30

dsquared 09.08.04 at 3:39 pm

Of course, in the opinion of even bigger idiots, Pipes is a piker and the correct term is “Werewolves”. I wish I was joking.

31

ian 09.08.04 at 3:39 pm

Having read the Pipes article, the only person who is distracting attention away from the true nature of the atrocity in Beslan in Pipes, using the opportunity to score points off those he sees as his political opponents. This is despicable behaviour whichever word you find in your Roget.

32

ian 09.08.04 at 3:40 pm

Having read the Pipes article, the only person who is distracting attention away from the true nature of the atrocity in Beslan in Pipes, using the opportunity to score points off those he sees as his political opponents. This is despicable behaviour whichever word you find in your Roget.

33

Jack 09.08.04 at 3:47 pm

Jeffrey Imm (David) and r. (Richard) have different Pipes. Should we be worrying about them as well.

34

Jason 09.08.04 at 4:19 pm

Emailed just now to pipes@meforum.org :

—-

Mr Pipes:

Your September 07 article, “They’re Terrorists – Not Activists” is awe-inspiring for the depth and breadth of its dishonesty. It would be merely amusing to read if it weren’t for the fact that some people seem to have invested you with credibility. You cited 20 sources wherein journalists dug out their thesauri to describe the monsters (I mean, terrorists) who took those hostages in Beslan. The trouble is, at least half of the sources you cited do in fact use the term “terrorists” or “terror” in the very stories you cite. That’s not only dishonest, but plain lazy. At least one of the articles is in fact an opinion piece, which of course doesn’t conform to the same standards that news articles do.

It’s also worth noting that if one searches for other coverage of the event by many of the same organizations, one finds that they do in fact refer to the Chechen gunmen (er, terrorists) and their actions as terroristic. It took me, possessor of only a lowly B.A. all of fifteen minutes to find all this out. I can’t imagine someone who took the time to dig up the cites themselves didn’t have time to scan them as well. Okay, maybe seventeen minutes, since I actually listened to the first couple minutes of the NPR segment you cited – which immediately labelled the…bad people as terrorists.

If you can’t be bothered to even scan the articles, you can use Control-F on most Microsoft software to employ the Find function on webpages, and search for a given word.

Your implication seems to be that at every reference, those who employ terror tactics ought to be referred to as “terrorists.” Firstly, many times they are. Secondly, to avoid monotony in the dross they churn out, many journalists like to use, you know, synonyms or other terms to describe these bastards – I’m sorry, terrorists. Many conflicts where terror tactics rear their ugly heads are complicated – as you are undoubtedly aware, the Chechen conflict is more complicated than many, and has a long history of its own. The Chechens killing Russians are terrorists and militants and fighters and rebels and extremists and separatists and criminals. In all the articles I read, even if the “T-word” wasn’t used, there was considerable horror and moral outrage conveyed by the tone of the articles, which should be enough.

There may in fact be (and very likely is) an aversion in some segments of the media to referring to the perpetrators of terroristic acts as “terrorists”. Unfortunately, your article did precious little to shed any light on that phenomenon. In future maybe you can confine your journalistic abilities to a more suitable forum – I’d imagine one of the free “shopper” newspapers in Philadelphia has an opening from time to time.

35

snaggletooth 09.08.04 at 4:28 pm

When we bombed that restaurant in Iraq to get Saddam, we knew there would be “collateral damage”. Our leaders accepted the fact that we would kill innocents to achieve our objectives. Does that not make us terrorists also?

When I hear this talk about how to characterize people who kill I always think of the scene in “My cousin Vinny” where Marisa Tormei is talking about Bambi walking through the forrest, bending down to take a drink from a stream, and BAM some asshole blows her brains out.”Do you think she cares what pants that guy is wearing”.

Our leaders talk about humanitarian liberation in one breath and then in the next they talk about how much better it is to have the fight over there. Humanitarian flypaper theory.
A rose, by any other name, would still smell as sweet.

36

Aziz Poonawalla 09.08.04 at 4:30 pm

Bush’s appointment of Pipes to the USIP betrays his high-flying rhetoric about freedom in Iraq. It suggests that the true agenda of the Bush Administration towards the muslim world, speeches on primetime television aside, is a return to proxy states ruled with an iron hand by “our son of a bitch”.

37

Sebastian Holsclaw 09.08.04 at 4:35 pm

“One of the things Pipes seems not to understand is that if you’re a writer, you can’t keep using the same word over and over again. Readers will find it incredibly annoying. But if you call someone a terrorist early on, and then later refer to them as a rebel or a hostage-taker or a gunman, believe me, no one is forgetting that that person is a terrorist.”

I agree that this is almost certainly the reason why non-Reuters reporters use terms other than ‘terrorist’ after thus labeling them.

Reuters is another story, they refuse to use the term even when it is clearly appropriate.
They really do twist themselves into knots avoiding the word.

Pipes is proven the fool by dramatically overreaching on his point. One major news outlet does what he tries to accuse all news outlets of doing. You can’t generally generalize that much.

38

Gil 09.08.04 at 4:51 pm

pips is a specialist of sophistries. meant to disarm the unwary. Sometimes a “terrorist” _is_ a rebel, insurgent…Oftn a “euphimism” is just a snyonym

39

Matt Weiner 09.08.04 at 4:56 pm

Myself, I think Daniel Pipes has just taken Fowler’s attack on elegant variation too much to heart.

40

Tom Doyle 09.08.04 at 5:13 pm

Jeffery Imm wrote:

“One poster here has suggested that terrorism should be avoided as a “pejorative” term – why? Isn’t terrorism a condemnable act? Isn’t that the point of Pipes’ article? Isn’t murdering innocent children in cold blood condemnable? Isn’t the word “murder” also “negative”? Again the path down global moral relativism can make news reporting totally abstract from human experience. How far do we need to go with euphemisms for terror to keep from offending evil people?”

Presumably this refers to my post which included, inter alia, the following text:

[…]

” ‘Terrorism” is a pejorative characterisation of an enemy’s attacks as conforming to an immoral philosophy of violence, in a manner outside of warfare, or prohibited in the laws of war.”

I will merely point out that the text to which Mr. Imm refers, from the linked article, does not, even by the most strained reading, “suggest[]that terrorism should be avoided as a ‘pejorative’ term.”

41

mona 09.08.04 at 5:38 pm

I went and checked, and was shocked, shocked to the core, to find that Roget’s Thesaurus offers, under the guise of synonyms, a lot of shameless apologies for terrorists! So, what sholud be done about it? Should the Thesaurus be confined to Guantanamo instead of walking freely in libraries, bookstores, and on the internet, and thus leading countless journalists into temptation?

Are were prepared to sacrifice the dictionary in the name of security? I think we should. I think we should do without words altogether. I think Pipes should lead by example on that.

42

abb1 09.08.04 at 6:20 pm

From the Washington Post:


In December 2002, Mr. Rumsfeld approved a series of harsh questioning methods for use at the Guantanamo Bay base. According to the Wall Street Journal, these included the removal of clothing, the use of “stress positions,” hooding, “fear of dogs,” and “mild non-injurious physical contact.” Even before that, the Journal reported, interrogators at Guantanamo forced prisoners to wear women’s underwear on their heads. A year later, when some of the same treatment was publicized through the Abu Ghraib photographs, Mr. Rumsfeld described it as “grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty.”

Administration officials have said that tougher techniques are available at Guantanamo, where the Geneva Conventions are considered inapplicable, than in Iraq, where they unquestionably apply. Yet through much of the past year, the opposite appears to have been the case. After strenuous protests from legal professionals inside the military, Mr. Rumsfeld ordered a review of interrogation techniques in early 2003 that led, in April that year, to the dropping of a number of methods at Guantanamo that he had earlier approved, including the use of dogs, stress positions and nudity.

Later, several of the techniques that were banned in Guantanamo were adopted in Iraq. In late August and September 2003 Gen. Miller visited Abu Ghraib with the mandate to improve interrogations. Senior officers have testified to Congress that he brought “harsh” techniques from Guantanamo. Gen. Sanchez’s command then issued a policy that included the use of stress positions and dogs, along with at least five of seven exceptional techniques approved by Mr. Rumsfeld in the revised Guantanamo policy.

43

BigMacAttack 09.08.04 at 6:32 pm

Nice work by Chris. At best sloppy work by Pipes. Like a lot of posters have pointed out if I say,

‘the savage kidnappers terrorized their innocent victims.’

who the heck is going to claim my use of kidnappers was a euphemism?

Apparently Daniel Pipes and Jeffrey Imm who points to the following sentence as an example where captor was employed as euphemism for terrorist

‘Captors’ cruelty terrified hostages’

I wonder if he typed that with a straight face?

44

Jim Harrison 09.08.04 at 6:39 pm

The neocons seem to be trapped in a rhetorical time warp. To the extent that it isn’t just cynical, Pipes’ attack on people who don’t use the word terrorist every other sentence, suggests that Pipes thinks he’s dealing with 1930’s style fellow travellers. The analogy is exceedingly weak. There were New York lefties and London Fabians who hoped against all the evidence that Stalin wasn’t such a bad guy. There are damned few liberals or centrists who have any use whatsoever for fundamentalist Muslims, though many of us are suspicious of ideologues who insist on the ritual vilification of the enemy when calm perception of the facts is more to the point, even when the facts are horrific.

45

neudoxis 09.08.04 at 6:41 pm

Pipes’ quibble is with the reporting of the Beslan attacks. I checked the first 6 sources and, thus far, Chris, your sources using the ‘T’ word are referring to different events and Pipes is correct on the facts.

46

Ann Brocklehurst 09.08.04 at 7:04 pm

Well, I did some web fact-checking of my own, as well as a close reading of this post, and it would seems Pipes’ theory — that there is a large and growing reluctance in media circles to call a terrorist a terrorist– stands up pretty well.

In his post Chris himself says he sees possible evidence of the trend in the reporting of the AP, The LA Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Chicago Tribune, the BBC and Reuters. In other words the world’s biggest broadcaster and its top two news agencies won’t call what happened in Beslan an act of terrorism.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the other organizations. Chris says it’s too early for a verdict on NPR. I say it’s not. Just go to google news and you’ll see NPR is doing everything possible to avoid the T-word. Or look at this example from after the bloodabath

http://www.npr.org/topics/topic.php?topicId=1

September 8, 2004 · Russian President Vladimir Putin admits making mistakes in his policy on Chechnya, and suggests he’d be willing to give the breakaway republic much greater autonomy. But he rejects criticisms that he should have negotiated with REBELS in last week’s deadly school siege.

AFP — while the specific AFP article Chris cited does indeed use the word terrorism, far more AFP stories refer to militants as a google news check will clearly show. Since the term militant is used on first reference, it is presumably not being employed for reasons of literary style. The article Chris cited is the exception which just about proves the rule. (And with that we add another major news agency to the list of those that seemingly have an aversion to use of the word terrorist)

Chris’ reference to the The Times of London is to a columnist. Columnists are allowed latitude in expressing their opinion. UNfortunately, I am not a Times subscriber so can’t see the regular news stories. The verdict is out.

So that leaves the Economist, UPI, the Australian, the NY Post, the NY times and the christian Science MOnitor. IN all these cases I agree with Chris that PIPes is wrong. He has, once again, exaggerated and overstated a valid point but he is certainly on to something important.

IBy the way, in Canada, the CBC has steadfastly refused to call the terrorists “terrorists,” opting instead for “militants.”

47

BigMacAttack 09.08.04 at 7:14 pm

neudoxis,

The only facts provided by Pipes are that the articles use certain words.

For instance the second link to The Economist provided by Pipes uses the word attackers.

That is the only fact Pipes provides.

Chris is right that the it also uses the following phrases

“After a wave of terrorist attacks across Russia …. Though the terrorist attacks have continued ….Moscow and other Russian cities continue to suffer terrorist outrages….The terrorists apparently bribed their way through a series of checkpoints”

That is from the link provided by Pipes.

Everything else is a matter of opinion.

Pipes is of the opinion that referring to terrorists as attackers in the context of repeatedly calling the attacks terrorist attacks and referring to the events as terrorist outrages is an instance of using attacker as a euphemism for terrorist.

Others like myself hold the opinion that such opinions are garbage.

48

cw 09.08.04 at 7:15 pm

On trying to “humanize” terrorists, particuarly the chechens.

If we are fighting a war on terrorism, to be succesfull we have to know who these people are and why they did what they did. If you view them as random globs of evil that suddenly appear from nowhere, for no reason, you cut yourself off from a wide variety of posible practical soloutions. In the Chechen case, it is my understanding that the USSR and Russia have brutally fucked with the Chechens for decades, if not longer. And that this is, at least, an indirect cause of the current events. And causes of events are usually the best places to look for soloution to preventing further such events.

I imagine that even in the Bush administration there are plenty of people trying to figure out what kind of people al Qaida is comprised of and why they are doing what they are doing. And that all this talk about terrorists as pure random evil with no history or mentality, is just a political tactic aimed at inflaming certain deep-seated human instincts to stir up generalized political support.

But what worries me is that there may be people in the higest levels of the administration who believe the random globs of evil theory, and will therefor lead us astray.

In other words, I’m really hoping that they are cynical manipulators in the white house rather than true believers.

49

BruceR 09.08.04 at 8:12 pm

For the record, Mr. Bertram is wrong about the Pakistan Times citation (which is the one Mr. Pipes cites as the most egregious of all). It is in fact in the author’s own voice (not attributed), and reads in full:

“The hostage-taking was the fourth attack blamed on Chechen activists to rock Russia since last week.”

50

raj 09.08.04 at 8:17 pm

Pipes notwithstanding–from what I have read of and from him, he is something of a ideologue (I’m being kind)–perhaps the news outlets, as opposed to commentators, prefer not to use “terrorists” here because it is not clear that they should. “Terrorist” is nothing more than an emotive word. It strikes me that perhaps “Chechen separatists” may be more appropriate if links are found between the perpetrators and separatist organizations. On the other hand, maybe the news reports should just describe what the perpetrators did and how they did it, and let the reader draw their own emotive reaction. And perhaps they should use a neutral characterization–“perpetrator” comes to mind.

It’s unfortunate that the people who were killed and injured last week (and don’t forget the recnet downings of the airliners over Russia and the takeover of the Moscow opera house a few years ago) found themselves caught in the middle of a struggle between Russia and Chechnya that goes back almost two centuries–when the Russian czar invaded Chechnya and subjugated its population. On the other hand, it isn’t as if Russia doesn’t have blood on its hands for its activities there–and not just over the last ten years.

51

raj 09.08.04 at 8:20 pm

Pipes notwithstanding–from what I have read of and from him, he is something of a ideologue (I’m being kind)–perhaps the news outlets, as opposed to commentators, prefer not to use “terrorists” here because it is not clear that they should. “Terrorist” is nothing more than an emotive word. It strikes me that perhaps “Chechen separatists” may be more appropriate if links are found between the perpetrators and separatist organizations. On the other hand, maybe the news reports should just describe what the perpetrators did and how they did it, and let the reader draw their own emotive reaction. And perhaps they should use a neutral characterization–“perpetrator” comes to mind.

It’s unfortunate that the people who were killed and injured last week (and don’t forget the recent downings of the airliners over Russia and the takeover of the Moscow opera house a few years ago, all of which were allegedly caused by chechen separatists) found themselves caught in the middle of a struggle between Russia and Chechnya that goes back almost two centuries–when the Russian czar invaded Chechnya and subjugated its population. On the other hand, it isn’t as if Russia doesn’t have blood on its hands for its activities there–and not just over the last ten years.

52

Chris Bertram 09.08.04 at 8:20 pm

No, Brucer, you’ve just misunderstood what I wrote about the Pakistan Times. When I refer to “the words” I meant “terror”, “terrorism”, “terrorists” etc. These words _do_ occur in the piece, but that doesn’t count as an objection to Pipes’s claims because, as I say, all the occurences are in the reported speech of others.

53

Motoko Kusanagi 09.08.04 at 8:25 pm

Even if Pipes was right about the use of the word, his point would still be silly. It’s like claiming that people who talk about “sunsets” and “sunrises” must necessarily believe in a Ptolemaic, geocentric model of our solar system.

54

eudoxis 09.08.04 at 8:42 pm

I followed more of the links and Chris is correct that there are uses of word terrorist (etc.) directly in connection with the Beslan hostage crisis. And even where Pipes is correct regarding several of the links, he is wrong in his generalization.

Besides, the horrific events stand on their own and are not dimished by various descriptions of the perpetrators.

55

Ann Brocklehurst 09.08.04 at 9:36 pm

Actually eudoxis, if you see my post above, Pipes is correct in his generalization, wrong in some specifics. There is a growing “unwillingness to name terrorists.”

And, it would appear, there is also an unwillingness on the part of chris to see this growing unwillingness.

56

tinman 09.08.04 at 9:45 pm

CW is on target. This is really a critical issue.

Pipes writes of “the miasma of words that insulates the public from the evil of terrorism.” His thesis is that all terrorism is to be lumped together, and that differentiating terrorists serves not to illuminate important facts but only to obscure just how horrible life really is. (Of course, much has been made recently of how fomenting fear benefits the Republicans, but we’ll assume a non-partisan motivation for Pipes. Though honestly, how much of the US population isn’t aware of the evil of terrorism?).

Certainly, those who use terrorist tactics are horrible. Certainly, there is too much of this. But there are Islamic nationalist terrorists, white supremacist terrorists, and ironically “right to life” terrorists. Each type presumably has different motivations, and I’ll bet few if any of them are motivated purely out of a hatred of freedom.

The crux of the issue is this: is there any value in trying to understand their motivations, and perhaps act in a way that might make fewer people choose their path? That would require us to differentiate them. The alternative is to lump them all together. That would seem to limit our options simply to trying to annihilate as many as possible as quickly as possible.

57

kevin donoghue 09.08.04 at 10:35 pm

It is unlikely that Journalists are actively discouraged from using the T-word for stories like Beslan. Most probably they prefer terms like suicide bomber, kidnapper, sniper or insurgent simply because these terms actually tell you something about the specific acts involved. Also, since there is little consensus on the definition of terrorism, they probably reject the term from force of habit even in clearly appropriate cases.

Experimenting with Google led me to a story of protests about a book called “American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing.” Apparently people felt that a book with that title might make McVeigh into a folk hero.

As George Orwell remarked in his diary of the blitz, when Londoners complained about the silent V-2 rockets, which replaced the frighteningly noisy V-1: “Some people are never satisfied.”

58

Ann Brocklehurst 09.08.04 at 10:44 pm

Actually Kevin, journalists are actively discouraged from using the T-word. Reuters and the CBC are former employers of mine. Reuters is on record as saying it bans the t-word based on the spurious rationale that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Likewise if you look up the CBC’s journalistic policy, you’ll see it actively discourages the use of the word terrorist. I’ll search up a link and post it later.

59

R. 09.08.04 at 11:12 pm

Of interest to this discussion is that many Arab journalists have had no hesitation in using the term “terrorists” to describe the perpetrators of last week’s atrocities.

According to Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, general manager of the Al-Arabiya network, “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.”

Bater Wardam, a popular columnist in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour, noted a propensity to “place responsibility for the crimes of Arabic and Muslim terrorist organizations on the Mossad, the Zionists and the American intelligence, but we all know that this is not the case.”

The above from a roundup in today’s New York Times of “self-criticism in the Arab world.” Several commentators single out al-Qaradawi for particular condemnation.

The article is at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/08/international/middleeast/08CND-ARAB.html?hp

60

Jack Lecou 09.08.04 at 11:32 pm

Actually Ann, Pipes’ cherry picking of 20 articles would not support his claim even if he had characterized them accurately. And you are be making the even stronger claim that such reticence not only exists but is *growing*.

To support that claim, one would need not only a much broader survey of articles, one would need it from at least two time periods. In case you wish to back your assertions up with fact, I humbly make a few suggestions:

  • Settle on some consistent metric, perhaps the ratio in the article of “terror(ism/ist)” to incidences of “attacker”, “insurgent”, etc., where you think “terror(ism/ist)” would have been appropriate. Decide whether or not to include quotations.
  • Use the same mix of publications from each period.
  • You’ll need a lot of articles: I’d say at least 50 from each period.
  • Compare only reporting on truly similar groups and incidents. For example, an attack on a US military convoy in Iraq is *not* technically terrorism, so it shouldn’t be compared with, say, the bombing of a Baghdad hotel. Maybe you could compare reports of this Russian school incident with the earlier Moscow theatre incident.
  • Exclude opinion pieces, or report them separately.

I am not a professional media critic, so I am sure there are also many other factors I haven’t considered. The point is that, as I’m sure you’ll agree, your mere subjective perception of the frequency of the word “terrorist” in news articles is hardly proof of “growing unwillingness to name terrorists”.

61

nick 09.08.04 at 11:38 pm

Reuters is another story, they refuse to use the term even when it is clearly appropriate.
They really do twist themselves into knots avoiding the word.

As does the entire US press corps when looking for ways to describe the President as a liar, without using the actual word. Except that the Reuters policy is much more defensible.

62

nick 09.08.04 at 11:46 pm

Reuters is on record as saying it bans the t-word based on the spurious rationale that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Er, no. But thank for distorting the truth.

63

Ann Brocklehurst 09.08.04 at 11:53 pm

Here’s snopes on Reuters’ policy on use of the word “terrorist.”

http://www.snopes.com/rumors/reuters.htm

And from the CBC”s 2001-2002 Ombudsman report:

There is nothing in the CBC’s journalism policy that prevents the public broadcaster’s
journalists from calling a spade a spade or a terror attack a terror attack. But I share
the view that the CBC’s information programmers should be careful with the use of
language, especially in the Middle East where, as The New York Times has reported,
“even words shoot to kill.” Terrorism is commonly defined as the deliberate
targeting of civilians, but neither side in this conflict fully respects the definition.
One side’s war on terrorism is the other side’s struggle for independence. Each side
uses and abuses the word ‘terrorist’ to frame the issues in an effort to advance its
political agenda. The request that the CBC stop using expressions like ‘militant,’
‘gunman’ or even ‘suicide bomber’ and routinely describe Palestinians involved in this
conflict as ‘terrorists’ would in effect amount to asking the CBC to take sides and to
embrace the Israeli government’s position an its definition of terrorism, which denies the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance.

http://www.cbc.ca/ombudsman/page/annreport.pdf

So in the logic of the CBC calling a group of thugs who murder children “terrorists” denies the legitimacy of the Chechen resistance. Seems a very long leap to me.

64

Urbina 09.09.04 at 12:04 am

Er, no, Nick.

Here’s Snopes:

Claim: The Reuters news agency has proscribed the use of the word ‘terrorists’ to describe those who pulled off the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.

Status: True.

Origins: After the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, Stephen Jukes, Reuters’s head of global news, directed his staff to avoid the using word “terrorist” in their news reports to describe the perpetrators of those attacks:

“Throughout this difficult time we have strictly adhered to our 150-year-old tradition of factual, unbiased reporting and upheld our long-standing policy against the use of emotive terms, including the words ‘terrorist’ or ‘freedom fighter’. We do not characterise the subjects of news stories but instead report their actions, identity or background. As a global news organisation, the world relies on our journalists to provide accurate accounts of events as they occur, wherever they occur, so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own decisions based on the facts.”

Here’s the link:

http://www.snopes.com/rumors/reuters.htm

65

Ann Brocklehurst 09.09.04 at 12:17 am

Jack,

I take your point that I have not presented “proof” that aversion to using the term terrorism is growing. Like you, I am not a professional media critic and I’m not sure I will ever be able to conduct the definitive study.

However, read the CBC ombudsman’s comment that I posted above and then take into account the fact that the CBC has steadfastly refused to call the Chechen school murderers “terrorists.”

I cannot imagine that that would have happened five years ago. something is definitely going on.

Clearly Pipes went off the rails when he accused the EConomist and the NY Post and the Christian Science Monitor of refusing to call terrorist a terrorist. But the fact remains — acknowledged by chris in his post — that some of the most important news organizations in the world have not been able to bring themselves to call the perpetrators of the Beslan massacre what they are — terrorists.

So Jack, let’s leave open the question of whether this reluctance to use the term terrorism is growing and why don’t you tell me where you stand.

Do you use the word terrorist to describe the perpetrators of the school massacre? Or do you just avoid the question?

66

Urbina 09.09.04 at 12:26 am

Oops, sorry Ann, didn’t mean to repeat what you posted. I was doing a search and neglected to refresh the CT page before sending off my own version.

As a postscript to your comment, there was heated discussion in December 2002 of the CBC’s policy on the use of the word “terrorist” (and on its coverage of Middle Eastern affairs in general) with a public (on-air) debate scheduled between Tony Burman, head of CBC News, and Norman Spector, former Canadian Ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Originally set as a one-on-one debate, Spector balked when Burman insisted on adding two of his reporters and making it a roundtable discussion.

67

Ann Brocklehurst 09.09.04 at 12:43 am

Urbina, fellow Canadian, eh?

68

Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 12:48 am

I think use of “terrorist” is perfectly justified in this situation. The people who committed this atrocity are, in fact, terrorists. Even the Chechens don’t seem to have had much problem condemning this one. However:

  1. I don’t see any reason why a reporter should be obliged to use the word every time. A reporter who writes a 600 word story where 50 of them are “terror*” has a problem.
  2. I don’t see a problem with a news agency avoiding loaded words and assuming its readers are intelligent enough to understand the implications of a sentence like:

    The militants, believed to be Chechen rebels, have threatened to kill 50 children for every one of their members killed by security forces, and 20 children for every hostage-taker who is wounded.

  3. I *do* see a problem with a news agency consistently (and unthinkingly) describing actions by Chechens/Palestinians/whatever as “terrorist” while simultaneously couching their descriptions of similar atrocities by Russian/Israeli/whatever forces in more neutral or euphemistic terms. I think this is the trap Reuters and the CBC are trying to avoid. Admirable, in my opinion.
69

Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 12:57 am

Urbina:

At first I thought “Er, no, Nick” was a slip and you meant “Er, no, Ann”. Apparently not. I don’t see how what you posted contradicts Nick in any way. In fact it supports him by again contradicting the claim that the Reuter’s policy was justified “on the spurious rationale that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

70

ruralsaturday 09.09.04 at 1:03 am

satan – a primitive root; to attack, (figuratively) accuse:–(be an) adversary, resist.

satan – an opponent; especially (with the article prefixed) Satan, the arch-enemy of good:–adversary, Satan, withstand.

“…even when the facts are horrific…”
For a woman in her twenties to walk willingly into certain death, the way Amnat Nagayeva has, the way Roza Nagayeva has, the shared humanity that makes us mourn victims we never knew must be lost.
She’s an alien now, a creature, something that hates us and wants to eat our children.
That makes it easier to ignore the real cause of her action. And it makes it easier to retaliate, which is the purpose for the alienation, and for its encouragement.
We need an excuse to kill and there it is.
“Terrorist” has no more valid semantic content than “Satan”. Or as much.

71

Ann Brocklehurst 09.09.04 at 1:08 am

Well, Jack, it looks to me like Reuters and CBC have actually fallen very deeply into traps of their own.

Reuters now calls no one terrorists — not the 9/11 terrorists or the Chechen school massacre terrorists. That’s not a good policy but a stupid amoral (immoral) one.

As for the CBC, it has refused to call the Chechen school terrorists anything but militants. Their policy, whose stated goal was to examine the use of the word terrorism, has now become a de facto ban on the term. As someone else, way up in the thread, pointed out choosing never to use the word terrorism is not a neutral position but a political choice in and of itself.

And Nick was just plain wrong when he denied that Reuters had no ban on the term terrorism as both Urbina and I have pointed out.

Finally, I have never said that the term terrorist should be used at every opportunity but rather that there is a conspicuous new tendency to avoid it.

You and I have agreed to disagree on the strength of this trend and await the definitive media analysis.

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Urbina 09.09.04 at 1:12 am

Yup. 100% Canajun, Ann.

Curious fact: I went to school (different schools) with both Burman and Spector and was a (journalistic) colleague of Burman’s. He’s a solid reporter and editor but Spector is much sharper as a (print) columnist or as an on-air debater. I can understand why Burman was reluctant to go head-to-head with Spector and opted for the safety of numbers.

P.S. As you might imagine, “Urbina” is a pseudonym.

73

Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 1:25 am

What Nick said:

[quoting Ann]Reuters is on record as saying it bans the t-word based on the spurious rationale that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Er, no. But thank for distorting the truth.

And in case you didn’t notice, the word “no” was a link to this page which reiterates the policy, apologizing only for poor word choice in a post 9-11 memo (i.e., “one man’s terrorist…”).

I think this was pretty clearly rebutting only Ann’s claim that the justification was spurious, not that the policy existed.

74

Dubya 09.09.04 at 1:38 am

Posters have seriously misunderstood the gravity of this problem. Although Pipes claims that the media have used more than 20 euphemisms for the word ‘terrorist’, a quick check shows that *euphemisms have been used at least 20 times in the Economist article alone.* In other words Pipes, who is obviously a liberal traitor, terrorist sympathiser and fifth columnist, has (deliberately) underestimated the treacherous use of pro-terrorist politically correct propaganda by a factor of at least 20.

*Every one* of the following words in the Economist article should have been replaced with ‘terrorist’ (preferably ALL CAPITALS), ‘Evil Terrorist’ or ‘Evil-Satanic-Islamic-Terrorists-We-Must-Unite-Behind President Bush and PM Sharon in a War of Civilisations and they have No Grievances of any Kind Because they are Evil and Hate our Freedom.’:

– rebels
– rebel band
– Chechen seperatists
– hostage-takers
– attackers
– separatist
– Chechens
– sons of that deported generation
– terrorist (should be: TERRORIST!!)
– suicide bomber
– Islambouli brigades
– Chechen rebels
– black widows
– foreign jihadis
– young Chechens
– etc

75

Urbina 09.09.04 at 1:50 am

Nice try, Jack, but er, no. Read the original statement of policy (never rescinded). The linking of “terrorist” and “freedom fighter” makes its meaning clear. And its rationale spurious.

76

Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 1:55 am

Is it then your thesis that Reuters and the CBC are somehow allied with the International Terrorist Conspiracy? I didn’t think so…

The reason use of a value loaded word like terrorist is problematic (for a news org anyway) is that once you start *you have to be consistent*. If a Palestinian blows himself up and kills 3 innocent Israelis at a cafe, it is easy to say “terrorist”. But then, the next week, if an Israeli soldier intentionally shoots and kills a 12 year old Palestinian child, should Reuters write “an Israel soldier shot a 12 year, killing him” or should it write “in a brutal terrorist attack, an Israeli soldier killed a 12 year old”?

It seems that in Reuters’ and the CBC’s (and my) opinion it is better to concentrate on reporting the facts as accurately as possible and let readers decide when to use the terrorist label.

The worst that can be said about these policies is that sometimes they may seem a bit silly. As long as the other facts are accurate, I don’t see how they are in any way misleading readers.

In any case, as both of these are (AFAIK) fairly long standing and publicly declared policies, this still doesn’t back up the claim that other news organizations have become reticent in recent months about using the t-word. My own subjective perception is that there has been no change.

Also, what Dubya said.

77

Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 2:08 am

From the Reuters editorial policy page:

As part of a long-standing policy to avoid the use of emotive words, we do not use terms like ‘terrorist’ and ‘freedom fighter’ unless they are in a direct quote or are otherwise attributable to a third party. We do not characterize the subjects of news stories but instead report their actions, identity and background so that readers can make their own decisions based on the facts.

So what, exactly, is the problem here? They are not calling terrorists freedom fighters. They are saying both are value laden words (i.e., terrorist=bad, freedom fighter=good) used by various factions to frame the debate. Reuters prefers to keep their stories more firmly glued to the facts. They are not “linking” terrorist and freedom fighter, nor is the justification “spurious”.

78

Urbina 09.09.04 at 2:47 am

One last try, Jack.

So what, exactly, is the problem here? They are not calling terrorists freedom fighters.

No, they are suggesting that since others do (i.e., one man’s…) they’ve decided to play it safe and avoid either term. A thoroughly spurious rationale. And no less hypocritical than “We report, you decide.”

79

Ann Brocklehurst 09.09.04 at 2:50 am

Jack, unlike you and Dubya, I’ve tried to avoid cheap shots, not because I couldn’t make them but because they’re all too easy.

When you ask “Is it then your thesis that Reuters and the CBC are somehow allied with the International Terrorist Conspiracy?” I realize there’s no point to continuing this discussion with you.

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Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 3:00 am

Hypocrisy (a la Fox News) would be saying terrorist is a loaded word, but then using phrases like “islamofascist scum”, “baby-eating towelhead”, etc. No, this isn’t hypocrisy…

They have indeed decided to play it safe. That does *not*, however make the rationale spurious (i.e., not legitimate, not genuine). Nor have you shown that their decision in any way endangers or misinforms the public.

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Kathryn Cramer 09.09.04 at 3:08 am

Sorry about the duplicate trackbacks.

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Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 3:23 am

Anne:
I don’t think that was a cheap shot. I did say I didn’t actually think you believed that, and I am genuinely confused as to what your point is here…

Except for the obvious bias of e.g., certain segments of the Arab press, no one has presented any reason for this supposed reticence (let alone evidence it actually exists) beyond the perfectly legitimate ones:

  • Some variety in word choice is good and necessary.
  • Some incidents (attacks on US forces in Iraq) are not, strictly speaking, terrorism. Hopefully the word *is* used less often in such contexts.
  • The openly stated policies of Reuters, the CBC (and probably others) to avoid heavily politicised terminology.

Nor has anyone pointed out why it should matter whether “terrorist” is used more or less often.

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nick 09.09.04 at 4:28 am

Jack Lecou has said it already, but my point was that Ann (and subsequently urbina) have distorted the truth in attributing to Reuters a ‘spurious rationale’ for their policy.

It’s quite clear that Ann and Urbina asserted that a phrase from a memo was a categorical statement of Reuters policy, when it quite explicitly was not, nor was it offered as such. Now that’s a spurious rationale.

And Nick was just plain wrong when he denied that Reuters had no ban on the term terrorism as both Urbina and I have pointed out.

For some reason, Ann ignored my earlier comment that ‘[t]he Reuters policy is long, long-established.’ Just as Ann ignored the stated policy of Reuters in order, misleadingly, to make her assertion.

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mona 09.09.04 at 7:19 am

So, Pipes’ argument that the press deliberately avoids the word “terrorist” is actually true only of Reuters (even if arguably not for the motives he says, but that’s another story).

So why didn’t he take that up with Reuters directly, and only?

Perhaps a little afraid of the consequences (possibly legal, too) of directly accusing one big news organisation of deliberately apologising for and/or supporting terrorism, so he had to spread the perceived blame all over, even if, unlike Reuters, the other news organisations he cites are not avoiding the word at all? That’s very slick, but not very gentlemanly. His mom should have taught him better than that.

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Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 9:36 am

Okay, since no one can offer a better reason, I thought I’d look at why Pipes thinks this (non-existent) phenomenon has arisen: an “odd combination of sympathy in the press for the Palestinian Arabs and intimidation by them.”

First of all, I think this ‘sympathy’ is rather less well known (in the US, anyway) than Pipes seems to believe. Moreover, he doesn’t even try to demonstrate that any such sentiment actually translates into inaccurate reporting with regard to Palestinian terrorists (unless NPR saying ‘militant’ is supposed to prove this), let alone how or why sympathy for the Palestinians’ plight should somehow result in inaccurate reporting of Saudi/Kashmiri/Chechen/etc. events.

Likewise, the only support for the intimidation claim appears to be a (deliberate?) misinterpretation of the Reuters advisory. Given the context (including the fact that Reuters already has a policy against using the word in print), it seems clear that al-Mughrabi is advising against using the word in spoken conversations with Palestinians. This seems to me not evidence of intimidation, but common sense (and courtesy). It sounds like correspondents have more than enough to worry about dodging Israeli anti-personnel shells without needing to pick fights with Palestinian passers-by…

Finally, lets go over why Pipes thinks not saying terrorist is bad:

Worse, the multiple euphemisms for terrorist obstruct a clear understanding of the violent threats confronting the civilized world. It is bad enough that only one of five articles discussing the Beslan atrocity mentions its Islamist origins; worse is the miasma of words that insulates the public from the evil of terrorism

This is absurd on its face. Using more than one descriptive noun in a story doesn’t “obstruct a clear understanding” of anything. Nor even does a cautious policy of using more neutral words such as ‘militant’, not when the facts of these stories remain as detestable as they often are.

(Also, what in hell does “Islamist origins” have to do with anything? That Economist article, for one, seems to give a pretty good background of the conflict, from which I conclude that the Chechens would probably still be righteously infuriated even if they were Buddhists or Druids or Scientologists…)

Ann: Sorry I misspelled above. Seems my fingers just want to type ‘Anne’. I managed to catch it in other posts, but that one slipped through.

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abb1 09.09.04 at 10:59 am

…spurious rationale that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter…

I’m a westerner like you. I have never lived in a colony or under military occupation or in a small nation under attack of a superpower. Just like you, to me – post-cold-war – a terrorist attack is pretty much the worst thing that could possibly happen to my family.

Well, not all people on earth are westerners; in fact we are a minority. A majority of the earth population has a first-hand knowledge of being on the recieving end of colonialism, imperialism and various “liberation” efforts.

As social being determines their consciousness, they, naturally, have a different perspective. That’s why once in a while they pass resolutions like this one:

The General Assembly […] Affirms once again its recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the peoples under colonial and alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal.

This may also be a reason why there is still no internationally recognised legal definition of the word “terrorism”.

Now, I am not trying to justify the Beslan atrocity, I am just saying that, in case of Reuters for example – them being an international news agency and all, what may seem like “spurious rationale” to you may, in fact, constitute quite a balanced policy on the international scale.

Oh, yeah, and another thing: Mr. Pipes&Co efforts, if they succeed, are likely to lead to devaluation of the word “terrorism” just like they already managed pretty much to destroy the word “anti-Semitism”. Oh, well.

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Jack 09.09.04 at 11:42 am

What is spurious about banning the word terrorist one the grounds that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter?
How would you describe Nelson Mandela?

What kind of weak minded fool would approve of the Beslan massacre if the news agencies used “heroic freedom fighters” where “terrorists” is suggested.

What precisely is useful about describing the Beslan killers as “terrorists” at all? In other words, even allowing that some people are using alternatives to “terrorist”, what actually is wrong with that?

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raj 09.09.04 at 12:19 pm

Ann Brocklehurst · September 8, 2004 10:44 PM

>Reuters is on record as saying it bans the t-word based on the spurious rationale that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Pray tell, how is that rationale necessarily spurious? It strikes me that, if the perpetrators in the Beslan incident were, in fact, allied with Chechen separatists, by referring them to “terrorists”–given that “terrorist” is nothing more than an emotive term–one is taking sides in the Russo-Chechen war. Surely you don’t believe that news purveyors should do something like that, do you?

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Ann Brocklehurst 09.09.04 at 1:11 pm

Well we seem to have two arguments going on here. One, that Pipes is incorrect and, two, that even if Pipes is correct, it doesn’t matter because it makes sense not to use the word terrorist anyway.

Nick thinks it’s a distorion to say that Reuters bans the use of the word terrorism on the freedom fighter/terrorist rationale yet that is exctly what it does, arguing that both words are emotive and jornalists can’t/shouldn’t distinguish. Rather than travel further into angel/pinhead territory, I leave it up to others to make their own judgments on Reuters’ policy.

None of this is to deny the fact that there are indeed situations where the use of the word terrorist can be questioned, but it’s unclear why the solution is to refrain from using it altogether. We use words that are problematic all the time — pronography, human rights, social justice. The fact that these words mean different things to different people doesn’t mean that journalists shouldn’t use them.

As to why “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is a spurious rationale, let’s begin with the fact that it doesn’t account for all us who believe that a freedom fighter can never be a terrorist and a terrorist can never be a freedom fighter, that when you resort to terror you have given up your right to be called a freedom fighter. Unlike the CBC ombudsman many of us are able to recognize that a political movement might have legitimacy at the same time that its most extremist adherents practice terrorism.

To the people that ask why we need to call the perpetrators of the Chechen school massacres “terrorists,” I would point out that the more relevant question is why do we need NOT to call them terrorists.

No one has said that it’s wrong to ever use words like rebels or gunmen or hostage-taker. The point is that it’s disturbing to use them to the exclusion of the word terrorist.

Given that one of the main dividing factors in the discussion of terrorism today is the extent of the threat, it seems pretty clear that banning the use of the word is far more than a simple linguistic choice.

And on this note, I bow out of the discussion.

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Jack 09.09.04 at 1:24 pm

Oh no! Now we shall neve know why it is disturbing that some people don’t use terrorist.

I suggest taht “terrorist” is both hackneyed and cliched and if anything glamourises some very seedy acts and actors.

Even if it did not it only serves to stifle debate by raising the emotional tone and prejudicing interpretation of events. Used with care it can be acceptable but I don’t understand why there should be a campaign of any kind to promote its use.

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DaveC 09.09.04 at 4:03 pm

Newsweek did a whopping 1/4 page coverage of the Russian school massacre (1 photo and 3 sentences), including the lene “Fighters had seized students, parents and teachers…”

I suppose Newsweek reckoned that’s all we need to know, that they were “fighters” of some sort. I think the incident should have had more coverage, at least give the “fighters” a < -> in CW, because shooting children in the back is considered bad form by some.

On the bright side, the same issue had on the previous page a followup to the JEW SPY IN BUSH ADMINISTRATION story with a photo of alternating Israeli and American flags. No photo montage of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and Abu Ghraib prison abuse, however. That was back in a June issue, but something similar will probably be posted shortly before the election

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abb1 09.09.04 at 4:28 pm

Well we seem to have two arguments going on here. One, that Pipes is incorrect and, two, that even if Pipes is correct, it doesn’t matter because it makes sense not to use the word terrorist anyway.

One of the reasons it would make sense not to use the word ‘terrorist’ is precisely because of Pipes’ efforts to pollute the language with this newfound PC-ness.

But if you, indeed, concede that “social justice” and “terrorism” are two concepts of the same level of specificity, then it’s game, set and match. How would you like to read a news report classifying some event as violation of social justice?

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Sebastian Holsclaw 09.09.04 at 4:43 pm

“How would you like to read a news report classifying some event as violation of social justice?”

Why phrase this as a hypothetical? It is real now. I see the word ‘unjust’ or the phrase ‘an injustice’ applied to all sorts of things in the papers all the time.

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ruralsaturday 09.09.04 at 6:46 pm

Terrorists- oil – Islam.
There’s another term in that equation, but I keep forgetting what it is.

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dsquared 09.09.04 at 7:10 pm

Newsweek did a whopping 1/4 page coverage of the Russian school massacre (1 photo and 3 sentences), including the lene “Fighters had seized students, parents and teachers…”

Dave, that sounds pretty bad but I’d have to say that this piece of information is probably going to be put to better use in a letter to the editors of Newsweek than 92 comments down a Crooked Timber thread.

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Jack Lecou 09.09.04 at 7:18 pm

As to why “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is a spurious rationale, let’s begin with the fact that it doesn’t account for all us who believe that a freedom fighter can never be a terrorist and a terrorist can never be a freedom fighter, that when you resort to terror you have given up your right to be called a freedom fighter. Unlike the CBC ombudsman many of us are able to recognize that a political movement might have legitimacy at the same time that its most extremist adherents practice terrorism.

I think, perhaps, Ann doesn’t quite follow the difference between a policy she doesn’t agree with, and a rationale that is actually spurious. A truly spurious rationale would be something like “my astrologer told me to”.

Reuters and CBC, on the other hand, have a perfectly legitimate rationale, one that is *not* best summarised as “one man’s…”, despite Ann’s repetitions to the contrary. It is not simply that the words have “different meanings to different people”, instead it is that using the word ‘terrorist’ makes a moral judgmement, in a way that an alternative phrase like ‘militant’ does not. Reuters and CBC prefer to play it safe and avoid voicing such judgments.

What Pipes and Ann seem to be arguing is that news agencies *must* make such explicit moral pronouncements, or readers will somehow fail to understand “the extent of the threat”. This I find rather hard to believe.

Sebastian:
You have examples of news pieces declaring social injustice, in the writer’s voice?

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mona 09.09.04 at 7:27 pm

I have to add, after going through the rest of the comments, I am finally convinced, journalists are really showing too much sympathy for perpetrators of beheadings, kidnappings, child killing, lynchings and bombings. In fact, the one thing where Pipes is wrong is that the word “terrorism” is, too, alas, very very weak and not descriptive enough of said acts. People need to know that killing and bombing and kidnapping people is very bad, and I’m afraid not even “terrorism” conveys the ferocity of the above said acts. Think of the million of people lying in utter ignorance and moral chaos because of Reuters!

I would suggest that, since images have a lot more impact than words, journalists substitute _every single_ occurrence of whatever word they use to refer to terrorists with a high resolution photo depicting, in all the gruesome details, the acts being referred to. Where was the last time we saw some blood? They never ever show us people getting killed, that’s how terrorist-apologist the media are. Enough with this girly restraint about showing cruelty for what it is. The masses need to see the horror, to be rescued from the abysmal pool of moral incertitude that the Terrorist-Enabling Liberal Media have created.

Granted, it’s a bit costly to print colour photographs instead of words recurring at least 20 times in one article, but I’m sure Mr Pipes will devolve some funds to the project, just like he has with his other endeavours. Because he cares, he cares so much about making the world a better place, and no amount of blasphemous venom from terror-friendly islamo-communist weblogs like this will detract from his mission of Moral Truth. Poor Daniel, like all brave prophets, so grossly reviled and misunderstood.

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Natalie Solent 09.09.04 at 11:04 pm

I looked at all the instances of the word terrorism/terrorist I found in an archive search of the BBC website since the beginning of the month. Results here. I could find no example of the BBC clearly calling the Beslan killers terrorists in its own voice. It calls them rebels, hostage-takers etc. This is the BBC’s normal practice. After having spent a couple of years looking specifically at that issue, and with an alert commentariat pointing out excitedly every rare time the BBC does use the word terrorist in its own voice, I am really quite sure about it.

I can’t be remotely as sure about other outlets (though an employee of Reuters told me that it is Reuters policy to avoid the word) – but am not in any serious doubt. Type “militant” into Google News and you will even see those who behead hostages on camera so described. Yet ten or even five years ago “militant” meant obstreperous trade unionists.

I can’t think of any other reason for making this change other than a wish to avoid value judgements. You at Crooked Timber do not act in general as though you wish to avoid value judgements.

By the way, a lot of the comments to this post are straw men. There is no widespread suggestion from those like me who oppose policies avoiding the T-word that literally every mention of terrorism should use the word, nor that the media should constantly emote, nor that all guerillas, rebels or insurgents are necessarily terrorists.

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Chris Bertram 09.09.04 at 11:56 pm

Natalie, Just for the sake of avoiding misunderstanding let me make clear that my post at Crooked Timber was very narrowly focused (notwithstanding the way the comments thread went afterwards). Pipes claimed that journalist in general were reluctant to use the word “terrorist” (etc.) in connection with the murders at Beslan. He cited 20 articles to support this claim (only one of which was from the BBC). I showed that many of the articles did, in fact, use the word or related words and that therefore the evidence Pipes adduced in support of his claim didn’t support it.

On the specific question of the BBC, I agreed that the article on the BBC website that Pipes pointed do did not use the word and that this was one piece of evidence that supported his claims. However, I also noticed that I had heard BBC journalists on Radio 5 (I pricked up my ears because I was fact-checking Pipes at the time) use the word “terrorists” about the Beslan murderers. You are correct, as far as I can tell, about the BBC website.

As I said, I focused on the narrow issue of whether Pipes’s evidence supported his claims (it didn’t). There’s also the broader question of what policy news organizations should have. I didn’t touch on this. I think that I would simply say this: that while I think it quite correct to describe the Beslan murderers as terrorists, the problem for news organizations arises partly from the attempt by states to stigmatize all and any armed opposition as “terrorist”. I’d be more sympathetic to critics of journalistic reluctance to use the words if those same critics aslo expressed their disapproval of over-expansive use of those words by states and and other political actors.

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Jack Lecou 09.10.04 at 12:26 am

[Natalie Solent] I can’t think of any other reason for making this change other than a wish to avoid value judgements. You at Crooked Timber do not act in general as though you wish to avoid value judgements.

Crooked Timber is a very good place for value judgements. Consider that maybe wire reports aren’t…

[…] a lot of the comments to this post are straw men. There is no widespread suggestion from those like me who oppose policies avoiding the T-word that literally every mention of terrorism should use the word…

Actually, this does seem to be exactly what Mr. Pipes was suggesting (that’s the more charitable interpretation, the other being that he’s just making shit up and hoping nobody checks). Certainly everyone on CT seems to be at least marginally less daft.

…nor that the media should constantly emote, nor that all guerillas, rebels or insurgents are necessarily terrorists.

Of course not.

I am fully aware that Reuters/CBC/BBC/whatever *COULD* accurately use the word terrorist from time to time. However, what nobody has thus far been able to tell me is whether there is any compelling reason they *SHOULD*.

Really, what is the scenario?

NEWSPAPER: “Militants cut the head off a civilian hostage in Iraq yesterday.”

READER: “Well, that’s a relief, at least they’re not terrorists.”

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max 09.10.04 at 1:03 am

“Further comment seems superfluous.”

Some comments:

You say: ” Today he gets prominence on Arts and Letters Daily for this piece which claims that journalists have shied away from using the word “terrorist” in connection with the terrorist murders at Beslan.”

Then you quote Pipes: “The press, however, generally shies away from the word terrorist, preferring euphemisms. Take the assault that led to the deaths of some 400 people, many of them children, in Beslan, Russia, on September 3.”

Pipes says the press generally avoids the word terrorist, and sets Beslan as an example.
The fact that news outlets almost never uses the T-word is not new, and the fact that it takes hundreds of murdered children to make them use it says plenty.
You distort Pipe’s claim to nitpick on some examples of edited stories. I followed those stories when his piece was published as well and all the examples he provided are correct. I also checked recently updated stories for instance:

NPR (8 sep) suspected Chechen separatists.

Grauniad (6 sep) Bombers’ justification: Russians are killing our children, so we are here to kill yours. More: “Details began to emerge yesterday as to what may have driven the school siege militants (as in mutant ninja turtles)…”Witnesses reported that the hostage-takers had attempted to justify their brutality by claiming it was an act of revenge”..Blah blah..Let’s justify them please.

AFP (4 sep the one reffered here) Au moins 322 personnes, dont 155 enfants, ont יtי tuיes outre les membres du commando) Note how AFP reports the number killed and wounded while bothering to mention that the commandos are’nt included in the death toll. How sensitive.

WaPo (9 sep) After overtaking the school, the guerrillas began unloading guns and explosives…”Officials said 32 guerrillas took part in the raid on School No. 1″ …”The captured guerrilla..”..

The Australian (9 sep) Hostage takers, gunmen and militants, more militants.
But today’s headline: Terrorists attack on Australia’s door. Hypocrites.

NY Post (9 sep) militants, attacker..Terrorists only inside ” “.

Reuters (9 sep) At least 326 hostages — half of them children — died in last Friday’s chaotic storming of School Number One in Beslan, southern Russia, after it was seized by gunmen demanding Chechen independence..Well put. No mitigating there. No.

So called bbc (9 sep)Russia blamed the mass hostage-taking in Beslan on Chechen rebels backed by foreign Muslim militants. Sure. They blamed militants.

So what? Does it mean that No-one should treat you as a reliable source of opinion?

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Jack 09.10.04 at 8:13 am

Language is important. How the media describes events, people and places impacts public opinion.

Descriptions of the killers of children in terms that suggest that what they did was noble or justified are simply wrong and definite indicators of a lack of moral clarity.

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mona 09.10.04 at 8:40 am

Does anyone actually _watch_ the BBC? From regional news to the BBC world, BBC News 24, etc., any of the tv news programmes? If so, how can you even claim they don’t use the word?

Unless I had visual and auditory hallucinations, I must have heard – and seen, in the CAPITAL WHITE ON RED headlines on the bottom of the screen – the word “terrorist attack”, “terrorists”, “terrorism”, a million times in the past few years. Just like in all tv news outlets, CNN, Sky, CBS, CNBC, etc.

So, ok, it’s established that Reuters has a policy to avoid the word, the BBC website may have a policy to refrain from using it unless in quotes by others, but that’s rather poor ground to generalise about “the media”. Especially when one means all the media in the whole wide world. Most people get their news from tv, or radio. The word “terrorism” today is used about as often as “bread”, you’ve got to be living in another planet to complain there’s a reticence to use it.

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mona 09.10.04 at 8:53 am

How could _any_ word ever “suggest that what they did was noble or justified” when what they did is killing, torturing, kidnapping, beheading, etc.?

How could those acts ever be interpreted as noble even if you called their perpetrators pink fluffy bunnies?

You’d have to be an _overt_ fanatical supporter of terrorism to call it noble and justified, and no amount of analysis to attempt some sort of _understanding_ of what those acts may be motivated by, or to put them in the context of a long ongoing ethnic, religious, political conflict (ie. Chechenya) – which is what the media also do, try and explain things by context – comes close to apology or overt support for terrorism, or inciting the same in the presumably completely idiot audiences, sorry. It’s just nonsense.

But I give up, you can’t argue with such absurdities.

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ruralsaturday 09.10.04 at 10:18 am

“…you can’t argue with such absurdities.”
No, but you can calmly and reasonably refute them, as you did, and as Chris Bertram did, just above you there.
These are inspirational gestures, and commendable. Thanks.

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abb1 09.10.04 at 10:39 am

Descriptions of the killers of children in terms that suggest that what they did was noble or justified are simply wrong and definite indicators of a lack of moral clarity.

I too disagree that any description posted above suggests that the atrocity was noble or justified.

However, lack of moral clarity is exactly what I expect from a news report. I’d like to see total absence of moral clarity, just bare facts accompanied by factual background.

If I want moral judgment I’ll read an opinion piece.

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abb1 09.10.04 at 10:41 am

Descriptions of the killers of children in terms that suggest that what they did was noble or justified are simply wrong and definite indicators of a lack of moral clarity.

I too disagree that any description posted above suggests that the atrocity was noble or justified.

However, lack of moral clarity is exactly what I expect from a news report. I’d like to see total absence of moral clarity, just bare facts accompanied by factual background.

If I want moral judgment I’ll read an opinion piece.

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Tom Doyle 09.10.04 at 11:01 pm

max wrote:

“Pipes says the press generally avoids the word terrorist, and sets Beslan as an example. The fact that news outlets almost never uses the T-word is not new, and the fact that it takes hundreds of murdered children to make them use it says plenty.”

Yes Pipes makes a general accusation.

“The press, however, generally shies away from the word terrorist, preferring euphemisms.”

Yes, seems to say Beslan coverage is an example of what he’s complaining about.

“Take the assault that led to the deaths of some 400 people, many of them children, in Beslan, Russia, on September 3. Journalists have delved deep into their thesauruses, finding at least twenty euphemisms for terrorists:

“Assailants – National Public Radio.
Attackers – the Economist.
Bombers – the Guardian.
Captors – the Associated Press.” Etc, etc.

But is Beslan in fact an example a larger phenomenon, that is “ the press…generally sh[ying] away from the word terrorist, [and] preferring euphemisms.” To support this claim Pipes would have to offer evidence from non-Beslan coverage. He doesn’t. How can we conclude that the press is generally avoiding the T- words if all we have are articles written around the same time and about the same incident? We can’t.

If one wished to determine the climate in a certain location-Dublin, Sidney, Bosrah, Tashkent-one could go on line and check the location’s current weather conditions. Pipes “argument” is based on that kind of logic.

max:

“The fact that news outlets almost never uses the T-word is not new.” I have formed the opposite impression. On what do you base your statement?

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