In a posting earlier today, I felt compelled to add in brackets that when the Press Association uses the term "militant" in reference to Palestinians, it really meant terrorists. This euphemism "militant" is becoming a true obstacle to understanding the Palestinian war on Israel; things have reached the point where politically-correct news organizations are even surreptitiously changing the words of Israeli spokesmen.
That's what happened on April 1, 2004, when an announcer, Paul Brown, said this on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition":
Israeli troops have arrested 12 men they say were wanted militants who had taken cover in a Bethlehem psychiatric hospital. Israeli security sources say the men were planning suicide attacks in Israel.
But the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) protested Brown's inaccurate wording and got NPR to issue an on-air correction on April 26:
First, a correction of a term that was used in a newscast earlier this month. Israeli military officials were quoted as saying they had arrested 12 men who were "wanted militants." But the actual phrase used by the Israeli military was "wanted terrorists."
Quoting Israeli officials referring to "militants" when they spoke about "terrorists" makes explicit the interference that too many newscasters engage in, as well as their bias against Israel protecting itself. (For a fine and full analysis of this problem, see HonestReporting.com's "Calling Terror By Its Name.") (April 27, 2004)
April 29, 2004 update: CAMERA notes today that that the Los Angeles Times made the same error in its April 24 issue ("Israel staged a series of raids in the West Bank that the army described as hunts for wanted Palestinian militants"), but its editors refused to correct the mistake on the grounds that it did not occur in a direct quotation.
May 3, 2004 update: "Militant" is at least preferable to "victim," which is how the Dutch paper Metro (on p. 7) today captions a picture of a two gloved hands belonging to a person taking fingerprints of a dead terrorist. Here is the original Dutch text:
Vingerafdrukken van de doden: Israelische politie neemt de vingerafdrukken van een gedode Palestijn. Hij is een van de slachtoffers die gisteren vielen in de Gazastrook: onder meer bij de nederzetting Gush Katif en een Hamas-gebouw vielen doden.
Translation into English:
Fingerprints of the dead: Israeli police takes fingerprints of a Palestinian who had been killed. He is one of the victims who fell/died in the Gaza strip yesterday: more people died among others near the Gush Katif settlement and a Hamas building.
(Doden vielen - translated here as more people died - indicates death from unnatural causes, such as a traffic accident, but does not imply murder.)
May 31, 2004 update: It turns out that the euphemism "militant" is not applied uniquely to Palestinian terrorists. Major media routinely use it in reference to Saudi terrorists – for example The Times (London) and the Associated Press.
June 3, 2004 update: When Algerian terrorists are discussed, it seems, the word of choice is "insurgents."
June 7, 2004 update: A report today on the murder of a BBC cameraman and wounding of a BBC journalist leads the BBC – which normally avoids the word terrorist – to tie itself into knots linguistically. It sometimes uses the word terrorist:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair responded to the attack by stating that "This is a struggle against these terrorists who will kill innocent people."
BBC Director of News Richard Sambrook praised Frank Gardner, the injured journalist, who is "an expert on al-Qaeda and on terrorism."
But at other times reverts to the trusty militant:
"The BBC's Paul Wood reports that the suburb [where the BBC team was shot at] is known as a militant stronghold."
The two were filming "the house of an al-Qaeda militant killed last year."
In preparing this entry, another contrast came to light: look up the CBS documentary on 9/11 in the BBC search engine and you'll find a link to "9/11, the documentary marking the first anniversary of the US terrorist attacks." But then click on the link itself and find that the word terrorist is bleached out of the text. (I have cached the search engine page here, in case the BBC decides to cover this embarrassment.)
Comment: These inconsistencies point to the BBC's intellectual dishonesty.
June 27, 2004 update: The French version of a Reuters story refers to the murderers in Iraq who threaten to behead their captives with the euphemism "activists":
A trois jours du transfert officiel de souveraineté, la situation restait très tendue dimanche en Irak, où des activistes menacent de décapiter trois otages turcs.
Here is a similar English story, which uses the old standby "militants":
Militants loyal to suspected al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said on Saturday they had seized three Turkish hostages and would behead them unless Turks stopped working with U.S.-led forces in Iraq
July 21, 2004 update: Here is a very interesting insight into the use of militants instead of terrorists. In a long, undated piece titled "Safety Guidance for International journalists visiting the Gaza Strip," the Reuters beat reporter there, Nidal al-Mughrabi gives a host of specific tips on how reporters can stay out of trouble in this tinderbox. Here is the one that pertains to our issue:
Never use the word terrorist or terrorism in describing Palestinian gunmen and militants; people consider them heroes of the conflict and ideals.
This shows in black and white that – as some of us suspected – the euphemistic use of militants results in part from the media's concern for self-preservation.
Sept. 4, 2004 update: The press cannot wrap its collective mind around the fact that the barbarians whose actions led to the deaths of over 300 people, mostly children, in Beslan, Russian, are terrorists. Journalists are using every euphemism they can come up with for this atrocity:
- Attackers: The BBC, in a story headlined "Siege school yields more bodies," twice refers to the terrorists as "the attackers."
- Captors: The New York Times, in a story headlined "Hundreds Die as Siege at a Russian School Ends in Chaos," refers to the terrorists as "heavily armed captors."
- Commandos: Agence France-Presse, in an story headlined "Plus de 320 tués, dont 150 enfants, dans la prise d'otages en Ossétie," refers three times to the terrorists as "membres du commando" and three times to "commando."
- Fighters: The New York Times, in a story headlined "Hundreds Die as Siege at a Russian School Ends in Chaos," refers to the terrorists as "fighters."
- Guerrillas: The New York Post, in an editorial headlined "The Beslan Savagery," refers to the terrorists as "guerrillas."
- Gunmen: National Public Radio, in a story headlined "Russian School Siege Ends in Bloody Shootout," refers to "A group of mostly Chechen gunmen."
- Insurgents: The Myrtle Beach Sun News, in a story headlined "Russian hostage crisis ends in tragedy with 200 dead," refers to "Chechen insurgents."
- Militants: The Associated Press, in a story headlined "Russia School Standoff Ends with 200 Dead," refers to "Chechen militants."
- Radicals: The BBC, in a story headlined "'Disturbing failures' in school assault," refers to "Chechen radicals."
- Rebels: The Sydney Morning Herald has a story headlined "Website statement blames Chechen rebels."
- Separatists: the Daily Telegraph, in a story headlined "School seige death-toll continues to rise," refers to "Chechen separatists."
And my particular favorite:
- Activists: The Pakistan Times, in a story headlined "Assault on Captors: Ends with 210 Killed in Russia," refers to "Chechen activists."
While on the subject of the Beslan atrocity media coverage, it is noteworthy that as of 10 a.m. EDT today, only 1,470 English-language articles on the subject mentioned any variation of the words Islam or Muslim and 4,400 articles mentioned neither, which is to say that only one out of four articles bothered to refer in any fashion to the source of the violence.