Calling a Terrorist a Terrorist
by Daniel Pipes
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":
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:
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:
Translation into English:
(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:
But at other times reverts to the trusty militant:
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":
Here is a similar English story, which uses the old standby "militants":
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:
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:
And my particular favorite:
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.
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