On March 23, Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic commented on the absurdity of Reuters’ putting “terrorist attack” in quotes in a report on the bombing that day at a bus stop in Jerusalem that killed one woman and wounded 50 people. He quoted Reuters as publishing, “Police said it was a ‘terrorist attack’ — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike.”
There’s no need for me to quote Goldberg’s justified rant here, since you have probably already read it on Facebook, Twitter or the like (it was recommended on Facebook alone 5000 times so far). But on the off chance that you haven’t, click here to read it.
I’m glad Goldberg spoke out, but the shock factor seems a bit overblown given that this is merely yet another “Journey to Reuterville,” as James Taranto, editor of OpinionJournal.com (the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal) has put it. He wrote a number of years ago,
Far more dangerous than the hard anti-Americanism of the far left (and some elements of the far right) is the moral relativism that prevails among Western liberal elites, especially in journalism. Exhibit A is Reuters. As we noted on Sept. 24, 2001:
Stephen Jukes, global news editor for Reuters, the British wire service, has ordered his scribes not to use the word terror to refer to the Sept. 11 atrocity. . . . “We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist,” Jukes writes in an internal memo. “To be frank, it adds little to call the attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist attack.”
Reuters is the most self-righteous about it, but many other news organizations also use terms like militants, commandos, guerrillas and even dissidents to refer to terrorists–even though in some cases these terms are not only overly solicitous to the enemy but factually inaccurate (a guerrilla attack, for instance, has a military target, while a terrorist attack targets civilians).
Then less than a month later Canadian Broadcasting Company did an extensive write-up on the usage of the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” by news agencies and the U.N. In this summary, it reported that following 9/11,
…Reuters, which lost six of its own employees in the attacks, issued an internal memo reminding staff of a long-standing policy: “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.”
In 2002 the CBC made like Reuters and instructed its journalists not to use the terms “terrorism” or “terrorist” other than in this way, ie. only in quotation marks in attribution to a source.
Yeah, yeah, I understand the push for impartiality on the part of reporters and journalists. But sometimes you just need to use some common sense and have some integrity. The CBC piece refers analogously to the fact that ”in 1964 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart admitted it might be impossible to ‘intelligibly’ define obscenity, but quickly added ‘I know it when I see it.’” I think this obtains in the case of terrorism, as well. You definitely know it when you see it.
When I first read quickly through this section of the article on the CBC website, I mistakenly thought this statement was attributed to Jon Stewart. I went back and realized that I had the wrong Stewart in mind. Or did I? It was actually a logical slip. I think many would agree that the The Daily Show often has a better grasp of the events of the day than does any other (news) source, especially Reuters.
Special thanks to my source who did the research for this post.
© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.