M – Media Misdescription of Terrorists as “Militants”
The M.S.M.’s propensity to mislabel murderers of Israeli civilians merely as “militants” has become so deeply engrained in Mideast reporting that railing against such euphemizing of terrorism may seem futile. But there are several contexts in which such media misusage of the plain meaning of English words has to be fought. These include:
Where the intended carnage is so heinous no term but “terror” suffices;
Where the perpetrating group openly flaunts attacking civilians;
M.S.M. exclusion of Israel from worldwide war against terror;
Replacing “terror” with “militants” in media’s indirect quotes;
Media violation of its own ‘usage of terrorist’ guidelines; and
Media mis-describing of incontrovertible murderers as “suspected militants.”
But first it should be noted that media euphemizing of mass-murderers of Israeli civilians as “militants” and the like is not universal. The Dallas Morning News, for one American paper, announced in July 2005 that it had stopped labeling people who “strap bombs to their chests and detonate them in an Israeli café” as “insurgents.” It recognized: “They are terrorists.”
(1) Intended Carnage So Heinous No Term But “Terror” Suffices
? In March 2011, a Palestinian Arab snuck into the house of a Jewish family asleep at night and stabbed to death the father, mother, children aged 11 and 3, and an infant. The 3/13/11 Los Angeles Times article (Inq.) reported:
Palestinian militants have defended previous such attacks against Jewish settlers in the West Bank, describing the settlers as combatants in the conflict rather than civilians.
Slitting children’s throats as the sleep in their beds is terrorism, if anything is. Defending such attacks is not “militancy.”
(2) Perpetrating Group Openly Flaunting Attacking Civilians
That Palestinian Arab groups openly flaunt their intention to keep attacking Israeli civilians doesn’t drive the M.S.M. to abandon its euphemizing of them as “militants.”
? The 6/20/02 Inquirer’s Israel article reported on dispatchers of “suicide” bombers who’d exploded and incinerated Jerusalem city buses two days in a row vowing to continue such carnage. The Inquirer headlined: “Jerusalem Hit Again – And Militants Promise More ….”
? A 4/24/11 McClatchy article (Inq., A6), report on explosion in Jerusalem of a bomb “packed with small ball bearings” that killed one and wounded dozens at a bus station included this vow of one group’s “armed wing”
[T]he al-Quds Brigade, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, welcomed the attack and vowed to continue targeting cities deep inside Israel.
Hamas, for one group, revels in flaunting its attacks on Israeli civilians.
? Midway down, the A.P.’s 1/20/04 (Inq., A8) article rather matter-of-factly quoted Hamas founder Yassin that “the Islamic group would increasingly recruit female suicide bombers” because “male bombers were increasingly being held back by Israeli security measures.”
Also yesterday, the founder of Hamas said the Islamic group would increasingly recruit female suicide bombers. Last week, Hamas sent its first female assailant, a 22-year-old woman who blew herself up at the Gaza-Israel crossing and killed four Israeli border guards. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said in Gaza that there had not before been a need for women to carry out bombings. Now, he said, women must step up to fulfill their obligations. He suggested that male bombers were increasingly being held back by Israeli security measures.
Yet the A.P. called this a statement of an “Islamic group,” not of a “terrorist” group.
In a targeted-attack two months later, Israel killed this terrorist leader who had been brazenly advertising for female mass-murder bombers. The Inquirer reacted on successive days by ignoring this fact: On 3/23/2004, the op-ed page headlined “Did Peace Die Along With Sheikh Yassin?” and on 3/24/2004, the editorial cartoon by in-house cartoonist Tony Auth depicted Israel as strangling the peace dove.
? A Bloomberg News article (12/14/11), “Hamas Marks 24th Anniversary, Says It Killed 1,365 Israelis,” quoted a Hamas leader: “The armed resistance and the armed struggle are our only choice to liberate the land, to liberate all of Palestine from the sea to the river and expel the invaders,” Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, told the crowd. The article summarized Hamas’ accomplishments:
Hamas militants have carried out 1117 attacks against Israel, including 87 suicide bombings, and have launched 11,093 rockets at Israeli targets, according to the e-mailed statement.
Bloomberg headed the section of its article including these terrorism statistics a recap of Hamas’ “Military Operations.”
The M.S.M. doesn’t write that Palestinian Arabs and their supporters “consider” the parts of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria that Jordan had seized and held from 1948 to 1967 to be places now called “East Jerusalem” and “the West Bank,” or that they “consider” Jews living there to be alien “Jewish settlers.” The M.S.M. writes that these places are “East Jerusalem” and “the West Bank,” and that Jews there are “Jewish settlers.” But with all this flaunted involvement in terrorism, the M.S.M. doesn’t write that Hamas is a terrorist organization. It writes that Hamas is “deemed,” “labeled,” “considered,” “classified as” a terrorist organization. But the cold fact is that mass murderers of civilian bus passengers and restaurant patrons are terrorists. This is far clearer and more certain than that “East” Jerusalem and “the West Bank” are place-names known to history, and that Jews, of all peoples, living there are alien “settlers.”
? A.P. (10/11/11, Inq., A9): “the militant Islamic group [Hamas] is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, among others.”
A.P. (next day, 10/12/11, Inq., A6): “Hamas has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds.”
(3) M.S.M. Excluding Israel From Worldwide War Against Terror
? The Baltimore Sun ran a December 1, 2002 (Inq., A2, “Israel Tries To Link Itself With U.S. War On Terror”) article that led:
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Israel has been trying to link its battles against Palestinians to the Bush administration’s global war against terrorism. But…Israel has been unable to convince the world that it is fighting the same war as the United States.
The article explicitly distinguished “Palestinian militant groups” from terrorists:
While the differences might be lost on Israelis–who say they are the targets regardless of who is doing the targeting–the distinctions are crucial to the Palestinians. They believe their fight for a state is legitimate and to some extent justifies the use of violence.
? An article (A.P., 12/30/07, Inq., A2) quoted bin Laden himself:
“We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the sea….We will not recognize even one inch for Jews in the land of Palestine…” bin Laden said.
On the other hand, examples are legion of the M.S.M. freely using “terror” to describe terrorism directed at non-Israelis.
? The Inquirer’s front-page (4/31/04) headlined
Battlefields Around the World were in the Thick of the Counterterror Fight Yesterday
above a set of references under the heading “Many Fronts in the War On Terror” to articles on Uzbekistan, Britain, the Philippines, Spain and the U.S.
(4) M.S.M. Replacing of “Terror” with “Militants” in Indirect Quotes
“Indirect” quotation, paraphrasing what an official, spokesperson or document literally said, is common and accepted in news articles, but grants no license to alter meaning or nuance. A clear breach of that fidelity obligation occurs when a news article indirectly quotes an Israeli or other leader or spokesperson as having referred to attackers of Israeli civilians as “militants,” when the speaker had not used that term. Israeli leaders and spokespersons are so unlikely to euphemize murderers and those bent on murdering Israeli civilians as “militants” that the media should directly quote Israelis so using that term.
“Israel” “Saying Militants”
? A.P. (9/4/11, Inq., A6):
Israel says that Gaza’s Hamas rulers get weapons, ammunition, and rockets through the tunnels and smuggle militants out.
…Israel says Gaza militants entered Sinai through the tunnels and crossed back into Israel, attacking vehicles and killing eight Israelis (six of them civilians).
? Note this lede of a news article (A.P., 4/29/07, Inq.):
The Israeli army shot four Palestinian militants who were trying to plant explosives near the Gaza Strip border fence yesterday, killing three and seriously wounding one, an Israeli army spokeswoman said.
Bibi “Saying Militants”
? On August 21, 2005, Knight-Ridder reporter Nissenbaum, writing as an Inquirer staff-writer, wrote that Netanyahu had “warned” in his pre-Gaza withdrawal cabinet resignation letter protesting Israel’s impending Gaza withdrawal…
that Israel’s move would create a fertile environment for militants,
…perhaps not recalling or caring that just a fortnight earlier, August 9, 2005, she had co-authored with Inquirer Jerusalem Bureau Chief Matza an Inquirer article that had quoted Netanyahu’s cabinet resignation letter directly:
“I am not willing to be part of a process that ignores reality and proceeds to establish an Islamic terror base that will threaten the entire country,” Netanyahu wrote in his resignation letter.
? See also (A.P., 12/20/05, Inq.):
Netanyahu has condemned Sharon’s Gaza pullout, saying the unilateral move encouraged Palestinian militants to wage more attacks against Israel.
Sharon “Saying Militants”
? A.P. (5/9/05, Inq.):
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Israel would not release more Palestinian prisoners until the Palestinian Authority took tougher action against militant groups – the latest sign of trouble for a strained cease-fire.
But Haaretz, not the most militant of Israeli newspapers, had published on the preceding day, 5/8/05, a “Haaretz Service and The Associated Press” article, which Haaretz headlined:
PM: No Further Prisoner Releases Until PA Acts Against Terror
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Sunday that Israel will not release any more Palestinian prisoners until the Palestinian Authority ‘fulfills its commitment to crack down on the terror organizations.”
Olmert “Saying Militants”
? Less “right-wing” Israeli P.M. Olmert got the M.S.M.’s terror-paraphrase treatment, via this headline (A.P., 12/31/07, Inq.):
Israel Calls For Crackdown; The peace process can’t move forward, Olmert said, until Palestinians rein in extremists.
But the A.P.’s paragraph 5 said what he’d said:
“As long as the Palestinian Authority doesn’t take the necessary vigor against terror organizations, Israel won’t be able to carry out any change that would expose it to any jeopardy or endanger Israel’s security,” he said.
“Settlers” Saying “Militants”
? Inquirer Jerusalem Bureau Chief Matza (2/3/04, A2) directly quoted a “settler” leader:
I have no doubt that the current government will not survive if Sharon carries out this (Gaza withdrawal) plan, especially since terrorism is still calling the shots.
The article summarized settlers’ contention as
Settlers contend their presence, along with army units assigned to protect them, keep Palestinian militants bottled up.
Media on Americans and Europeans Calling Terrorists “Militants”
? The 8/25/01 Inquirer directly quoted President Bush:
If the Palestinians are interested in a dialogue, then I strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put 100 percent effort into solving terrorist activity, into stopping the terrorist activity….The Israelis have made it very clear that they will not negotiate under terrorist threat.
The Inquirer introduced this three-times-using-”terrorist” direct quote with:
President Bush, speaking at a news conference in Crawford, Texas, said yesterday that Arafat “can do a better job” of reining in militants.
? Inquirer article (3/30/02):
Powell called on countries around the world to condemn Palestinian attacks….”Let’s be clear about what brought it all [Gen. Zinni’s efforts] to a halt: terrorism….That’s what has caused this crisis to come upon us – not the absence of a political way forward, but terrorism in its rawest form,” Powell said.
The Inquirer article added:
Powell’s call for others to join him in urging Arafat to crack down on Palestinian militant groups went unheeded.
? Near the end of a news article (12/11/01, Inq.) appeared:
In Brussels, the 15-nation European Union called on Arafat to dismantle “the terrorist networks Hamas and Islamic Jihad….
The article characterized the EU foreign ministers as having issued a statement
calling on Arafat to dismantle militant Palestinian groups and declare an end to the violent uprising against Israel. European countries traditionally have tilted toward the Palestinians, and the move reflected the increasing international pressure on Arafat to crack down on militants.
Road Map Calling On P.A. “To Rein In Militants”
In 2003, U.S. President Bush promulgated the “Road Map” plan for phased-implementation of Arab-Israeli peace. Phase I expressly required the Palestinian Authority to end “violence and terrorism,” to confront “all those engaged in terror,” to undertake “dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure,” to “declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.” But the M.S.M. substitutes “militants,” a term that does not appear in the Road Map.
As with the M.S.M.’s mischaracterizing of the U.N. partition resolution as having called for Jewish and “Palestinian” states, the M.S.M.’s misstating of the Road Map in this terrorists-to-militants euphemizing way is a brazen bias smoking gun.
? A.P. 9/18/03: “…disarm the militants, as required by the road map.”
? Inquirer sub-headline 9/28/03, A16: “The road map to peace calls for militants to be reined in….”
? Knight-Ridder (S.S. Nelson) 11/13/03: “[a “key” road map provision is] the disarming and dismantling of Palestinian militant groups.”
? A.P. (12/18/03): “[the road map] calls on the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups.”
? A.P. (2/7/04, Inq., A3): “… road map calls for Palestinians to rein in militants.”
? A.P., (4/2/04, Inq., A2), describing the Palestinians’ Road Map obligation:
[T]he U.S. diplomats made it clear they expected the Palestinians to honor their road map obligations – particularly the requirement to dismantle violent groups.
? A.P.(7/2/05): “Israel and the United States [not to mention the Road Map] have demanded that Abbas disarm militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
? Washington Post (12/6/05): “Israeli Prime Minister Sharon has demanded that Abbas disarm the Palestinian groups as a prerequisite for progress on the U.S.-backed road map to peace.” [This is a requisite of the road map, not a “Sharon-demanded prerequisite.]
? The A.P. reported (5/18/09) that Netanyahu has “tried to persuade the Americans” that Hamas “must be reined in before peacemaking with the Palestinians can progress,” but that “the Americans have not been persuaded.” [Actually, it’s the Americans who’ve been doing the persuading.]
(5) Media Violation of Its Own “Usage of Terrorist” Guidelines
The Philadelphia Inquirer has had a style manual (rev. Dec. 2002) covering usage of “terrorist” and “terrorism.” It began by cautioning: “[G]roups and factions often wish The Inquirer to characterize their foes as terrorists in order to make them appear as enemies of the United States and its people.” It listed five contexts in which use of “terror” is appropriate: “In direct quotations” (the only context not requiring editor approval); in indirect quotes of government officials using the term; “to describe an individual or group that has credibly claimed responsibility for terrorist acts”; to describe someone convicted of “an act of terrorism”; and
In rare cases where the question of terrorism is not in dispute, such as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or at the Munich Olympics, or historical events such as the attack on the Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
It admonished: “Militant is not to be used in an attempt to avoid saying terrorist.”
To describe a group, use words that describe what it has done or what it is accused of doing. An example: The group Hamas, which has admitted involvement in many suicide bombings, claimed responsibility [Inq.-speak for “credit”] for the attack.
? Contradicting the Inquirer’s own guidelines’ specific citing of “the Munich Olympics” as one of two examples it gave of “rare cases where the question of terrorism is not in dispute,” that newspaper’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief stated in a 3/14/04 (Inq., A2) article that the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by terrorists there had been “killed” by “Palestinian guerrillas.”
(6) M.S.M. Mis-describing Incontrovertible Murderers as “Suspected Militants”
The extremes to which the M.S.M. has gone to bestow presumption of innocence–”suspected militants”–upon attackers of Israeli civilians would be comical if these “suspects’” actions were harmless.
? Inquirer (8/17/02): “Israeli soldiers destroyed two houses belonging to suspected West Bank militants yesterday,” [but neither was there to protest because earlier in the year each “blew himself up,” as the article put it, one killing 17 Israelis and the other wounding two.]
? Inquirer (11/8/02):
Also yesterday, a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber and an apparent accomplice were killed in an explosion at a military checkpoint near the Jewish settlement of Kedumim, near the West Bank city of Nablus, the army said.
The suspected bomber, one of three Palestinians in a taxi stopped at the checkpoint, was wearing an explosive belt and yelled “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) as he ran at the troops, who fired at the man, the army said. The belt exploded, killing the second man and injuring the third. It was not clear whether the bomber detonated the explosives or whether the shooting caused the blast.
? The A.P. reported on 2/11/03 (Inq., A13) that “Israeli troops killed two suspected Palestinian militants.” One, killed while trying to escape soldiers who called on him to surrender, was a “senior fugitive” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, “a radical PLO faction.” The other, killed “near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim,” was “carrying an assault rifle and hand grenades, the army said.”
? An article (A.P., 8/23/03, Inq., A2) started thusly: “Israeli troops killed a Palestinian bombing suspect” the previous day. The article identified him as “a follower of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade,” and quoted the Israeli military that he had been “involved in an Aug. 12 suicide bombing that killed an Israeli man in a supermarket in central Israel, a charge confirmed by Al Aqsa members.”
? Washington Post (8/30/03, Inq.):
An Israeli man was killed when a suspected Palestinian assailant fired at his car….Shalom Harmelech was killed when a suspected Palestinian gunman shot at his car….Israeli officials said. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the attack.
? An article (A.P., 5/4/05, Inq., A3) reported that for “the first time a suspected member of a Hamas rocket squad was taken into custody [by Abbas’ P.A.] since the group promised Abbas in March that it would halt attacks on Israel.” He was arrested with a rocket launcher in his car “minutes after insurgents had fired two rockets toward an Israeli town.” The article noted that he was shortly released by the P.A. under Hamas and Egyptian pressure.
? A.P. (11/5/08, Inq., A7):
Hamas then fired mortars across the Gaza border into southern Israel, and Israel answered with the air strike, killing five suspected Palestinian extremists, Israeli and Palestinian officials said. The army said the air strike aimed at the mortar launchers and him them.