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Media Analyses





Double Standards on International Terrorism at the New York Times and AP


There is a striking double standard in terminology being used by many news organizations, such as the New York Times and Associated Press, regarding the terror attacks in London and the terror attack in Netanya, Israel. “Terror” and “terrorists” are liberally used in articles about the London bombing, while the articles about the Netanya terror attack studiously avoid the use of terror terminology.

New York Times Double Standard

A front-page article by Alan Cowell and Don Van Natta Jr. about last week’s London terrorist attacks appropriately refers to “terror” in the headline — “4 From Britain Carried Out Terror Blasts, Police Say,” as well as in the first paragraph, the middle of the article, and in the photo caption:

“British-born men had carried out Thursday’s deadly terrorist attacks in London, including at least one possible suicide bombing, which would be the first in Britain.” (1st paragraph)

“This would not be the first instance of Britons involved in suicidal terrorism plots.” (middle of article)

“The British police raided several homes yesterday in Leeds, England, tracing items thay had found where terrorist bombs exploded in London last Thursday...”(photo caption)

An article by Steven Erlanger and Greg Myre on the Netanya bombing (on page A6), however, avoided making any mention of terrorism except for a quote by an Israeli spokesman. Nor does the title or photo caption refer to terrorism. Entitled “Suicide Bomber and 2 Women Die in Attack at Mall in Israeli Town,”” the article includes 6 references to “suicide bombers/bombing(s),” 9 to “attack(s)” alone, 7 to “bomber(s)/bombing(s),” 1 to “incident,” 2 to “violence,” and 2 to “Palestinian armed factions” in connection with terrorism or terrorists–that is 27 instances in which the word “terror,” “terrorism” or “terrorist” could have been used but wasn’t. Clearly no one would expect the Times to apply the “T” word in all these cases — but at least it should be used occasionally in the article for the sake of accuracy.

A photo caption that appears in a map graphic with this article minimizes Palestinian terrorist acts even more. The substitute for “Palestinian terrorists” here is the innocuous “West Bank Palestinians” as in: “Netanya has been a frequent target for West Bank Palestinians.”

It is also striking that the New York Times omitted a key sentence from Palestinian President Abbas's response: “We condemn this terrorist attack.” Perhaps it made the Times uncomfortable that even the Palestinian leader was willing to call the bombing a “terrorist attack,” while the Times was not.

The New York Times’ former public editor (ombudsman), Dan Okrent,, brought attention to this issue in his March 6, 2005 column “The War of the Words: A Dispatch From the Front Lines.” While he claimed the Times has no official policy on avoiding the words “terror,” “terrorist,” and “terrorism,” he acknowledged that those words show up very rarely. He quoted former Jerusalem bureau chief James Bennet who addressed this problematic issue as well, suggesting that the avoidance of the term “terrorist” in connection with terror attacks against Israelis is a deliberate decision on the part of the Times editorial staff.

Excerpt from Okrent's column:

... I think in some instances The Times's earnest effort to avoid bias can desiccate language and dilute meaning. In a January memo to the foreign desk, former Jerusalem bureau chief James Bennet addressed the paper's gingerly use of the word “terrorism.”

“The calculated bombing of students in a university cafeteria, or of families gathered in an ice cream parlor, cries out to be called what it is,” he wrote..“I wanted to avoid the political meaning that comes with ‘terrorism,’ but I couldn't pretend that the word had no usage at all in plain English.” Bennet came to believe that “not to use the term began to seem like a political act in itself.”

I agree. While some Israelis and their supporters assert that any Palestinian holding a gun is a terrorist, there can be neither factual nor moral certainty that he is. But if the same man fires into a crowd of civilians, he has committed an act of terror, and he is a terrorist. My own definition is simple: an act of political violence committed against purely civilian targets is terrorism; attacks on military targets are not. The deadly October 2000 assault on the American destroyer Cole or the devastating suicide bomb that killed 18 American soldiers and 4 Iraqis in Mosul last December may have been heinous, but these were acts of war, not terrorism. Beheading construction workers in Iraq and bombing a market in Jerusalem are terrorism pure and simple.

Given the word's history as a virtual battle flag over the past several years, it would be tendentious for The Times to require constant use of it, as some of the paper's critics are insisting. But there's something uncomfortably fearful, and inevitably self-defeating, about struggling so hard to avoid it."

AP's Double Standard

A July 12 AP article by William Kole (St. Louis Post Dispatch headline: “First London bombings victim is identified”) uses the word “terrorist” in the very first sentence (“...London's terrorist bombings...”) and once again regarding terror in Casablanca (“..in terrorist bombings in Casablanca.”) “Terror”” and “terrorists” are also used when quoting Prime Minister Tony Blair and London mayor Ken Livingstone.

However, an AP article on the following day (July 13 ) by Gavin Ravinowitz (St. Louis Post Dispatch headline “Suicide bomber kills 3 Israelis, wounds 30”) fails to use any terror terminology, other than one sentence when quoting Palestinian President Abbas. The terrorist in Netanya is called “suicide bomber” or “bomber,” and Palestinian terrorists from various terrorist groups are called “militants.”

By employing terror terminology when terrorists murder civilians in London (and elsewhere outside of Israel) while avoiding terror terminology when Israeli civilians are attacked in Israel, the implication is that violence against them has legitimate motives and is somehow acceptable or understandable.


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