Word-choice is important. It helps illustrate the details and realities of a writers subject -- and conveys biases, subtle or blatant. In journalism, word-choice is critical, the equivalent of a gem-cutters chisel. If the tool isnt sharp and the cutter precise, the gem that emerges from the rough stone will be flawed.
Thats one reason recognizing and filtering ones own biases is a tenet of professional news coverage. That said, The Washington Post
, like other leading American journalism outlets, has a consistent problem with a specific word-choice challenge: The further away from the United States or American citizens an act of terrorism is, the more likely The Post
is to call the perpetrators militants; the closer terrorist activity is to U.S. soil or Americans, the more likely The Post
is to use the word terrorist. CAMERA has pointed this out repeatedly, including in the Backgrounder "Who Made Terrorism and Militant Synonymous
?" (July 20, 2012).
Terrorism, according to U.S. law, amounts to the illegal threat or use of force against noncombatants to influence a larger audience in pursuit of an ideological, theological, economic or other agenda. But when reporting on what obviously are terrorist attacks by members of Hamas, Hezbollah or other terrorists groups (often so designated by the U.S. government), The Post habitually refers to them as the work of militants and militant groups.
article headlined Syrias allies condemn Israeli strike (Feb. 1, 2013, highlighted the newspapers language problem regarding Hamas and Hezbollah: It calls both
"militant groups." This misrepresents two of the Middle Easts leading terrorist organizations, and, in the case of Hezbollah, one of the worlds chief terrorist groups. The government of the United States officially deems both Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist organizations, forbidding official contacts and restricting interactions by private citizens. The Posts
militant label for these organizations may imply, whether intentionally or inadvertently, that they are fighting the Israeli military, neglecting that both purposefully and primarily target Israeli civilians.
In France may begin troop pullout from Mali in March (Feb. 6, 2013), The Post accurately describes AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) using terms like extremist, terrorist, and the weak but not incorrect Islamist. AQIM is affiliated with Al-Qaeda; hence, it at least indirectly affects the United States.
Terrorist inflicts pain upon families living worlds apart (Jan. 28, 2013) demonstrates that The Post
will use the term
terrorist when referring to attacks that affect the United States, even when those attacks affect U.S. military personnel and might, depending on the attackers methods and uniforms, more precisely be described as guerrilla warfare. The papers word-choice includes extremist and chronic terrorist figure to label members of the Taliban and their attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The strongest and most passionate language The Washington Post
uses to refer to terrorist activity appears when it affects the domestic United States. For example, in Use of stings is subject of debate (Nov. 26, 2012), the papers reporters and editors use terms like anti-terrorism tool, terrorist attacks, a known terrorist in Afghanistan, war on terrorism, terrorist groups, would-be terrorists zeal to kill. The article describes the controversy over using entrapment to counter potential terrorists. This example
too indicates that the closer to Americans and American soil a potential terrorist or terrorist act is, the more likely The Post
is to use accurately terror, terrorist and terrorism and the less likely the vague term militant is to appear.
By substituting the virtually meaningless word militant" for the precise terrorist, The Post sanitizes terrorist organizations. A militant may be a combatant in war, or an aggressive but non-violent activist for a cause -- environmental, trade union or civil rights, for example. A terrorist, on the other hand, uses violence to coerce non-combatants and their governments. There is a difference, its fundamental, and The Post, as part of its goal of uniform standards and accuracy, should recognize it consistently. But what the paper has now, and has had for years, especially regarding terrorist attacks by Arab-Islamic groups against Israel, is a misleading double standard. -- by Andrew Wallin, CAMERA Washington Research Intern