WASHINGTON – A terrorist (search) by any other name is still a terrorist, even when politically correct media outlets refuse to call them such under claims of maintaining the standards of objectivity.
"One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter (search)" is a cop out for those who are unwilling to recognize that just because every side of a story must be told that doesn't mean all sides must come off as equals.
Some groups just don't deserve to have their actions glossed over or the horrors they commit diminished in order for media to claim they are fair and balanced.
Take the terrorist attack on a bus in Jerusalem Aug. 19. At least 21 people died who were returning with their families from praying at the Western Wall (search), the holiest of Jewish shrines.
Hamas (search), whose sole purpose is the destruction of Israel, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Associated Press and Reuters, among many other news outlets in the United States, refer to Hamas, designated by the State Department as one of 36 foreign terrorist organizations and responsible for over 50 terrorist attacks on Israel in 2002, as "Palestinian militants."
A militant, according to Merriam-Webster, is one who is combative, or "engaged in warfare or combat." But to be in warfare or combat, don't at least two parties need to be involved? That said, is it really a fair fight when a bomber loaded down with 12 pounds of explosives boards a bus full of families returning from prayers?
The New York Times rightly referred to Hamas as a terrorist group. USA Today, like the wire services, referred to them as militants (search), but only in passing. On first reference, the group was not even identified, as if everyone knows what it is, which is clearly not the case.
On the flip side, AP wrote a story on the news coverage of the bombing, quoting a source who seemingly criticized the cable news networks for showing footage from the bomb blast in Israel and another one in Iraq the same day that killed 35 U.N. workers. Would it be that AP was trying to suggest that the news channels are insensitive? AP perhaps would rather sanitize the news and avoid the grotesque nature of terrorists, lest they be forced to refer to them as such.
And if those Hamas terrorists aren't bad enough, how about Al Qaeda (search)? Not only did their leader Usama bin Laden (search) take credit for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but bin Laden and his cronies were videotaped rejoicing that the damages inflicted on the U.S. from a hijacked airliner hitting the World Trade Center was more than they could have wished for.
Yet, Reuters continues to wonder whether the group is actually guilty. As recently as this week, they wrote -- in a story on Al Qaeda claiming responsibility for the U.N. headquarters bombing in Iraq -- that "Washington accused Al Qaeda of carrying out the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001."
Al Qaeda is linked to no fewer than eight foreign terrorist organizations listed in the State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism (search). Their Southeast Asian offshoot Jemaah Islamiya (search) took credit for a bombing in Bali last year that killed 200 people. Yet, to Reuters, it's still up in the air whether they are terrorists.
While the duty of the Fourth Estate (search) is to keep the powers that be honest, the Bush administration is in part to blame for mistaken language used by the news. The media frequently rely on official sources to get the information it needs, often using the very language that is handed to it. When the Bush administration meekly uses phrases that don't depict reality, it's no wonder that inaccurate language is repeated.
For instance, the FBI sent out its weekly police bulletin on Wednesday describing recent activities by sister outlaws the Animal Liberation Front (search) and Earth Liberation Front (search), groups that the FBI has called domestic terrorists (search) responsible for 600 acts of violence since 1996. In the bulletin delivered to 18,000 law enforcement authorities, the FBI referred to ALF as "animal rights activists."
Among the crimes ALF has laid claim to -- torching a barn on an Erie, Pa., fur farm, setting fire to a Chicago storefront accused of selling exotic animal hides and spray-painting the home of a trader who sells stocks for a holding company that owns an animal testing lab.
No matter how disgusted one is by animal testing, in what can only be a bad joke, the animalliberationfront.com (search) provides readers a how-to lesson on becoming a "cell" and committing violent acts on one's own. The author says keeping down expenses is first priority in order to raise funds for supplies, and boasts "my only expense is gas money."
That should shock ELF, whose eco-terrorism includes the 1998 firebombing of a building at a Vail ski resort in Colorado and this month's burning of a San Diego apartment building said to have caused $50 million in damage. Last week, the ELF ravaged vehicles at four car dealerships in San Gabriel Valley, Calif., setting fire to many of them and defacing others.
Curious how environmentalists define pollution, yet the Los Angeles Times defined ELF's actions as the work of "vandals" and "radical environmentalists."
The San Francisco Chronicle picked up AP, which rehabilitated that word again, calling ELF "a loose organization of militant environmentalists." The San Diego Union Tribune borrowed heavily from other reports, coming up with similar language.
Yes, the media are often preoccupied with saying the right thing in order to gain access to sources on all sides, and yes, it is equally abhorrent to make a crisis out of a problem that does not rise to the level. But trying to play down the dirtiest of deeds with neutralizing language is an injustice to those victimized by the deeds.
Example: On Thursday, Israeli forces lobbed a missile at Hamas terrorist Hamdi Kabach, an operative in the Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades (search), "the military wing" -- AP's description -- of the terrorist group. Three other Palestinians nearby were wounded.
Israel radio said Kabach was responsible for rocket attacks on Israeli settlements nearby. Kabach apparently was riding around the Gaza Strip on a donkey cart. Though AP didn't bother to report it, Reuters did: "The donkey lay dead on the ground next to the smashed cart."
Wonder what ALF would say about that.