Reuters’ Moral Ambiguity ContinuesMarch 23, 2011 22:00 by Pesach Benson
It was a Reuters executive, Stephen Jukes, who most famously summed up Big Media’s moral ambiguity after 9/11 when he declared:
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.
Crispian Balmer, the wire service’s bureau chief continues in Jukes’s tradition. Not content let Israelis call terror by its name, Reuters muddies the waters even further. Balmer writes:
Police said it was a “terrorist attack” — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike.
Why not let “terrorist attack” stand by itself, since it’s attributed to police? Do Reuters editors think so little of readers that they have to a) offer their own definition of terror, and b) a lousy one at that?
Don’t bother seeking clarity or justice in the Reuters style guide. Looking over the Reuters guidelines on “terror” is even more confusing. I bolded where I think Balmer violated his own guidelines:
We may refer without attribution to terrorism and counter-terrorism in general but do not refer to specific events as terrorism. Nor do we use the adjective word terrorist without attribution to qualify specific individuals, groups or events. Terrorism and terrorist must be retained when quoting someone in direct speech. When quoting someone in indirect speech, care must be taken with sentence structure to ensure it is entirely clear that they are the source’s words and not a label. Terrorism and terrorist should not be used as single words in inverted commas (e.g. “terrorist”) or preceded by so-called (e.g. a so-called terrorist attack) since that can be taken to imply a value judgment. Use a fuller quote if necessary. Terror as in terror attack or terror cell should be avoided, except in direct quotes.
Report the subjects of news stories objectively, their actions, identity and background. Aim for a dispassionate use of language so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own judgment on the basis of facts. Seek to use more specific terms like “bomber” or “bombing”, “hijacker” or “hijacking”, “attacker” or “attacks”, “gunman” or “gunmen” etc.
I’ll go easy on Balmer. This attitude is a decade-old product of Reuters’ institutional groupthink and need to need to appease terrorists, presumably predating his service there.
One reporter’s editor is another reader’s idiot.
UPDATE March 24, 11:52 am: Charley Warady gets it.