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Casualty facilitators

By Steven Martinovich
web posted October 1, 2001

Politically correct doublespeak reached new lows recently courtesy of Steven Jukes. The global head of Reuters news wrote to his staff in an internal memo that the organization's writers and editors were no longer to use the word "terrorist" to describe the men who hijacked four planes on September 11 and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania and ending the lives of thousands in the same time it took me to drink my coffee that morning.

"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," said Jukes, who later explained the order was made on the grounds that all participants of the story should be on "a level playing field" and that he was merely trying to safeguard the lives of his reporters in trouble spots like Palestine or Afghanistan.

Commentator Andrew Sullivan responded to Jukes' memo with a call to his readers to submit new and politically correct euphemisms for terrorists. Among the entries received were "compassion-challenged advocates," "aeronautical fundamentalists," "collateral damage coordinators," "asymmetric warfare specialists," "civilian elimination engineers," and the title of this piece

Jukes' second reason does have some legitimacy. According to a July 18 press release by the World Association of Newspapers, a total of 33 journalists have been killed this year, including some in Middle East. Several reporters in predominantly Palestinian areas have held on to post-terrorist attack footage and pictures that would place their lives in almost certain danger.

That said, a journalist that accepts a posting in a volatile area should understand that risk comes along with the job. A journalist's credibility is only harmed when they are forced to change the choice of their language in response to anything other than the objective facts. Pleasing the subjects of a dispatch leads at best to poor reporting and at worse propaganda.

Osama bin Laden: Collateral damage coordinator
Collateral damage coordinator

Although Sullivan's call for new terms to describe the men responsible for the terrors of September 11 was tongue in cheek, it also illustrates the absurdity of finding neutral terms for people responsible for the deaths of thousands. One can only imagine how Reuters would have described Nazis during World War II. After all, one man's camp guard is another man's civilian elimination engineer.

More egregious, however, was Jukes' explanation that the subjects of the stories concerning the terrorist attacks should all be treated on "a level playing field." The fact of the matter is that terrorists - by their actions and not their ideological beliefs - place themselves in a different category from the rest of us.

As an example, the men responsible for the attacks were believers in Wahhabism, a fanatical and puritan strain of Islam. It is estimated that Wahhabi imams control 80 per cent of the mosques in the United States. The difference - and it can't be overstated - between the followers of those mosques and the men of September 11 is that one group decided to incinerate thousands of human beings. The two groups may share identical beliefs but it was the terrorists who decided to claim innocent lives in the march towards their goal.

Reporting facts may be the raison d'être of the journalist but it is not their only responsibility. A journalist also has a moral obligation to present those facts in the context of the world they live in. A person who decides to target innocent people in support of their cause - even if it is one that we in the west support - is by every definition a terrorist. In language we consider to be outmoded in these days of moral relativism: they are evil personified. By choosing to refer to the mass murderers of September 11 in words that do not reflect reality - or at least a soft-peddled version of it - Reuters has made it easier for the ideological peers of the terrorists to justify the attacks.

By ignoring the modus operandi of the terrorists in a misguided attempt to appear neutral, Reuters has turned men who murdered thousands into asymmetric warfare specialists. When you use that term it's hard to stay mad.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario and the editor of Enter Stage Right.

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