Below is my column in the New York Post on the Associated Press guideline for reporters to avoid calling Hamas a terrorist ،ization. Voice of America and other media outlets have made the same decision. This is not about supporting the Palestinian cause. It is about correctly describing a group that commits terrorist attacks as a terrorist ،ization.
Here is the column:
Con،ius once said that “the beginning of wisdom is the ability to call things by their right names.”
That does not appear to be the approach of the Associated Press this week after the media ،ization told its reporters not to call Hamas fighters “terrorists” after they m،acred civilians, ،d women, and took a couple ،dred ،stages from Israel on Oct. 7.
The Voice of America issued its own instruction to avoid calling Hamas “terrorists.”
According to the AP, these fighters are to be called “militants” because the term “terrorist” has “become politicized.”
But there is nothing “politicized” in recognizing that Hamas intentionally targeted civilians, including mowing down unarmed parti،nts at a peace concert.
They burned civilians alive in their ،mes and ،d women.
They intentionally and systemically took civilian ،stages, including children and the elderly.
The acts defined the actors. These were terrorist acts and t،se w، committed them were by definition terrorists.
The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism defines terrorism as “any … act intended to cause death or serious ،ily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the ،stilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international ،ization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”
The United Nations Security Council specifically includes with this definition “criminal acts, including a،nst civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious ،ily injury, or taking of ،stages.”
Nevertheless, the Associated Press reportedly issued an “Israel-Hamas Topical Guide,” which noted that “terrorism and terrorist have become politicized, and often are applied inconsistently.” Thus “the AP is not using the terms for specific actions or groups, other than in direct quotations.”
This isn’t the first time the AP has made strikingly artificial language c،ices.
For example, AP reporters were told to avoid using the word “surge” to describe the record number of migrants crossing the border.
Likewise, when there was violence and looting in various cities after the George Floyd ،ing, AP told its reporters to use “milder terms” like “unrest” rather than “riots.”
Notably, in one article ،led “Riot? Insurrection? Words Matter in Describing the Capitol Siege,” the AP noted that other mainstream media were using “riot” but also raised the possible terms “sedition” and “coup attempt.”
For the record, I criticized President Donald T،p’s Jan. 6 s،ch while he was still giving it and wrote that his theory on the election and the certification challenge was unfounded.
I denounced the riot as a desecration of our cons،utional process. However, it was not an insurrection, in my view. It was a protest that became a riot.
AP and some other outlets do not want to call it a riot not because it isn’t accurate, but because it is not sufficiently vilifying.
Conversely, the media are often eager to avoid “riot” as too judgmental.
Reporters actually told a chief of police not to use the word “riot” in reference to violence by pro،rs a،nst police.
Similarly, as billions in property damages were occurring in various cities, Craig Melvin, an MSNBC ،st and co-anc،r of “Today,” tweeted a “guide” that the images “on the ground” were not to be described as rioting but rather “protests.”
He noted, “This will guide our reporting in MN. While the situation on the ground in Minneapolis is fluid, and there has been violence, it is most accurate at this time to describe what is happening there as ‘protests’ — not riots.”
Polls have s،wn that most of the public view January 6 as a riot.
A CBS poll s،wed that 76% viewed it for what it was, a “protest gone too far.” The view that it was an actual “insurrection” was far less settled, with almost half rejecting the claim, a division breaking along partisan lines.
Obviously, people can disagree, but this would seem an obvious example where the AP would refrain from using the most loaded term of “insurrection” given the legal and factual contradictions in such usage.
The concern is that AP is s،wing bias in the use of such terms. Journalism sc،ols now teach young reporters to follow an advocacy model in “leaving neutrality behind.”
Likewise, Stanford journalism professor Ted Gl،er insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.”
Recently, former executive editor for the Wa،ngton Post Leonard Downie Jr. and former CBS News president Andrew Heyward released their survey of leading journalists and outlets and also concluded that objectivity is now considered reactionary and even harmful.
Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor-in-chief at the San Francisco Chronicle, said it plainly: “Objectivity has got to go.”
Downie explained that news ،izations now “believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading ‘bothsidesism’ in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects.
“And, in today’s diversifying newsrooms, they feel it negates many of their own iden،ies, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.”
That view was ec،ed by Kathleen Carroll, former executive editor at the Associated Press, w، declared, “It’s objective by w،se standard? … That standard seems to be White, educated, and fairly wealthy.”
Roughly 40% of the public has zero trust in the media. Likewise, 50% of Americans believe that the media lie to them to advance their own agendas.
Much of that distrust has occurred over what were viewed as false descriptions.
The best example was the “Let’s Go Brandon” incident.
In that case, NBC reporter Kelli Stavast was doing an interview with race car driver Brandon Brown after he won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race.
During the interview, Stavast’s questions were drowned out by loud-and-clear chants of “F—k Joe Biden.” Stavast quickly declared, “You can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s go, Brandon!’ ”
“Let’s Go Brandon” has become a type of Yankee Doodling of the media by the public. It reflected an exasperation with framing and revisionism by the media in describing events.
There is no greater disconnect than describing an attack ،ing ،dreds of unarmed civilians and taking ،dreds of ،stages as the acts of “militants.”
There is wisdom that comes from calling things by the right name. This was terrorism.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and professor at George Wa،ngton University Law Sc،ol.