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Friday, March 22, 2002
Terrorist, schmerrorist
A horrifying explanation from the Chicago Tribune about their use -- or lack thereof -- of the word terrorism (from Romenesko via Media Minded. They've chosen to use the word for the attacks of September 11, but to "withhold that designation from other actions in other places (mainly the Middle East) where some people argue it is warranted."
Many readers contend that we've also seen terrorism in the detonations of suicide bombs at pizzerias and bar mitzvah parties in Jerusalem.
Many readers contend?!?!?!?!?!? Are there others who don't?
How to justify the difference? Well--and this is just one journalist's view--the Tribune is an American newspaper written principally for an American audience and owing its existence and independence to the American Constitution. Our perspective is inescapably American (which is not to say it is necessarily the same as that of the U.S. government). Inevitably, as the news of Sept. 11 is reported and interpreted, that perspective is reflected in the product. Indeed, it almost has to be if we are to speak intelligibly on those events to our audience. Our perspective on events in the Middle East also is American, which is to say it is not identical to that of any of the contending parties. To faithfully report and interpret the events there for our American audience, we must refrain from consistently labeling either party as terrorists, because to do so is, in effect, to declare it illegitimate.
Got that? It's okay to have "chosen sides" in discussing 9/11 because we're American. But we wouldn't want to call a spade a spade in the Middle East, because, well, they're not American. We wouldn't want to declare a suicide bombing at a pizzeria to be "illegitimate." Note that this isn't a matter of misplaced "objectivity," because if it were, then 9/11 wouldn't be labelled as terrorist either. No, it's just that Americans might think that people who deliberately blow up civilians are the same as people who use military force to prevent these sorts of acts of terrorism, and it's not our job as a newspaper to show the difference.

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