Monday, September 08, 2003

Terrorists and militants. Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund today tries to explain why the paper refrains from identifying some organizations that engage in terrorist acts as, well, you know, terrorists.

I would love to link to it, but it has yet to be posted on the Globe's extremely fine new website. Too bad. Chinlund takes a thoughtful approach that defies easy lampooning -- much as it may seem absurd not to label Hamas, for instance, a terrorist organization.

Her main point is that the Globe will label terrorist acts as terrorist acts, but it will, in most cases, not identify the groups that condone, plan, and carry out those acts as terrorist organizations. She writes: "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter; it's not for journalists to judge."

And she quotes Globe editor Martin Baron as saying, "The overall approach here is to describe events and present facts rather than to attack labels to individuals or groups. We particularly seek to avoid hot-button language that has become associated with a point of view ..."

Well, now. It strikes me (and the American Heritage Dictionary) that a terrorist is a person who carries out acts of terrorism. And what is terrorism? Let's turn to the dictionary again:

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

Chinlund notes that the Globe does not refer to Hamas as a terrorist organization, although she observes, "The wisdom of this approach is, understandably, the subject of renewed debate in the wake of the recent, horrible bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 people." And she closes by noting an exception: Al Qaeda. To refrain from labeling Al Qaeda as terrorist, she says, "ignores one of our most profound national experiences, 9/11."

At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that, by this reasoning, a group that attacks us is terrorist, but a group that attacks someone else -- like Israel -- is merely "militant."

Chinlund has done an admirable job of trying to explain the Globe's policy. But that doesn't mean it makes a lot of sense.

Don't worry about media concentration. The business is falling apart! So says David Kirkpatrick in today's New York Times.

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