The Proud Duck
Monday, September 13, 2004
The Wall Street Journal's Opinionjournal.com feature printed response by that newspaper's Public Editor to a person who criticized the paper's refusal to use the word "terrorist" to identify the Islamist terrorists who killed over 300 people, largely schoolchildren, after taking over their school and holding the kids hostage, without food, water, or toilets, for three days.
I thought the PE's reasoning stank, and sent him my thoughts:
Attn: Public Editor
Via Opinionjournal.com, I read that you defended the Tribune's reference to the terrorists of Beslan as "militants" or "rebels."
You wrote, "No intellectually honest person can deny that "terrorist" is a word freighted with negative judgment and bias. So we sought terms that carried no such judgment."
Absolutely appalling, and factually incorrect. True, calling someone a "terrorist" involves a "negative judgment." So does calling a person who commits rape a rapist -- but it also happens to be a factually accurate statement. One can be a "rebel" or a "militant" without shooting child hostages in the back. You can't do that and not be a terrorist -- a word whose objective definition surely includes a person who intentionally inflicts bodily harm on noncombatants for political purposes.
Maybe it is true that "one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter" (although I suspect that only holds if the "another man" is morally bankrupt). Maybe the line between "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" can be fine in some instances. But murdering children after torturing them for three days is so far beyond the pale of any kind of legitimate tactic of resistance that no term but "terrorist" can possibly be accurate -- unless you want to say there's factually no difference between the Beslan murders and that rebellious militant George Washington.
Words have real meanings, and a journalist whose livelihood focuses on using words should know better than to use words improperly out of an exaggerated concern about "judgment." Use good judgment, and use the right words.
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