CyberAlert -- 09/25/2001 -- No "Terrorists" at Reuters
No "Terrorists" at Reuters; No Lapel Flags for ABC News; College Students Want Flag for All of Earth; Criticism Upset Jennings
1) There were no "terrorist attacks" on September 11, just "attacks" according to Reuters since the wire service decided that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Following this decree, one Reuters story gave life to inanimate objects as a reporter asserted that "two hijacked planes attacked the twin towers." On Monday night FNC's panel decried the values-neutral approach.
2) ABC News "has barred its journalists from wearing lapel flags," the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz disclosed. But NBC for all programs, and ABC during sports, have altered their corner of the screen "bugs" to feature flag motifs.
3) Ted Koppel dedicated a Nightline story to how "the first voices of protest are already being heard" on campuses. ABC's Judy Muller found that "students demonstrated this week against violent retaliation, calling for justice not revenge" as "they all agree on one thing." Which is: "When will we see a flag that embraces all people on earth, not just Americans?"
4) Peter Jennings was "really disturbed" about distorted claims about what he said on the air. Howard Kurtz noted: "The conservative Media Research Center says the Jennings comments were either 'never uttered, distorted or taken out of context.'"
Reasoning that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," Reuters decided to ban the use of the term "terrorist" or "terrorism" to describe those who did whatever they did on September 11, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz disclosed Monday in uncovering an internal Reuters memo.
A Reuters story after the events of unknown origin gave life to inanimate objects as a reporter asserted "two hijacked planes attacked the twin towers." Generally, the Britain-based wire service has applied the word "attacks" to describe what occurred. Back in 1995, however, Reuters had no such reluctance to describe the Oklahoma City bombing as a terrorist act.
In a discussion Monday night a Fox News Channel panel didn't think much of the newly-adopted values-neutral approach favored by Reuters. The Reuters policy, NPR's Mara Liasson observed, "implies that there are somehow two sides to this, that in every story you write you should have someone who's in favor of the attack on the World Trade Center interviewed as well as somebody who decries it. I mean, it just doesn't make any sense."
An excerpt from Howard Kurtz's September 24 "Media Notes" column in the Washington Post which included an item about the Reuters policy:
To Reuters, there are no terrorists.
As of last week, suicide attacks that deliberately kill thousands of innocent civilians cannot even be described as acts of terror.
Stephen Jukes, the wire service's global head of news, explained his reasoning in an internal memo: "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. . . . To be frank, it adds little to call the attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist attack."
Except for the little detail that a terrorist assault is what it was. So why the value-neutral approach?
"We're trying to treat everyone on a level playing field, however tragic it's been and however awful and cataclysmic for the American people and people around the world," Jukes says in an interview.
Besides, he says, "we don't want to jeopardize the safety of our staff. Our people are on the front lines, in Gaza, the West Bank and Afghanistan. The minute we seem to be siding with one side or another, they're in danger."
Not everyone at the London-based news agency, which employs 2,500 journalists, is happy about the policy. Jukes acknowledged there had been "an emotional debate" with news editors around the world.
After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and again after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Reuters allowed the events to be described as acts of terror. But as of last week, even that terminology is banned because "we felt that ultimately we weren't being logically consistent," Jukes says. References to terrorism are allowed only when quoting someone.
"We're there to tell the story," Jukes insists. "We're not there to evaluate the moral case."
To read the entirety of Kurtz's "Media Notes" column, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14272-2001Sep23.html
A quick scan of past Reuters stories posted by Yahoo News revealed how Reuters is getting around the word "terrorist" in all types of stories by using the terms "attack" or "strike" without any "terrorist" modifier. Here are three dispatches I clicked on at random:
-- A September 13 story about the World Trade
Center rescue effort. Under the headline, "Rescuers Battle to Find
Survivors in New York Ruins," Reuters reporter Ellen Wulfhorst began
her New York City-datelined story:
-- A September 13 story from the Washington
bureau. "Bush Vows to 'Whip Terrorism;' Cheney Evacuated," read
the headline over the piece by reporter Arshad Mohammed, which started:
-- A September 19 report from New York City
about the economic impact of whatever occurred. "U.S. Job Cuts Mount
in Wake of Air Attacks," announced the headline over the story which
Nichola Groom opened:
Just a bunch of random "attacks."
To see for yourself how Reuters avoids any version of the word "terrorist," go to Yahoo's page with top stories from Reuters: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ts/nm/?u
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to retrieve older dispatches archived by story date.
Monday night on Special Report with Brit Hume, FNC's Hume raised the Reuters policy during his panel segment.
Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard agreed
"terrorist" is "a pretty loaded term," but
"it's an absolutely accurate term." Barnes elaborated, as
transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
Mara Liasson of National Public Radio was equally befuddled by the Reuters policy: "Well, first of all, I really would doubt that any of the so-called 'terrorists' or their sympathizers would deny that that's exactly their intent. I don't think that they shy away from that word. However, that implies that there are somehow two sides to this, that in every story you write you should have someone who's in favor of the attack on the World Trade Center interviewed as well as somebody who decries it. I mean, it just doesn't make any sense."
Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly added
some caveats, but also took issue with Reuters: "I think there's a
common sense standard that should be used most of the time, and accuracy
is also the key, Fred. I mean, if we're talking about the 19 individuals
on those planes, the hijackers, I think it's factually accurate to call
them terrorists. On the other hand, I think there's always a danger in
journalism of being sort of lazy and just kind of relying on quick throw
away terms. You can't use that term to just any old person on the FBI
list of 100, for instance. You don't know anything about them. So you
use it when it's accurate and appropriate, but to arbitrarily ban a word
to me is not-"
ABC News "has barred its journalists from wearing lapel flags such as the one sported by White House correspondent Terry Moran," the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz also disclosed in his September 24 "Media Notes" column.
Kurtz reported: "'Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible,' says spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. 'That does not mean journalists are not patriots. All of us are at a time like this. But we cannot signal how we feel about a cause, even a justified and just cause, through some sort of outward symbol.'"
NBC hasn't been so ashamed, however. Over the weekend NBC altered its "bug," the network logo in the bottom right corner of the screen, to display the peacock's feathers above "NBC" in a red, white and blue flag-like motif. The bug appears on all NBC shows, including NBC News programs.
And while ABC News may be shying away from displaying any signs of patriotism, ABC Sports is not. During Monday Night Football last night ABC Sports added flag-patterned bars extending from the right of the circular ABC bug to the corner of the screen.
ABC's Nightline focused a Friday night story on "voices of protest" on college campuses against U.S. military reaction to, as Reuters would put it, some planes attacking buildings. Ted Koppel acknowledged "they certainly do not represent a majority," but he nonetheless dedicated a piece to how "the first voices of protest are already being heard."
Los Angeles-based ABC reporter Judy Muller asserted that "students demonstrated this week against violent retaliation, calling for justice not revenge." She added that "whatever opinions students may express, and they do vary, they all agree on one thing." Viewers then saw a close-up of this written on a banner: "When will we see a flag that embraces all people on earth, not just Americans?" She did, however, note that "for some students, patriotism may trump parental fear."
Koppel set up the September 21 Nightline story: "Today's college students were in elementary school during the Persian Gulf War, and Vietnam? Well, that's a subject they study in history class. But this week they were presented with the prospect of another American war, one on which they could be heard. And while they certainly do not represent a majority, the first voices of protest are already being heard."
Judy Muller began her story with clips of
students: "From Brown-"
Muller proceeded to explain, as transcribed by
MRC analyst Jessica Anderson: "But whatever opinions students may
express, and they do vary, they all agree on one thing."
That ended Muller's piece. On the up side, at least there are some college students who have an appreciation of the unique opportunities and responsibilities they have in the U.S.
Making this a nearly-all Howard Kurtz-inspired CyberAlert, the lead item in his Monday "Media Notes" quoted from a past CyberAlert in documenting how Peter Jennings was falsely maligned for things he didn't say on the day, as Reuters would put it, planes attacked buildings in New York City and Arlington, Virginia.
"Peter Jennings, in the News for What He Didn't Say," read the headline over the September 24 story by Kurtz which recounted how upset Jennings was at the criticism. An excerpt from Kurtz's Washington Post story:
....ABC has received more than 10,000 angry calls and e-mails since its veteran anchor was reported -- erroneously -- to have criticized President Bush for not returning directly to the White House after the attacks on New York and Washington.
"It's very depressing to me and terribly depressing for him," says Paul Friedman, ABC News's executive vice president. "He's really disturbed by it. He says, rightly, 'I've done a pretty good job and people are quoting me out of context and inaccurately to hurt me.' And it really does hurt."
Rush Limbaugh, relying on a friend's e-mail message, denounced Jennings -- "this fine son of Canada" -- for "insulting comments toward President Bush." He said that "Little Peter couldn't understand why George Bush didn't address the nation sooner than he did, and even made snide comments like, 'Well, some presidents are just better at it than others,' and 'Maybe it's wise that certain presidents just not try to address the people of the country.'"...
The radio host made a full on-air retraction after ABC protested....
The conservative Media Research Center says the Jennings comments were either "never uttered, distorted or taken out of context."
After noon on Sept. 11, when Air Force One did not return to Washington, Jennings wondered where Bush was. After learning Bush had gone to an Air Force base in Louisiana, Jennings said "none of us should be surprised" that the Secret Service takes his safety "with deep and profound seriousness." He added there was a "psychological" aspect because "the country looks to the president on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some presidents do it well, some presidents don't."
After Bush addressed the nation, Jennings said Bush's quoting of the Bible "will just sit so appropriately" with many Americans....
"His telephone is full of vitriol, really awful stuff," Friedman says. "You ought to be able to say, 'Some presidents do it well and some presidents don't,' without it being taken in a partisan way, especially when later in the day he made it clear he thought the president had done pretty well."
For the Kurtz article in full, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14272-2001Sep23.html
For more about the MRC analysis of Jennings' performance, refer back to the September 19 CyberAlert which featured a reprint of a Media Reality Check the MRC's Rich Noyes produced after reviewing videotape of 17 hours of Jennings on September 11: http://www.mrc.org/news/cyberalert/2001/cyb20010919.asp#1
I'd note something I forgot to mention in that CyberAlert: Since we taped ESPN's uninterrupted simulcast of ABC News coverage all afternoon on September 11, we were able to review virtually every minute Jennings was on the air without local affiliate news updates bumping him. -- Brent Baker