Accuracy in Media

The coverage of the beheading of Paul Johnson has illustrated once again how our media shy away from the term “Islamic terrorists.”  After 9/11, Reuters said it would not use the term “terrorists” to describe the terrorists who murdered almost 3,000 people on U.S. soil.  Reuters and the New York Times described the killers of Paul Johnson as “militants.” The Washington Post called them “Islamic radicals.” 

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) issued guidelines shortly after 9/11 advising reporters to “take steps against racial profiling in their coverage of the war on terrorism.”  Their concern was the fate of Muslims whose religion might be linked to the perpetrators of the attacks, who were also Muslims.  The SPJ was more concerned about the impact of coverage than getting the facts right.  The group said, “Avoid using word combinations such as ‘Islamic terrorist’ or ‘Muslim extremist’ that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity.”  It is, therefore, objectionable to mention the religious affiliation of a terrorist who commits mass murder in the name of his religion. 

The SPJ said, “Avoid using terms such as ‘jihad’ unless you are certain of their precise meaning and include the context when they are used in quotations.  The basic meaning of ‘jihad’ is to exert oneself for the good of Islam and to better oneself.”  That is also a claim advanced by those who practice Islam.  But says that a follower of Islam “employs whatever force he or she can when confronting that which blocks his or her way; and, when necessary, dies for it.”  This is the basis of suicide bombings in Israel, Iraq and other countries.

In late May, before the Johnson beheading, Islamic terrorists belonging to the “Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula” killed 22 people in a weekend of violence.  Several foreigners identified as Christians had their throats slit.  One hostage said the terrorists “asked us if we were Muslims or Christians.”  The terrorist group issued a statement praising the attackers as “an honorable example of Muslim youth” and referred to the dead foreigners as “Crusaders,” a euphemism for Christians.

The SPJ guidelines say, “Cover the victims of harassment, murder and other hate crimes as thoroughly as you cover the victims of overt terrorist attacks.”  This reflects a belief that covering the activities of Islamic terrorists might spark violence, harassment or “hate crimes” against Muslims.

The SPJ compares those isolated and rare incidents to the deliberate and premeditated international campaign of an Islamic terrorist group such as al Qaeda.  The SPJ wants a global Islamic Jihad against Christians and Jews to be given the same kind of publicity extended to the isolated cases of anti-Muslim activities.  This is not just a debate over terminology.  Lives hang in the balance.  The media’s failure to identify Islamic terrorism for what it is constitutes deception of the American people.  The public has a right to know the nature of the enemy we face. They are not radicals or militants.  They are Islamic terrorists.

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