Terrorized Times

In a column published on December 14, Clark Hoyt, The New York Times’ current Public Editor, or reader representative, addressed the paper’s choice of terminology for people who target civilians with the intent of killing them.

What brought Mr. Hoyt to address the issue was the Times’ assiduous avoidance of the word “terrorist” for the perpetrators of what has come to be known as the Mumbai Massacre – the late November Islamist attacks on hotels, a hospital, a railway station, a restaurant and a Jewish center in India’s largest city that left 173 dead and more than 300 injured. The attackers were called “militants,” “gunmen,” “attackers” and “assailants” in the paper of record’s reports but never “terrorists.” Some readers were offended; thus the public editor’s investigation and report.

He explained that “in the newsroom and at overseas bureaus, especially Jerusalem, there has been a lot of soul-searching about the terminology of terrorism.” The upshot of the introspection, he continued, “to the dismay of supporters of Israel – and sometimes of the other side, denouncing Israeli military actions” is that “The Times is sparing in its use of ‘terrorist’ when reporting on that complex struggle.” (One wonders if examples of the military actions denounced by the “other side” include the recent killing of three Palestinians by Israeli forces; the three were planting explosives in northern Gaza along a border fence and, when accosted, threw hand grenades at the Israeli soldiers, who then returned fire – and the three, none too soon, to their Maker.)

Later in his essay, Mr. Hoyt takes up the issue of Hamas, the Sunni group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and which has launched scores of suicide attacks against Israeli civilians (targeting, among other things, buses, hotels, supermarkets and restaurants) and has fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli cities and town. The group that exults in the murder and maiming of innocent men, women and children, that trains its young to feel the same way, that denies the Holocaust and expresses confidence that, as one of its leaders put it in a Hamas newspaper, “the Holocaust is still to come upon the Jews.” Mr. Hoyt explains that The Times chooses to not label Hamas a terrorist organization “though it sponsors acts of terror against Israel.”

The reason? Because it “was elected to govern Gaza” and “provides social services and operates charities, hospitals and clinics.” He quotes deputy news editor Phil Corbett, who said, “You get to the question: Somebody works in a Hamas clinic – is that person a terrorist? We don’t want to go there.” Mr. Hoyt concurs: “I think that is right.”

Well, Mr. Corbett and Mr. Hoyt may prefer not to go there, but as journalists they really should realize their responsibility to make the trip. The “there,” of course, is a different, and straightforward question: Does all an organization that routinely attacks innocents have to do to achieve respectability is garner the support of a population and open health clinics?

I’ve always been a foolhardy sort, so let me be the brave soul – there may even be others, if not in The Times’ newsroom – who is perfectly willing to go there: The answer is No. A terrorist group is a terrorist group, even if it runs a hospital, wins elections, operates a soup kitchen, recycles its plastics and cares for abandoned kittens.

And all who choose to support such a group or, by working under its auspices, to empower it are members of a terrorist group and, thereby, accessories to terrorism.

What’s more, media that are too weak-kneed to call evil what it is are, in their own way, complicit in the same.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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5 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    I’m just wondering if they call what Baruch Goldstein did ‘terrorism’. After all, he was a ‘doctor’. Come to think of it, so was Mengele, Y”M. What a bunch of feckless cowards.

  2. Noam says:

    A dvar Torah a few weeks ago by Rabbi Shafier at the Shmuz made the same point in discussing the culpability of the people of Shechem in the rape of Dina. Even thought they did not participate in the act itself, they contributed to the culture and atmosphere that made it possible and socially acceptable. He then applies the idea in the same way: Those who do not oppose terrorism and identify it as such when it occurs, are providing aid and support to the terrorists and in some ways are themselves guilty of terrorism. Thank you Rabbi Shafran for making this point crystal clear.

  3. One Christian's perspective says:

    “What’s more, media that are too weak-kneed to call evil what it is are, in their own way, complicit in the same.” – Avi Shafran

    Yes! To their shame, in doing so, their posture of political correctness and tolerance has eliminated any hint of what used to be known as journalism. I fear that a nation that allows this kind of false reporting to continue to erode truth and mislead is on the brink of disaster if we are not there already.

  4. Ori says:

    One Christian: I fear that a nation that allows this kind of false reporting to continue to erode truth and mislead is on the brink of disaster if we are not there already.

    Ori: The cost of being allowed to say the truth is that others are allowed to lie. Overall, that’s a trade-off that has served us well in the past. In the short term, the New York Times can spend its reputation to hurt the west and aid the cause of political Islam. In the long term, they will run out of reputation long before the west will run out of military and economic might. This is already happening to various newspapers (ignore the whining and focus on the economic facts).

  5. Chaim Fisher says:

    All news reporters and commentators let their prejudices show to some extent. If their audience shares those ideas, it actually works for them short-term; they gain credibility with their sympathizers as the reporter who actually ‘stands up for something.’

    Look at any strong-issue blog and you’ll this function over and over again.

    The price, though, is too high for me: loss of credibility. I think that we, as Jews, should always be ready to be modeh on the emes, even when it hurts, even when it’s one of our beloved political prejudices being threatened. That’s the only way people are going to believe us ultimately. And besides: it’s true!

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