- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Some news organizations have been reluctant to use the term “terrorist” in their coverage of the Russian school massacre, preferring to use generic or neutral terms to describe those who took over the school last week and killed 326 adults and children.

“The school seizure was carried out by militants who appeared to be linked to guerrillas fighting for an independent Chechnya,” the Los Angeles Times noted in an account yesterday.

The Associated Press preferred the term “Chechen rebels,” as did Reuters, which came under criticism three years ago for discouraging its reporters from using the term “terrorists” in September 11 stories.

Editors hoped to “avoid the use of emotional terms and not make value judgments,” Reuters explained at the time. According to spokesman Stephen Naru yesterday, that policy is still in place.

“It has never been the job of Reuters to characterize individuals or their actions, but to provide our readers with the facts and the context to allow them to form their own judgment,” Mr. Naru said.

Descriptions are meant to be accurate and precise, with an “absence of emotion in vocabulary, so that events may be judged dispassionately.”

Reuters reporters “should never refer to or label any specific individual or group as a freedom fighter, a terrorist, an extremist or a martyr,” he continued, though they may refer “generically to terrorism, counterterrorism, anti-terrorist police, terrorism charges, fears of terrorist attacks or the war on terrorism.”

CNN, on the other hand, has a different mind-set.

The news channel has called the school siege an “act of terrorism,” “massacre,” and “atrocity,” and referred to the perpetrators as “terrorists” in no uncertain terms.

“We believe the words used to report on what happened in Beslan best describe those events and the people who participated in them,” CNN said yesterday. “This was, indeed, a massacre.”

Recent accounts in the New York Post also used “terrorists” and “horrifying terror attack,” among other terms. Bloomberg news referred to “terrorists who seized a school,” and called the event “Russia’s worst terrorist attack.”

National Public Radio, in the meantime, used the phrase “Chechen militants,” while The Washington Post opted for “Chechen separatists” and the occasional “guerillas.” The paper did refer to the school attack as a “blood bath,” however.

Although the New York Times referred to “terrorists” in a Sept. 2 account, stories that followed used “militants,” “suicide bombers,” “insurgents” and “hostage takers.”

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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