Claim: The Reuters news agency has proscribed the use of the word 'terrorists' to describe those who pulled off the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.
Origins: After the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, Stephen Jukes, Reuters's head of global news, directed his staff to avoid the using word "terrorist" in their news reports to describe the perpetrators of those attacks:
Throughout this difficult time we have strictly adhered to our 150-year-old tradition of factual, unbiased reporting and upheld our long-standing policy against the use of emotive terms, including the words 'terrorist' or 'freedom fighter'. We do not characterise the subjects of news stories but instead report their actions, identity or background. As a global news organisation, the world relies on our journalists to provide accurate accounts of events as they occur, wherever they occur, so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own decisions based on the facts
Reuters' decision was met with consternation by other news outlets, as reported by The Christian Science Monitor:
Reuters' approach doesn't sit well with some journalists, who say it amounts to self-censorship. They also argue that it's inaccurate. "Journalism should be about telling the truth. And when you don't call this a terrorist attack, you're not telling the truth," says Rich Noyes, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center. "A news organization's responsibility is to find the facts . . . not to play politics with its reporting."
Or, as Rob Morse noted more sardonically in The San Francisco Chronicle:
News organizations are rethinking their use of the word "terrorists." The guys who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may be called "alleged hijackers."
After all, you wouldn't want to prejudice jurors when the alleged hijackers come up for trial in hell.
Contrary to rumors, however, CNN has not similarly banned use of the word 'terrorist':
CNN has not 'banned' the use of the word 'terrorist.' In fact, CNN has referred to the persons responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as 'terrorists' and the act as 'terrorism' since September 11th.
The words 'alleged' or 'suspects' are used when referring to individuals identified as having participated in the attacks, because their identities remain in question
CNN's statement prompted this bit of sarcasm from Tim Cuprisin of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
In other words, instead of saying "terrorist John Doe," they're saying "alleged terrorist John Doe" in case the true identities of the terrorists turn out to be different.
Libel laws weren't suspended on Sept. 11, after all.
Last updated: 15 April 2008
Campbell, Kim. "When Is 'Terrorist' a Subjective Term?"
The Christian Science Monitor. 27 September 2001 (p. 16).
founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.