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David Harsanyi: So When Can We Call It Terrorism?

For the media, religious affiliation seems to be selectively vital information

What does a guy have to do to be called a terrorist these days?

Reuters — a global wire service that covers the world and is carried by many hundreds of newspapers, Web sites and television stations — reported this week that a bomb planted in a bag exploded near a bus stop in a “Jewish district of Jerusalem,” killing a British woman and injuring at least 30 civilians.

The piece went on to explain: “Police said it was a ‘terrorist attack’ — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike.” Or, in other words, the precise English definition of the bombing — the idea, the thought, the action and so on.

And Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned this “terrorist operation in the strongest possible terms,” as well, so it must mean that “terrorism” is the Palestinian term for a Palestinian strike. But not for Reuters.

Normally, anti-Israel bias is nothing to get too excited about. With its phony deference to journalistic neutrality, Reuters has a long history of conflating and euphemizing events in its biased reporting of the Middle East, both in obvious and subtle ways.

Most reputable news organizations, for instance, tend to downplay or completely ignore the religious affiliation of man-caused disaster-makers. It’s unseemly to bring stuff like that up. It only divides us.

So why did Reuters — and other news outlets — identify the bombing as taking place not in an Israeli neighborhood, but in a “Jewish” one? And why is it a “Palestinian” strike and not a Muslim one? Religious affiliation, it seems, is selectively vital information. Jews, you see, are a religious group occupying Jerusalem, and Palestinians are nationalists striving for autonomy in their homeland.

Of course, Reuters is only the worst offender. It is true that The New York Times can’t file a dispatch from Israel without conflating the religiously motivated murders of civilians with the “settlement” problem. As if Hamas is firing rockets at civilians because it is exasperated by the slow progress of the peace process.

The Times also reported that this was the first bombing “inside Jerusalem in four years,” which was untrue. The Associated Press posted its piece on the bombing and packaged it with a picture of an Arab who had died in an earlier, unrelated airstrike — precipitated by rockets launched from autonomous Gaza, ruled by Hamas, a group that, according to Reuters, leads an “uprising for independence.” This must be true; former President Jimmy Carter says so.

In 2001, Reuters claimed its job was “to provide accurate and impartial accounts of events so that individuals, organizations and governments can make their own decisions based on the facts.” It did so in a letter to newspapers apologizing for a previous memo in which it instructed reporters to use the word “terrorist” judiciously because “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Reuters apologized for the thought — not for using a silly platitude — but never changed its policy, because the situation is tit for tat. Hamas administers. Militants fight. Violence is cyclical.

So a few weeks ago, when a mother, father and three children (including a 3-month-old) were stabbed to death by “militants” in a settlement — Reuters’ term for a Jewish neighborhood in the West Bank — the bulk of the story, as always, focused on how the “attack may complicate efforts to restart peace talks, which are frozen in arguments over whether Israel should first stop building in settlements on occupied land.”

If Reuters were faithfully accurate and impartial, it would — well, it would actually cover the murders. Then it would use more exact words — perhaps “disputed” rather than “occupied” — and mention that the process has been frozen since the late 1940s because of unremitting Arab violence.

Then again, if you can’t muster the journalistic backbone to refer to those who slit the throats of 3-month-old babies or detonate explosives at bus stations as “terrorists,” that’s probably too much to ask.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @davidharsanyi.

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