You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Is The Media Really Afraid To Say "terrorist"?

This Mark Steyn column on the fecklessness of the media when it comes to calling the Mumbai attackers terrorists has been getting a good deal of positive attention. (Marty praises it over on The Spine.) I admit, I don't like Steyn, which is maybe why I didn't take his claims at face value. It's a good thing I didn't, because a lot of them turn out to be bunk. 

For instance, Steyn writes:

[T]he media have more or less entirely abandoned the offending formulations — “Islamic terrorists,” “Muslim extremists” — and by the time of the assault on Bombay found it easier just to call the alleged perpetrators “militants” or “gunmen” or “teenage gunmen,” as in the opening line of this report in the Australian: “An Adelaide woman in India for her wedding is lucky to be alive after teenage gunmen ran amok…”

Kids today, eh? Always running amok in an aimless fashion.

Steyn's right that "teenage gunmen" is a pretty ludicrous way to describe the Mumbai terrorists. And if that had been the only way the Australian article described them, he'd have a point. But when you read the article in question--and not just Steyn's selective quotation from it--you find this description of the Mumbai attackers as well:

"There was a massive shootout 20 metres from the restaurant we were at," she said, adding that terrorists had stolen a police van, forcing authorities to shelter in a taxi.

Looks like the word "terrorist" isn't so verboten after all.

Steyn also makes great hay out of a New York Times article about the attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai that included the caveat: “It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen, or if it was an accidental hostage scene.” But the article featuring that caveat ran in the Times a mere 24 hours after the attacks, when the terrorists were still holding those inside the Chabad House hostage and the situation remained chaotic and murky. After the siege at the Chabad House had ended and it was discovered that the terrorists had killed six people there in particularly brutal fashion, the Times wasn't so hesitant about describing the circumstances that led the terrorists to the Mumbai's Jewish Center. In a November 30 article, it reported:

On Thursday morning, hours after the terrorist siege began, the Holtzbergs’ Indian nanny managed to escape with the couple’s other child, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday. It was not until Saturday night that terrible images from the Chabad House, known as Nariman House, began to trickle out: photos of a blood-soaked floor of a library strewn with red-stained pages of holy books.

Some of the dead, including Mrs. Holtzberg, were found wrapped in prayer shawls. Witnesses speculated that the rabbi had managed to cover the bodies before he was killed.

The Chabad community was seized with horror and shock. They had not been so maliciously singled out in at least 50 years, Mr. Shmotkin said.

So you take out those two examples and all* Steyn's really left with are the dimwitted comments of Deepak Chopra, who, last time I checked, isn't even a journalist. Steyn really needs to build better strawmen.

*-- Steyn also chastises the the British TV anchor Jon Snow for calling the Mumbai terrorists "practitioners." But I haven't been able to find Snow's original comments, only this article by Tom Gross blasting Snow (which Steyn cites). Given the way Steyn handled his other examples, I'm reluctant to put too much faith in his account of Snow's remarks until I see the original comments for myself.

Jason Zengerle