NBC as­sailed for ‘po­lit­i­cal’ dec­la­ra­tion of ‘civil war’ term for Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

“Civil war” has joined “ter­ror­ist” and “un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant” in the grow­ing lex­i­con of terms that prompt press or­ga­ni­za­tions to get touchy about their cov­er­age.

In the name of neu­tral­ity, print and broad­cast jour­nal­ists alike have de­clared mora­to­ri­ums on words deemed in­flam­ma­tory or judg­men­tal in the years since the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks.

Neu­tral­ity might not be the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind NBC’s de­ci­sion to an­nounce that Iraq is now en­gaged in a civil war, de­spite state­ments from the White House to the con­trary.

“NBC has de­cided the change in ter­mi­nol­ogy is war­ranted, that the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq with armed mil­i­ta­rized fac­tions fight­ing for their own po­lit­i­cal agen­das can now be char­ac­ter­ized a civil war,” “To­day” show host Matt Lauer said on Nov. 27.

“News or­ga­ni­za­tions claim they don’t want to be po­lit­i­cal in their cov­er­age. But this dec­la­ra­tion strikes me as very po­lit­i­cal. This is NBC say­ing, ‘Hey, Ge­orge Bush is delu­sional, and we’re not go­ing to play along.’ That’s the tenor of it,” Tim Gra­ham of the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter said.

“The pom­pos­ity of the judg­ment is also trou­bling. The net­work is clearly seek­ing a tip­ping point to de­clare that the U.S. is los­ing Iraq,” Mr. Gra­ham added. “But the phe­nom­e­non of se­lec­tive de­scrip­tion is not new. How many pa­pers and net­works re­fused to call Ha­mas a ‘ter­ror­ist’ group in the past?”

Whether NBC’s po­si­tion res­onates with the pub­lic re­mains to be seen.

“Frankly, I don’t think that a judg­ment NBC has made is as re­motely im­por­tant as the ac­tual events on the ground in Iraq,” said Alex Jones of Har­vard Univer­sity’s Shoren­stein Cen­ter on the Press, Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Pol­icy.

The net­work is ex­er­cis­ing typ­i­cal edi­to­rial de­ci­sion-mak­ing, Mr. Jones said, “but I don’t think it’s go­ing to change any minds out there.”

Some cast NBC’s pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion as a bench­mark that could po­ten­tially sway pub­lic opin­ion — and press out­lets them­selves.

“Let’s cut right to what this ‘civil war’ fan­fare in the me­dia is re­ally all about: It has noth­ing to do with on­go­ing vi­o­lence in Iraq, and ev­ery­thing to do with the fact that th­ese me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions, strug­gling to main­tain their rel­e­vance in a rapidly chang­ing in­dus­try feel the need to as­sert them­selves and re­mind the pub­lic of their im­por­tance,” Stephen Spruiell of Na­tional Re­view On­line said on Nov. 28.

An Ed­i­tor & Pub­lisher sur­vey re­vealed that re­porters and edi- tors at the Los An­ge­les Times, New York Times, Chris­tian Science Mon­i­tor and McClatchy News­pa­pers are al­lowed to use the term “civil war,” while The Wash­ing­ton Post still opts for “sec­tar­ian strife.” CNN leaves the hair-split­ting de­ci­sions to in­di­vid­ual edi­tors and re­porters. The As­so­ci­ated Press, CBS and ABC are un­de­cided; Fox News has not made its poli­cies pub­lic.

It can be a work in progress: Ear­lier this year, three mi­nor­ity jour­nal­ism groups asked the Amer­i­can press to avoid terms such as “il­le­gal alien” be­cause it was “de­hu­man­iz­ing,” rec­om­mend­ing “un­doc­u­mented worker” or “eco­nomic refugee” as less-of­fen­sive al­ter­na­tives.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.