Newsweek's Sweet Terrorist Helper

Newsweek's year-end Interview Issue included a brief interview with Lori Berenson -- but never provided the reader any context besides the title "Freed Peruvian Prisoner." That might give the wrong impression: Berenson is an American communist who traveled to Peru and allied herself with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), and rented a house in Lima they could use as a headquarters and used press credentials as a cover to scrutinize the halls of Congress and facilitate an eventual attack to hold the entire Peruvian congress hostage. She was imprisoned in 1995 and released in May. None of this context was included for the reader:

What’s it like being labeled a terrorist?

I don’t consider myself a terrorist. I think saying someone is a criminal is enough. It’s not helpful to look for ways of qualifying our enemies in drastic terms instead of trying to figure out exactly what we’re faced with.

What’s your take—are the things you did good or bad?

There are things I could have done differently, but that’s part of my history, and I have to assume the consequences. I don’t regret what I’ve done, because I don’t think my intentions were bad. My intentions were positive, whatever that’s worth.

Do Peruvians have the wrong impression of you?

Oh, I think most of them don’t know me at all, because they think I’m associated with bombs and horrendous attacks. I’ve never killed anyone, never harmed anyone, never done anything to cause physical damage to anyone. And I’m sorry that I am seen as a person who would do that.

What will you tell your son about your past?

I don’t have anything to hide. I’m not ashamed of my past. I would tell him the truth of the things I’ve done in my life. They could have been bad, they could have been good, they could have been whatever. But that’s part of my history, and that’s to a certain extent a part of his history.

Promoting Lori Berenson as a good-hearted humanitarian is an old media pattern. From our newsletter MediaWatch in March 1996:

Although she admitted to being affiliated with the MRTA, the January 22 Time didn't feel that was important: "Her friends and relatives know Lori Berenson as a compassionate idealist, an innocent waylaid by her concern for the poor and oppressed of Latin America." Time concluded: "But Berenson's real passion was always to help the downtrodden; as a teenager she donated time to a soup kitchen." A February 4 Washington Post headline read: "Little Girl Lost. American Lori Berenson, 26, Was a Good Daughter, A Good Worker, a Good-Hearted Person. In Peru, She Got Into Trouble. Bad Trouble." On February 21, ABC Prime Time Live reporter John Quinones used the same approach in a story titled "To Love A Country": "In the 8th grade, Lori volunteered to work at a soup kitchen. Later that year she was selected to narrate a commercial for CARE, an appeal to feed needy children."

This theme was countered by a Mark Falcoff article in the February 26 issue of The Weekly Standard: "But let the record show that she is charged not for her views, but for her involvement with a terrorist group that, in recent years, has been involved in assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, robberies, and attacks against innocent people, many of them poor."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis