Journalists Issue Guidelines That Downplay Islam in Terrorism

March 6th, 2008 2:36 PM

Many people have noticed a distinct change in the way that the media cover terrorism. Right after 9/11, the Society of Professional Journalists issued “diversity guidelines,” which are now posted online. No longer confined to the quaint idea of impartially reporting the news, the media were advised to change opinions, engage in public relations and "demystify" Islam and even ask "targeted communities" to "review" coverage and "make suggestions." (ht LGF)

At their 2001 convention, the SPJ urged “tak[ing] steps against racial profiling in [the]coverage of the war on terrorism." It reminded journalists to stop using "inflammatory" language and condescendingly said to “help audiences understand the complexities of the events in Pennsylvania, New York City and Washington, D.C.” Story guidelines are (all bold mine):

Cover the victims of harassment, murder and other hate crimes as thoroughly as you cover the victims of overt terrorist attacks.

When writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity.

— Do not imply that kneeling on the floor praying, listening to Arabic music or reciting from the Quran are peculiar activities.

On the surface, some of what the SPJ advocates is sensible. All Muslims are not terrorists. However, it ridiculous to claim that it is unimportant that a man recited passages from the Koran and prayed before breaking into an airplane cockpit.

The SPJ advised engaging in a cultural outreach and public relations for Islam:

Use photos and features to demystify veils, turbans and other cultural articles and customs.

The SPJ knows that words matter and instructed journalists to use terms that do not link Islam to terrorism:

Avoid using word combinations such as "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim extremist" that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity. Be specific: Alternate choices, depending on context, include "Al Qaeda terrorists" or, to describe the broad range of groups involved in Islamic politics, "political Islamists." Do not use religious characterizations as shorthand when geographic, political, socioeconomic or other distinctions might be more accurate.

Avoid using terms such as "jihad" unless you are certain of their precise meaning and include the context when they are used in quotations. The basic meaning of "jihad" is to exert oneself for the good of Islam and to better oneself.

— Consult the Library of Congress guide for transliteration of Arabic names and Muslim or Arab words to the Roman alphabet. Use spellings preferred by the American Muslim Council, including "Muhammad," "Quran," and "Makkah ," not "Mecca."

   — Ask men and women from within targeted communities to review your coverage and make suggestions.

Asking "targeted communities" to "make suggestions" about terrorism coverage is extremely worrisome and will affect media impartiality and independence. Don't journalism schools teach independent evaluation of stories? Will reporters now turn to Eric Rudolph's buddies for "suggestions” when writing about abortion?

This pattern of downplaying inconvenient story lines is one reason why almost 70% of Americans believe the traditional media are out of touch. The media are too busy trying to help America “understand” The New Truth to realize their audience no longer thinks they are reliable.

Language is a powerful tool. Controlling how issues are described, controls the debate. 

Lynn contributes to NewsBusters. Reach her at tvisgoodforyou2—A T—y a h o o—D O T-c o m