Wednesday, April 16, 2003

WORDS MATTER: Haven't been watching The News Hour regularly in a good long while — and here's a perfect example of why I've come to loathe PBS's timid excuse for a nightly news program:

I happened to catch the first couple of minutes of tonight's news summary on the radio rebroadcast, during which Jim Lehrer briefly reported — with an earnest expression, I'm sure — that US forces had captured "accused terrorist" Abu Abbas.

(Then he swiftly moved on to all the other stories which he considered worthy of more than 30 seconds of air time — such as, for example, the dire peacetime quagmire from which Afghanistan is presently struggling to extricate itself from. Didn't even mention Abu again in the summary wrap-up at the end of the program.)

I know, I know. Words matter. You can't just go around libeling public figures by calling them terrorists — at least, not without some sort of indemnifying qualification. Due process and all. Innocent until proven guilty. Journalism ethics. Mustn't rush to judgment after only 18 years.

Jim, Jimbo, Jimmy-boy — hello! Wake up! Open those little round dots of India ink you call eyes!

Abu Abbas was tried and convicted in absentia. He was actually found guilty in a court of law. If that gives him insufficient standing to be described as a terrorist without qualification, then just call him a convicted murderer and be done with it.

Now, while you were dancing this little semantic jig, here's the story you missed, Jim:

The capture of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking mastermind is a huge and unexpected dividend of the Iraq war, which serves two purposes: (1) It squarely puts the lie to oft-heard opposition claims that Hussein's Iraq was not demonstrably linked to Islaminazi terrorism and therefore not a threat to American interests — that, along with all of these well-documented instances which defy any other rational conclusion. (2) It puts the rest of Arabia on notice: Give terrorists safe quarter at your extreme peril. America will do whatever it has to do — at our convenience, "at a time of our choosing," to bring these monsters to justice.

(Thanks to Michael Totten for the heads-up on Sean LaFreniere's exhaustively researched compendium of Iraqi terror connections.)

UPDATE I: Naturally, NPR couldn't even bear to describe the old man as a bona fide terrorist, either. In the All Things Considered Bizarro universe, there is no such thing. Instead, they describe him as a Palestinian militant who was accused of Leon Klinghoffer's murder. This is what I'm paying taxes for?

UPDATE II: As bad as our domestic taxpayer-supported media can be, the Beeb is invariably worse. Andrew Sullivan tears himself away from a weeklong hiatus to note that "this passage from the BBC about Abu Abbas simply defies belief. No use of the term 'terrorist,' of course."
A wanted Palestinian fugitive, Abu Abbas, has been detained by US forces in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. He led the Palestinian Liberation Front, which hijacked a US cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in 1985. During the hijack, an elderly American passenger died.

Which, of course, begs the question: Of what? Old age? The deliberate use of active voice ("died") rather than passive ("was killed") makes it sound as if the wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer may well have tragically fallen victim to his own clumsiness. Fell overboard when he slipped on a banana peel, perhaps?

UPDATE III: Someone at the BBC was apparently shamed into a minor online rewrite. The offending passage has now been changed to read: "Klinghoffer was killed during the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, and his body thrown into the sea." Better late than never, mates.


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