The Right Coast

September 01, 2004
Terrified to Use the Word "Terrorist"?
By Gail Heriot

When my radio alarm went off this morning, the news announcer was reporting the story of the school children, parents, and teachers who have been taken hostage in Russia. Several had already been killed and about a hundred were being threatened with death; demands had been issued to the Russian authorities by the "attackers," according to the report. The use of the word "attackers," rather than "terrorists," didn't strike me as odd at the time. But at the end of the report, the announcer said something like this: "No word yet on whether the attackers are terrorists." Hmmm. They've taken a bunch of school children hostage and threatened to kill them, some are wearing explosives on their belts in the manner of suicide bombers, and they have made demands on the Russian authorities. I'm all for careful reporting, but doesn't that make them terrorists? They are trying to scare people into caving to their political demands by attacking civilians, right?

When I managed to get myself out of bed, I checked the CNN report, which also seems to studiously avoid using the term "terrorist" when referring to the incident, opting instead for "attacker." Unlike the radio report, the CNN web site does not suggest that it is unclear whether the hostage takers are terrorists, and it does use the word "terrorist" to refer to other recent incidents in Russia. That's to its credit, I suppose. But it still seemed odd to me.