Darlene and I were in south-central London (Southwark) when we got the earliest reports last Thursday that the London Underground had been brought to a halt by something. First reports were unclear. It was a power surge; multiple power surges; a series of explosions. No one at first seemed quite sure what had happened.
We returned as soon as possible to our hotel room to try to make some phone calls overseas. Darlene flipped on the BBC, and it was there that weand most of Londonfirst learned definitively that what we feared and expected most was indeed true: this was a series of coordinated terrorist attacks.
Early reports from the BBC freely referred to the unknown perpetrators as "terrorists," of course. Terrorists is the right word. It describes precisely what the perps were.
It now appears, however, that such plain language violated the BBC's own canons of political correctness. The Beeb regards the term terrorist as derogatory and therefore unsavory. Such words are officially deemed undesirable in all BBC news reports.
BBC editorial guidelines instruct writers in the nuances of careful, creative ambiguity, and they specifically cite the word terrorist as a prime example of what not to say: "Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgements. The word 'terrorist' itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding."
Therefore as soon as the initial shock from the attacks subsided, a memo went out by e-mail, reminding all BBC writers about the policy. The early accounts of the attacks (originally written while the news was breaking) were subsequently re-edited to refer to the terrorists with a more neutral term: "bombers." (Gene at "Harry's Place" has posted a few examples of The Beeb's revisionism.)
In response to queries about this issue, a BBC spokesperson insisted, "The word terrorist is not banned from the BBC." But another look at the editorial guidelines reveals this (and I quote): "We should try to avoid the term [terrorist], without attribution. We should let other people characterise while we report the facts as we know them." In other words, if someone else uses the T-word and you quote it, that's OK. But the word terrorist is indeed officially banned from the BBC's own writers' descriptions of terrorist acts. Those who make policy at the BBC are apparently convinced their own "credibility" would be undermined by such unbridled moral and linguistic clarity.
Thus yesterday's BBC stories about the suicide bombings in Netanya were devoid of any mention of "terror," "terrorism," or "terrorists." The organization known as Palestinian Islamic Jihadrank terrorists who have repeatedly claimed credit for many suicide bombings and other acts of terror, and whose central business seems to be the recruiting and outfitting of various kinds of bombers who deliberately target innocent civiliansare never properly referred to as a "terrorist" organization by The Beeb. Palestinian terrorists are always referred to with words that don't have such strong "emotional or value-judgment" connotations. Those guys blowing up mothers and babies on public buses are merely "militants."
Now we see that the BBC won't deliberately refer to suicidal killers as "terrorists" even when they bomb civilians on the London Underground. No, the geniuses who drive editorial policy at The Beeb are convinced that neutral and ambiguous expressions are much better aids to "understanding."
It's one of the amazing and disturbing ironies of our generation that so many of the gatekeepers in the world of professional journalism (whose main business ought to be communication) subscribe to the postmodern hypothesis that double-talk and euphemism actually increase "understanding," while clarity is actually deemed an impediment to communication.
And it's not just the BBC, unfortunately. While we're at it, let's be really blunt: the same philosophy drives most of the mainstream news media. And the same sort of genteel wordsmithing is also ubiquitous in the academic world, in the world of theological dialogueand more and more in everyday public discourse.
It all stems from several basic assumptions that have been uncritically adopted by multitudes over the past half-century: "Conversation" is invariably a better option than combat. Uncertainty is always intellectually superior to strong convictions. And moral and ethical neutrality is clearly more desirable than the hopelessly medieval belief that objective standards of good and evil exist.
Postmodernism, not merely liberal media bias, is the real culprit here.
Now, don't misunderstand. I would by no means suggest that war is always superior to peace talks, that dogmatism is inherently better than diffidence, or that neutrality per se is wrong. I believe the duty spelled out in Romans 12:18 is binding: "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." And "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).
Nonetheless, Scripture also teaches that the soldier, policeman, or executioner who wields a sword against an evildoer is doing something good. "He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Romans 13:4).
By the way, miscreants and evildoers do exist, although value-judgments are sometimes necessary to identify them. Moreover, it is gross injustice to insist on always remaining morally neutral. True justice requires not only the ability to recognize evil, but also a willingness to punish it.
In other words, there are clearly times when combat is called for and "conversation" with an evildoer is folly. In some cases, strong convictions are needed and any pretense of benign deference is immoral.
That goes for journalists the same as anyone elseor it ought to.
Yet the high priests and priestesses of the mainstream media remain blindly committed to their credo: moral neutrality is the one permissible dogma of this postmodern era.
It is a particularly foolishand potentially fatalarticle of faith in an age of Islamofascist terrorism.