The global head of Reuters news responds

September 23, 2004

CONTENTS

1. "The agency's use of euphemisms merely serves to apply a misleading gloss of political correctness"
2. Published letter in the National Review from David Schlesinger, the Global Head of Reuters, followed by my published response (National Review, Sept. 2004)
3. "Reuters asks a chain to remove its bylines" (New York Times business section, Sept. 20, 2004)
4. "Reuters admits appeasing terrorists" (HonestReporting.com bulletin, Sept. 21, 2004)
5. "The Case of Reuters. A news agency that will not call a terrorist a terrorist" (National Review, July 26, 2004)


"THE AGENCY'S USE OF EUPHEMISMS MERELY SERVES TO APPLY A MISLEADING GLOSS OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS"

[Note by Tom Gross]

This is a follow-up to the dispatch of July 13, 2004 titled "Reuters: A news agency that will not call a terrorist a terrorist" which included a comment article I wrote on Reuters for the National Review's July 26, 2004 edition.

This dispatch should also be read in conjunction with another dispatch to be sent later today which will comment on Reuters' extraordinarily misleading coverage of yesterday's deadly suicide bomb in Jerusalem.

* * *

I attach below a letter published earlier this month by the print edition of the National Review from David Schlesinger, "Global Managing Editor, Head of Editorial Operations, Reuters," in response to my article.

I am sending this now as a result of an interview Mr. Schlesinger gave to the New York Times business section earlier this week (also attached below).

As the New York Times reports, Mr. Schlesinger has asked CanWest, owners of Canada's largest newspaper chain (it publishes 13 daily newspapers in Canada), to remove the Reuters by-line because CanWest has had the temerity to refer to Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as "terror groups."

In a follow-up interview on CBC radio in Canada, he expressed concern for the "serious consequences" if "people in the Mideast" were to believe that Reuters calls such people "terrorists."

This is the first public omission by Reuters that their reporters and editors are intimidated into using "neutral" language to describe those who murder and maim innocent civilians in acts of terror.

In the CBC news report, Mr. Schlesinger specifically complained about the referring to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, headed by Yasser Arafat, and responsible for yesterday's deadly suicide bomb and dozens of other terror attacks against Israeli civilians and children, including the Bat Mitzvah massacre of January 2002, as a "terror" group.

Scott Anderson, editor in chief of CanWest publications (and also editor in chief of The Ottawa Citizen), said Reuters were undermining journalistic principles by changing the English language. Mr. Anderson said: "terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians in pursuit of a political goal."

The National Post (Toronto) wrote in an editorial on Reuters last Saturday: "The agency's use of euphemisms merely serves to apply a misleading gloss of political correctness. And we believe we owe it to our readers to remove it before they see their newspaper every morning."

* * *

Mr. Schlesinger's original letter to the National Review in response to my article was considerably longer and more personally abusive towards me than the letter that the National Review published. Luckily for him it was edited down by the National Review, one of America's two highest-circulation opinion magazines, for reasons of space and taste.

Rather than properly reply to the serious points I raise in the article, Mr. Schlesinger (whom I have never met, corresponded with, or spoken to) chooses to attack me personally ("odious," " vicious," "unpleasant"). He also used worse terms, which were edited out by the National Review. For someone in such a senior position at one of the world's most influential news organizations (he is Global Managing Editor for the entire Reuters news agency) to employ such language is, I believe, regrettable and does nothing to enhance the credibility of Reuters.

After the letter, I attached below the short reply the National Review asked me to publish in response to Mr. Schlesinger's letter.

At the end of this email, I also attach my original article on Reuters for those that are new to this list, or wish to read it again.

-- Tom Gross


PUBLISHED LETTER IN THE NATIONAL REVIEW FROM THE GLOBAL HEAD OF REUTERS, FOLLOWED BY MY PUBLISHED RESPONSE

Trouble in Reuterville
The National Review
September 2004

Tom Gross commits all the sins of journalism of which he accuses Reuters ("The Case of Reuters," July 26), with no proper evidence except comments from an unnamed and disgruntled former employee. That is hardly an impeccable source and its use breaches a cardinal rule of good journalism. Gross also failed to ask us for comment.

As he acknowledges, Reuters has a 150-year reputation that is synonymous with good, fair, and objective news-gathering. This reputation is maintained throughout the world, including in our coverage of the Middle East conflict.

All of our journalists are made fully aware that balance is essential in every story. They are also bound by a code of conduct that bars them from political activity. We have a no-tolerance approach to bias whether it concerns text, pictures, or television.

Reuters stories also go through a scrupulous editing process, both locally and on our central editing desk in London, to ensure that they are balanced and that no phrase could be misconstrued. Complaints about coverage from readers or viewers are taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and fairly.

Gross acknowledges in his article that Reuters stories do indeed contain the necessary context and background to explain this complex conflict, yet appears to hold Reuters responsible for the fact that our customers do not always publish those stories in full.

The most unpleasant aspect of Gross's article, however, is his vicious personal attack on Wafa Amr, again based on dubious references to evidence from "several" former Reuters staffers. Gross casts odious slurs on a respected correspondent, with little or no evidence except hearsay. Amr has worked commendably for Reuters for more than a decade often braving violence and threats to report the news.

Finally, Gross incorrectly states that Amr and other Palestinians who work for Reuters are stringers. Some Palestinian journalists who work for us are indeed stringers, as are some Israelis. But Amr and very many of her Palestinian colleagues in Reuters are full staff members.

David Schlesinger
Reuters
London

Tom Gross replies: David Schlesinger obviously hasn't read my article very carefully. For example, I never say that Wafa Amr is a stringer. Quite the opposite: I state that she is a correspondent. I did not speak only to one "disgruntled former employee" but to a number of people familiar with Reuters. And so on. Reuters's problems in regard to the Mideast are well known among journalists in Jerusalem and beyond. This is why writers such as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal call the agency Reuterville (since, when it comes to the Mideast, it lives in a world of its own), and why other commentators refer to it as al-Reuters, because they find it hard to distinguish its Mideast reporting from outlets such as al-Jazeera. It is regrettable that Reuters if David Schlesinger is any indication doesn't acknowledge that it has a problem.

 

NEW YORK TIMES REPORTS: CANWEST EDITORS WILL REFUSE TO USE REUTERS' EUPHEMISMS

Reuters asks a chain to remove its bylines
By Ian Austen
New York Times
September 20, 2004

www.nytimes.com/2004/09/20/business/media/20reuters.html

Having their bylines appear in newspapers is an unexpected bonus for news agency reporters. But now Reuters has asked Canada's largest newspaper chain to remove its writers' names from some articles.

The dispute centers on a policy adopted earlier this year by CanWest Global Communications the publisher of 13 daily newspapers including The National Post in Toronto and The Calgary Herald, which both use Reuters dispatches to substitute the word "terrorist" in articles for terms like "insurgents" and "rebels."

"Our editorial policy is that we don't use emotive words when labeling someone," said David A. Schlesinger, Reuters' global managing editor. "Any paper can change copy and do whatever they want. But if a paper wants to change our copy that way, we would be more comfortable if they remove the byline."

Mr. Schlesinger said he was concerned that changes like those made at CanWest could lead to "confusion" about what Reuters is reporting and possibly endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations.

"My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity," he said.

According to Mr. Schlesinger, members of Reuters' sales staff in Canada have asked CanWest to remove writers' names to conform to its guidelines for the use of "terrorist." Reuters has also asked that CanWest add its name to that of Reuters as the source of revised articles and to display that information only at the end of the articles. Alternatively, Reuters suggests that its name not be used at all.

Scott Anderson, editor in chief of CanWest publications and an author of the policy, said Reuters' rejection of his company's definition of terrorism undermined journalistic principles.

"If you're couching language to protect people, are you telling the truth?" asked Mr. Anderson, who is also editor in chief of The Ottawa Citizen. "I understand their motives. But issues like this are why newspapers have editors."

Mr. Anderson said the central definition in the policy was that "terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians in pursuit of a political goal."

The policy has caused Mr. Anderson's paper to issue two corrections recently as the result of changes it made to articles provided by The Associated Press. On Thursday, The Citizen changed an A.P. dispatch to describe 6 of 10 Palestinians killed in the West Bank by Israeli troops as "terrorists," a description attributed to "Palestinian medical officials." The Associated Press had called those people "fugitives."

The Citizen published a correction on Friday declaring it to be it an editing error and describing the six dead as "militants." A week earlier, the newspaper inserted the word terrorist seven times into an A.P. article about the fighting between Iraqis and United States forces in the city of Falluja. Mr. Anderson called the two episodes "silly errors."

Late Friday, a spokesman for The Associated Press, Jack Stokes, issued a general statement about changes to its articles. "We understand that customers need to edit our stories from time to time," it said in part. "However, we do not endorse changes that make an A.P. story unbalanced, unfair or inaccurate."

Mr. Anderson said he did not know how CanWest would deal with the Reuters request. No one else at CanWest, The National Post or The Calgary Herald was available for comment.

In an editorial published on Saturday, however, The National Post said it would continue to follow its current policy.

"Mr. Schlesinger's broader implication that the substantive meaning of his reporters' stories are being universally vitiated by our house style is one we reject," it said. "The agency's use of euphemisms merely serves to apply a misleading gloss of political correctness. And we believe we owe it to our readers to remove it before they see their newspaper every morning."

 

JAMES TARANTO WRITES, ON THE ABOVE ARTICLE:

Reuters' slant must not be edited! Except, of course, when it's Reuters doing the slanting. Remember the story of Deanna Wrenn, the Charleston, W.Va., stringer whose dispatch on Jessica Lynch the "news" service editors turned into an anti-American screed? "I asked Reuters to remove my byline," she said. "They refused."

 

REUTERS ADMIT: OUR COVERAGE INFLUENCED BY THE INTIMIDATION OF TERROR GROUPS, AND THEIR SUPPORTING REGIMES (LIKE ARAFAT'S)

Reuters admits appeasing terrorists
HonestReporting bulletin
September 21, 2004
[For links in this bulletin, see www.HonestReporting.com]

HonestReporting has repeatedly denounced media outlets' categorical refusal to call terrorists 'terrorists' in news reports.

As Islamic terror continues to spread worldwide, one major news outlet decided that enough is enough it's time to call terrorism by its name. CanWest, owners of Canada's largest newspaper chain, recently implemented a new editorial policy to use the 'T-word' in reports on brutal terrorist acts and groups.

So when CanWest's National Post published a Reuters report on Sept. 14, they exercised their right to change this Reuters line that whitewashes Palestinian terror:

... the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in a four-year-old revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank. (Jeffrey Heller, 9/13 'Sharon Faces Netanyahu Challenge')

to this, more accurate line:

... the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel.

Reuters didn't like the adjustment, and took the unusual step of officially informing CanWest that if it intended to continue this practice, CanWest should remove Reuters' name from the byline. Why? The New York Times reported (emphasis added):

"Our editorial policy is that we don't use emotive words when labeling someone," said David A. Schlesinger, Reuters' global managing editor. "Any paper can change copy and do whatever they want. But if a paper wants to change our copy that way, we would be more comfortable if they remove the byline."

Mr. Schlesinger said he was concerned that changes like those made at CanWest could lead to "confusion" about what Reuters is reporting and possibly endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations.

"My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity," he said.

Schlesinger (right) with Reuters' news exec Stephen Jukes, who instructed editors not to call 9/11 'terror,' since 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.'

[Schlesinger repeated this statement in a recent radio interview with CBC, when he described the 'serious consequences' if certain 'people in the Mideast' were to believe Reuters called such men 'terrorists.']

This is a stunning admission Reuters' top international editor openly acknowledges that one of the main reasons his agency refuses to call terrorists 'terrorists' has nothing to do with editorial pursuit of objectivity, but rather is a response to intimidation from thugs and their supporters.

In every other news arena, western journalists pride themselves on bravely 'telling it as is,' regardless of their subjects' (potentially hostile) reactions. So why do editors at Reuters and, presumably, other news outlets bend over backwards to appease Islamic terrorists, using 'safe' language that deliberately minimizes their inhuman acts?

Scott Anderson, editor-in-chief of CanWest Publications, said that Reuters' policy 'undermine[s] journalistic principles,' and raised the key question: 'If you're couching language to protect people, are you telling the truth?'

An editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, one of CanWest's newspapers, spells out the issue in black and white:

Terrorism is a technical term. It describes a modus operandi, a tactic. We side with security professionals who define terrorism as the deliberate targeting of civilians in pursuit of a political goal. Those who bombed the nightclub in Bali were terrorists. Suicide bombers who strap explosives to their bodies and blow up people eating in a pizza parlour are terrorists. The men and women who took a school full of hostages in Beslan, Russia, and shot some of the children in the back as they tried to flee to safety were terrorists. We as journalists do not violate our impartiality by describing them as such.

Ironically, it is supposedly neutral terms like 'militant' that betray a bias, insofar as they have a sanitizing effect. Activists for various political causes can be 'militant,' but they don't take children hostage.

The CanWest/Reuters affair is remarkably similar to CNN's Iraqi cover-up from last year, when CNN's top news executive admitted that CNN's knowledge of murder, torture, and planned assassinations in Saddam's Iraq was suppressed in order to maintain CNN's Baghdad bureau. We asked back then:

Now that this senior CNN executive has come clean, it leaves us wondering: In what other regions ruled by terrorist dictators do the media toe the party line so as to remain in good stead?

We now have our answer in the Palestinian region. Reuters admits to regulating its language to appease the terrorists and that's an open admission of pro-Palestinian bias.

 

THE CASE OF REUTERS

The Case of Reuters
A news agency that will not call a terrorist a terrorist.

[NR Editor's note: The following appears in the July 26, 2004, issue of the National Review, and is available on line now at www.nationalreview.com/issue/gross200407120846.asp]

By Tom Gross

Many people still think of Reuters as the Rolls-Royce of news agencies. Just as the House of Morgan was once synonymous with good banking, Reuters has long been synonymous with good news-gathering. In 1940, there was even a Hollywood film about Paul Julius Reuter, the German-Jewish immigrant to London who as early as 1851 began transmitting stock-market quotes between London and Paris via the new Calais-Dover cable. (Two years earlier he had ingeniously used pigeons to fly stock prices between Aachen and Brussels.)

His agency quickly established a reputation in Europe for being the first to report scoops from abroad, such as news of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Today, almost every major news outlet in the world subscribes. Operating in 200 cities in 94 countries, Reuters produces text in 19 languages, as well as photos and television footage from around the world.

Though it may report in a largely neutral way on many issues, Reuters's coverage of the Middle East is deeply flawed. It is symptomatic, for instance, that Reuters's global head of news, Stephen Jukes, banned the use of the word "terrorist" to describe the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. Even so, such is the aura still surrounding Reuters that news editors from Los Angeles to Auckland automatically assume that text, photos, and film footage provided by Reuters will be fair and objective. Reuters and Associated Press copy is simply inserted into many correspondents' reports even in papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post without, it often seems, so much as a second thought given to its accuracy.

This has led to some misleading reporting from Iraq, and still worse coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The newswires are much more influential in setting the news (and hence diplomatic) agenda of that struggle than most people realize.

One veteran American newspaper correspondent in Jerusalem, eager to maintain anonymity so as not to jeopardize relations with his anti-Israel colleagues, points out that "whereas foreign correspondents still write features, they rarely cover the actual breaking news that dominates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In terms of written copy on the conflict, I would estimate that 50 percent of all reporting, and 90 percent of the attitude, is formed by these news agencies. The important thing about Reuters is that it sets the tone, and here spin is everything."

"If, for example, a Reuters headline and introduction say that Israelis killed a Palestinian, instead of saying that a Palestinian gunman was killed as he opened fire on Israeli civilians, this inevitably leaves a different impression of who was attacking, and who defending."

In a study last year, the media watchdog HonestReporting found that in "100 percent of headlines" when Reuters wrote about Israeli acts of violence, Israel was emphasized as the first word; also, an active voice was used, often without explaining that the "victim" may have been a gunman. A typical headline was: "Israeli Troops Shoot Dead Palestinian in W. Bank" (July 3, 2003). By contrast, when Palestinians attacked Israelis (almost always civilians), Reuters usually avoided naming the perpetrator. For example: "New West Bank Shooting Mars Truce" (July 1, 2003). In many cases, the headline was also couched in a passive voice.

Often it is a question of emphasis: Important and relevant information is actually contained in Reuters text, but buried deep down in the story. Many newspaper readers, however, never get beyond the headlines, and for space reasons many papers carry only the first few paragraphs of a report often inserted into their own correspondents' stories. When the TV networks run only brief headlines, or Reuters news ribbon at the foot of the screen, the full text is never shown.

Sometimes, Reuters presents unreliable information as though it were undoubtedly true. Most people are unlikely to notice this. For example, Reuters will note that "a doctor at the hospital said the injured Palestinian was unarmed" when in fact the doctor couldn't possibly have known this, since he wasn't present at the gunfight. But because he is a doctor, Reuters is suggesting to readers that his word is necessarily authoritative. Yet, Reuters headlines and text are used unchanged by newspaper editors because they assume it is professional, balanced copy, which doesn't need any further editing.

Reporters of course can't be everywhere at once. The increased speed of the Internet and the demand for instant, 24-hour TV news coverage means that the world's news outlets rely heavily on Reuters and the AP, which in turn rely on a network of local Palestinian "stringers." Virtually all breaking news (and much of the non-breaking news) on CNN, the BBC, Fox, and other networks comes from these stringers.

Such stringers are hired for speed, to save money (there is no need to pay drivers and translators), and for their local knowledge. But in many cases, in hiring them, their connections to Arafat's regime and Hamas count for more than their journalistic abilities. All too often the information they provide, and the supposed eyewitnesses they interview, are undependable. Yet, because of Reuters's prestige, American and international news outlets simply take their copy as fact. Thus non-massacres become massacres; death tolls are exaggerated; and gunmen are written about as if they were civilians.

As Ehud Ya'ari, Israeli television's foremost expert on Palestinian affairs, put it: "The vast majority of information of every type coming out of the area is being filtered through Palestinian eyes. Cameras are angled to show a tainted view of the Israeli army's actions and never focus on Palestinian gunmen. Written reports focus on the Palestinian version of events. And even those Palestinians who don't support the intifada dare not show or describe anything embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority, for fear they may provoke the wrath of Arafat's security forces."

One Palestinian journalist told me that "the worst the Israelis can do is take away our press cards. But if we irritate Arafat, or Hamas, you don't know who might be waiting in your kitchen when you come home at night."

Some of Reuters's Palestinian stringers are honest and courageous. But, according to several ex-Reuters staffers, they feel the intimidating presence of Wafa Amr, Reuters's "Senior Palestinian Correspondent." Amr who is a cousin of former Palestinian minister Nabil Amr, and whose father is said to be close to Arafat had this title specially created for her (there is no "Senior Israeli Correspondent," or the equivalent in any other Arab country) so that her close ties to the Palestinian Authority could be exploited.

As one former Reuters journalist put it: "She occupies this position in spite of lacking a basic command of English grammar. The information passed through her is controlled, orchestrated. Reuters would never allow Israeli government propaganda to be fed into its reports in this way. Indeed, stories exposing Israeli misdeeds are a favorite of Reuters. Amr has never had an expose on Arafat, or his Al-Aqsa Brigades terror group."

But things may well be improving. Lately, with a new Jerusalem bureau chief, Reuters has taken some steps to ensure greater balance. For example, it no longer claims Hamas's goal is merely "to set up an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza" (which it is not), but instead writes that Hamas is "sworn to Israel's destruction" (which it is).

Reuters no longer carries the highly misleading "death tolls" at the end of each story that lumped together Palestinian civilians, gunmen, and suicide bombers. (Agence France-Presse continues to do this.) And, apparently, there are plans to relocate Wafa Amr by next year. Is it too much to hope that one day soon Reuters might actually call terrorism terrorism?

(Tom Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph of London.)


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.