October 23, 2023

A Palestinian reporter’s response to a Sky News anchor made the rounds on social media over the weekend and served as an important reminder: The word choices that journalists make matter.

In her introduction to the segment featuring London-based reporter Yara Eid, the anchor recounted the number of people who have been killed in the war.

“It has been two weeks since Hamas first launched its attack on Israel that saw 1,400 people killed,” she said. “Since then, Palestinian officials say that more than 4,000 people have died in Gaza.”

Following the introduction, Eid spoke for a moment about the friends and family she has lost during the war but then seized on the anchor’s mismatch of the terms “killed” and “died.”

“When you first introduced what’s happening, you said more than 1,400 have been killed in Israel and more than 4,000 in Palestine have died,” Eid said. “I think language is really important to use because, as a journalist, you have the moral responsibility to report on what’s happening. Palestinians don’t just die, they get killed.”

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote about the “war on words for reporting on Gaza and Israel,” the challenges that journalists face when they choose words and the consequences for when they get it wrong.

“Ever since armed men from Gaza crossed into Israel and killed some 1,400 people, news organizations have wrestled with how to describe who they were and whom they represented,” Farhi wrote.

News organizations used different words for them: militants, terrorists, gunmen, fighters. Same humans. Same actions. Four descriptors with different meanings.

And even though journalists making such word choices are generally hunting for the most accurate and objective term to use, their decision can signal all sorts of things to audiences.

“Words matter, particularly to news organizations that try to preserve accuracy and impartiality at moments of great passion and uncertainty,” Farhi wrote. “A badly chosen word in a media account — particularly during a bloody conflict involving Israelis and Palestinians — can elicit swift denunciations from readers, listeners and viewers.”

During particularly intense moments, like the outbreak of a war, journalists must make quick decisions about the words they’ll use. When the fighting began in Israel, I reached out to ​​John Daniszewski, vice president and editor at large for standards at The Associated Press, to ask how the AP planned to refer to it. They issued guidance for AP staff later that day, which Daniszewski shared.

“The Associated Press has decided to call the present conflict between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza a war, given the widespread and ongoing nature of military operations in Israel and Gaza, now in their third day,” Daniszewski said.

As the war unfolds, the words journalists use may change. On Friday, the BBC announced it would stop using the word “militants” to describe Hamas. A statement said they “have been finding this a less accurate description for our audiences as the situation evolves.”

The word “terrorist” has been especially fraught. CNN and Fox News have used the term to describe the armed men from Gaza who killed 1,400 people in Israel. Several governments, including the United States and United Kingdom, officially designate Hamas as a terrorist group.

But plenty of other news organizations have chosen not to use the term. The Associated Press specifically advises against it:

“The terms terrorism and terrorist have become politicized, and often are applied inconsistently. Because they can be used to label such a wide range of actions and events, and because the debate around them is so intense, detailing what happened is more precise and better serves audiences.”

The war between Israel and Hamas is rooted in what may be the world’s most complex conflict. Describing it requires an equally complex set of decisions about the language to use. Journalists owe it to their audiences to keep reporting, assessing their language and adjusting as necessary.

By Ren LaForme, managing editor

Jezebel is for sale

G/O Media is looking to sell its women-focused site Jezebel, Axios reported.

Founded in 2007, Jezebel deviates from G/O Media’s other brands, which tend to have more male readers. This is one of the reasons G/O Media is seeking a new owner for the site, according to Axios. Among the companies that have been in talks to buy Jezebel are BDG, which owns online women’s magazine Bustle, and Factz, which owns HollywoodLife.

G/O Media, which also owns Gizmodo, AV Club, Deadspin, The Root and several other brands, has undergone significant change in the past few years. It acquired Quartz last year and sold Lifehacker in March. This year alone, the company has lost seven editors-in-chief, according to unions representing some of G/O Media’s journalists. One of the departing editors was former Jezebel editor-in-chief Laura Bassett.

“I have reluctantly resigned from Jezebel, because the company that owned us refused to treat my staff with basic human decency,” Bassett posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, after her departure in August.

Prior to Bassett’s resignation, Jezebel struggled with a mass staff exodus in 2021 that included both staff writers and top editors, Gawker reported. The high turnover was due to “executive overreach” at G/O Media, staff told Gawker.

Many women-focused digital outlets that thrived in the early 2010s have struggled to maintain their momentum, Axios pointed out. xoJane closed in 2016, and Bitch Media shuttered last year. Refinery29, which was acquired by Vice Media in 2019, now faces an uncertain future due to Vice’s bankruptcy and subsequent acquisition by Fortress Investment Group.

By Angela Fu, media business reporter

Margaret Brennan presses Mitch McConnell on health

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. speaks to media after a Senate Republican policy luncheon, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sat down for a rare interview over the weekend. CBS News’ Margaret Brennan asked him about his health following two incidents in which he froze up during press conferences.

McConnell answered Brennan’s questions with short answers and got prickly when she pressed him.

“People wonder about your health,” Brennan said. “How are you feeling? How are you doing?”

“I’m fine,” McConnell said. “I’m completely recovered and just fine.”

“You and your office felt the need to share and disclose some of the details about your health because of some of these public incidents,” Brennan said. “And the doctor here said there was no evidence of Parkinson’s disease or a stroke or a seizure. And I wonder, is there anything the public should know that wasn’t disclosed?”

“I’m in good shape,” he said. “Completely recovered and back on the job.”

“So does that mean,” Brennan said, “that you think you are able to continue serving and you want to continue serving here at a time when we are talking about incredible dysfunction in Washington?”

“I think we ought to be talking about what we were talking about earlier,” McConnell said, referring to a previous conversation about foreign policy. “Rather than my health.”

Props to Mediaite’s Joe DePaolo, who also has the video.

By Ren LaForme, managing editor

Media tidbits and links

  • The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Iran’s decision to sentence two journalists to jail. Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi will serve 13 and 12 years in jail respectively for collaborating with the U.S. government and “acting against the national security.” The CPJ is calling for their immediate release.
  • In May, a majority share of Forbes was sold to Austin Russell, a 28-year-old automotive technology tycoon, for close to $800 million. Now, The Washington Post’s Catherine Belton, Todd C. Frankel and Elizabeth Dwoskin report, a Russian tycoon is claiming he was behind the purchase and that Russell was just the “face” of the deal.
  • “60 Minutes Australia” obtained covert recordings between Anthony Pratt, one of Australia’s richest men, and former President Donald Trump. The recordings are from the months leading up to the 2020 election and document how Pratt moved into Trump’s inner circle through money and flattery. “60 Minutes Australia” shared the recordings with The New York Times. The Times’ Ben Protess, Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer have the write-up.
  • The New York Times’ Grace Ashford with “George Santos Swore He’d Never Talk to Me. Then the Phone Rang.” Ashford writes about how, after almost a year of trying to get hold of Santos, he called her and had wide-ranging, bizarre conversations at least a half dozen times.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme
Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu

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