Monday, December 7, 2009

Reuters Fisher-Ilan alludes to Jewish settlers as disease

In its Handbook of Journalism, Reuters prescribes a rigorous set of reporting standards for its correspondents.  The code is laudable for its attempt to encourage journalists to, as Reuters puts it, "fulfil the highest aspirations of our profession – to search for and report the truth, fairly, honestly and unfailingly".

Regrettably, as evidenced on our site, Reuters correspondents frequently fail spectacularly in this mission.

In a story yesterday about Jewish settlers protesting against the construction freeze called by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Allyn Fisher-Ilan strikes a cynical pose with respect to both the raison d'etre of the freeze and its longevity:
For some skeptics, the virulence of the settlers' response may only bolster Netanyahu's argument to U.S. President Barack Obama that he is taking domestic political risks for the sake of making peace -- and that he dare not make greater concessions.
Note Fisher-Ilan's use of the word virulence to describe the behavior of Jewish settlers.  Our desktop dictionary defines virulence as "the quality or state of being virulent", with virulent defined as "actively poisonous; intensely noxious".  The term is a derivation of course, of the word virus.  Now, there are a multitude of adjectives Fisher-Ilan could have selected to describe the disobedient (and at times criminal) behavior of Jewish settlers in response to the building freeze, but she specifically chose an extremely provocative and dehumanizing term bringing to mind the action of a dangerous microbe.

By comparison, we cannot recall and could not find in an online search, Reuters' use of the word virulence to describe the behavior of Palestinian Arabs during even the most horrific and widespread episodes of violence against Israeli civilians.  Adjectives like resistance -- a word the Arabs use to describe and rationalize their violent acts -- are extremely common in Reuters' stories however.  Ironically, the word resistance also refers to the human body's ability to defend against disease.

Are we making too much of a single word?  If it were just this instance of indecorous language, perhaps we could be accused of being too harsh on Reuters.  Judged by the weight of corroborative evidence appearing elsewhere on our site however, we believe this to be another illustration of extreme prejudice on the part of Reuters writers and editors and a violation of both their Handbook of Journalism and the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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