Monday, January 16, 2006

'Parsing' Words That Mean 'Murder'

A reader has shared with me a revealing exchange of correspondence that he had within the past couple of days with New York Times correspondent Craig S. Smith.

As I noted in an item on Jan. 11 and on many other occasions, Smith and other Times hacks have repeatedly whitewashed Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas, using euphemisms such as "violent resistance" to describe "murder of civilians" and "military wing" to describe "murderers."

The reader, an ex-military officer, justifiably took umbrage at Smith's use of the term "military" to describe "murderers." Here is Smith's response, in full:

Merriam Webster's first definition of the word "military" is, "of or relating to soldiers, arms, or war," which seems to apply aptly enough to the Qassam Brigades. The Times and other newspapers referred for years to the I.R.A. as the "military wing" of Sinn Fein. Everybody, I think, understands what is meant in both cases.

While I understand the nuance you are trying to express by adhering to a narrower meaning of the word, I think such shades of meaning are relevant only to the very small group of people who pore over newspaper articles looking for words to parse. In most cases, such discussions are not very productive. Your e-mail, for example, says that you "take issue with the term 'military' when used to describe Hamas" and that "calling Hamas military," etc. But I did not use the term military to describe Hamas. I used it to describe the Qassam Brigades. Of course, I understand what you meant to say and that is what is important, not my ability to analyze your syntax. My point is that you understood what my article said and that is what is important. I wouldn't spend too much time trying to divine hidden agendas behind the choice of words - there are none.
I'm not sure I have too much to add to Smith here, since the dictionary definition that he quotes at the beginning contradicts the rest of his email. Blowing up civilians in suicide bombings obviously has nothing to do with "soldiers, arms, or war." Also, whether or not the Times used inaccurate terminology to describe the IRA is really beside the point, don't you think?

Well, Smith doesn't -- think, that is. This email -- condescending, factually inaccurate -- speaks volumes about the attitudes that shape the Times's coverage of the Arab-Israel conflict. It really leaves one speechless, doesn't it?

The ex-officer responded, politely pointing out the idiocy of Smith's position, drawing a response: "Point taken."

Don't bet on it.

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