Jimmy Quinn at National Review reported that the government-funded Voice of America news service — which reports in 48 languages in TV, radio, and digital content – has instructed staff not to describe Hamas as “terrorists,” except when quoting others.
In an email sent on Friday to the news service’s employees, VOA associate editor for news standards Carol Guensburg said reporters must “be especially careful with word choice in dealing with a conflict.” Apparently, avoiding the T-word is the essence of objectivity:
Reporters and editors for the outlet may call Hamas’s slaughter of civilians on October 7 terrorist attacks or acts of terror, according to VOA guidance, which initially went out to staff on October 10. But VOA staff were instructed to “avoid calling Hamas and its members terrorists, except in quotes,” according to emails obtained by NR.
“This practice conforms with the VOA News Standards and Best Practices guide and current usage by the wires and major U.S. news organizations, bearing in mind that the language including terrorism is often used to demonize individuals and groups with whom the speaker disagrees. Useful alternatives are militant group or militants or fighters,” stated the guidance that Guensburg highlighted. “In this case, it would be the Hamas militant group or Hamas militants.”
Somehow they don’t imagine it’s easy to “demonize” people who have hunted down and slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians. With this kind of standard, you imagine a 1940s instruction “Don’t call it a ‘Holocaust’….that demonizes the Germans.”
VOA prizes itself as “independent,” boasting of a “firewall” preventing interference from politicians or government appointees. That doesn’t mean they don’t end up sounding like other media companies that won’t use the T-word.
In response to questions from NR about the outlet’s approach to covering Hamas, VOA spokeswoman Emily Webb claimed this was aimed at the outlet’s appearance of objectivity. “In adherence with our Charter, Voice of America must remain ‘accurate, objective and comprehensive’ in its reporting. If a VOA journalist is seen as favoring one side or another, that can erode audience trust in our coverage.”
Really? In recent months, Curtis Houck has noticed several times that VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell has sounded like a Democrat in her questions at the White House briefing.
Powell on February 1: “Zooming out on the Tyre Nichols funeral today, people both inside the United States and outside are looking at this killing and asking, is the United States a racist society? I’d like to hear your thought on that and also what the administration is doing beyond just police reform, qualified immunity, those discussions, what the U.S. is doing holistically — what the administration is doing holistically to address that perception?”
Powell on June 7: “Moving on to the Pride event tomorrow. This is likely to provoke some political or politicized pushback, especially from, you know, some of the states that have passed legislation targeting sexual minorities or from countries that have done the same, so could I just hear from you why does the White House feel that this event is important, especially in this context?”
Quinn ended by reporting “one of the news service’s most prominent reporters urged her colleagues to explain Hamas’s conduct as the result of Israeli actions.”
“I would also add the importance of mentioning victims from both sides and giving historical context that the conflict did not start on Oct. 7,” replied Patsy Widakuswara, VOA’s White House bureau chief. She suggested language that would note that Israeli air strikes have killed 4,000 people in Gaza, which were “in response to Hamas’ incursion on October 7th that killed 1,400 people in Israel and took 200 captive.” Her example language also noted that “the militant group’s attack was done in retaliation for Israel’s decades-long occupation.”
A senior VOA editor responded to Widakuswara urging caution about attributing motivation to Hamas’s attack: “We don’t really know why they did it. Better to say it follows Israel’s decades-long occupation.”
Widakuswara replied: “We can do that. Per Hamas the aim of the attack was ‘to free Palestinian prisoners, stop Israeli aggression on Al-Aqsa Mosque, and to break the siege on Gaza.’”
Subsequent messages from other VOA staffers pushed back against Widakuswara’s comments, suggesting that her proposed language minimizes terrorism or justifies Hamas’s conduct. Widakuswara referred NR to VOA’s PR team.