L.A. Times Bans 'Resistance Fighters' in Iraq News

Alkistis Fleischer fleischa at georgetown.edu
Fri Nov 7 01:10:03 UTC 2003

      L.A. Times Bans 'Resistance Fighters' in Iraq News
      Wed November 05, 2003 09:21 PM ET 

      By Dan Whitcomb 
      LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Times has ordered its reporters to stop describing anti-American forces in Iraq as "resistance fighters," saying the term romanticizes them and evokes World War II-era heroism. 

      The ban was issued by Melissa McCoy, a Times assistant managing editor, who told the staff in an e-mail circulated on Monday night that the phrase conveyed unintended meaning and asked them to instead use the terms "insurgents" or "guerrillas." 

      McCoy told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that the memo followed a discussion among top editors at the paper and was not sparked by reader complaints. The memo first surfaced on the Web site L.A. Observed (www.laobserved.com) 

      "(Times Managing Editor) Dean Baquet and I both individually had the same reaction when we saw the term used in the newspaper," McCoy said. "Both of us felt the phrase evoked a certain feeling, that there was a certain romanticism or heroism to the resistance." 

      McCoy said she considered "resistance fighters" an accurate description of Iraqis battling American troops, but it also evoked World War II -- specifically the French Resistance or Jews who fought against Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto. 

      "Really, it was something that just stopped us when we saw it, and it was really about the way most Americans have come to view the words," McCoy said. 

      McCoy said she was confident that the Times reporters who used the term had no intention of romanticizing the Iraqis who have killed more than 100 U.S. soldiers since Washington declared major combat over in May, and that the paper's Baghdad bureau had no objection to the policy change. 


      The policy change reflects the highly politicized atmosphere surrounding the war in Iraq, which has brought charges of biased reporting from all sides of the political spectrum. 

      McCoy said she did not know how many readers had made complaints about the use of the term. 

      "We are loath to proscribe the use of just about any word," she said. "But sometimes certain combinations of words send an unintended signal. You combine these two seemingly innocuous words and suddenly they have this unintended meaning." 

      Allan Siegal, assistant managing editor of the New York Times, told Reuters that he agreed with the decision made by his West Coast rivals. 

      "We don't have a policy but when you mentioned the phrase it sounded like romanticizing to me," Siegal said. "I don't think it's the kind of cool, neutral language we like to see." 

      But David Hoffman, foreign editor of the Washington Post, said his paper had used the phrase "resistance fighters" to describe Iraqi forces and had no objection to the term. 

      "They are resisting an American occupation so it's not inaccurate," Hoffman said. "We try to be as precise as possible and distinguish whether they are former Baath party, Fedayeen, outsiders, insiders. But that's not always possible." 

      According to a search of the Lexis-Nexis database, The Los Angeles Times has employed the term "resistance fighters" dozens of times in the past six months, including three references on Monday. 

      On Tuesday, the day after McCoy issued her memo, the paper used it in an editorial, which criticized the Bush administration for a lack of humility and candor over Iraq. 


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