Big Three Networks Avoid Calling ISIS 'Terrorists;' Label Them 'Rebels' and 'Militants'

The Big Three networks steered clear of labeling the Islamist group ISIS "terrorists" on their evening newscasts on Friday. Instead, ABC's World News and CBS Evening News labeled the genocidal radicals "militants." NBC Nightly News used the more benign "rebels" in their coverage of the group's latest attacks on the Kurdish part of Iraq.

The closest that a journalist at ABC, CBS, or NBC got to using the "terrorist" label was Scott Pelley's teaser at the very top of CBS Evening News: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]

SCOTT PELLEY (teaser): Tonight, back in battle: The President orders U.S. warplanes to attack Sunni Muslim extremists in northern Iraq to stop a campaign of terror. But he makes Americans this promise:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.

Brian Williams introduced correspondent Jim Miklaszewski's report on NBC Nightly News by noting that "a violent group called ISIS has swept across Iraq. They have civilians and religious minorities on the run, and threatened with death." Miklaszewski twice referred to ISIS as "rebels" during the segment. He did include a clip of President Obama using the "terrorist" label in reference to the group:

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: ...In his nationwide address Thursday night, President Obama said the airstrikes are necessary to protect American lives at the U.S. consulate in Erbil.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.

MIKLASZEWSKI: The airstrikes are also aimed at supporting Kurdish Peshmerga fighters – U.S. allies overrun by ISIS rebels this week. President Obama cautioned, however, any U.S. airstrikes would be limited. Critics accuse the President of playing domestic politics, and that limited airstrikes will do little to stop the relentless advance of ISIS rebels.

The NBC journalist later underlined that "ISIS...has seized a large section of east and northern Iraq, with unspeakable brutality that includes mass executions and beheadings."

On World News, ABC correspondent Martha Raddatz repeatedly used the "militant" term during her report on the U.S. airstrikes against the Islamists:


MARTHA RADDATZ: Good evening, David. The U.S. military now has a green light to launch airstrikes as needed in Iraq – today, pounding multiple targets, trying to stop the militants from advancing and from threatening American lives and the lives of thousands of Iraqi families trapped on that mountain.

The first strike...two heavily-armed F-18 fighter jets launching from the carrier U.S.S. Bush in the Persian Gulf – roaring high above northern Iraq, where ISIS militants were at work shelling forces trying to defend the critical city of Erbil....Then, four hours later...an armed drone launching a Hellfire missile at a mortar position. When militant fighters returned to the site, the drone struck again. 6:20 P.M., four more F-18s, targeting a seven-vehicle militant convoy – the Pentagon says a total of eight bombs dropped – neutralizing the convoy and a mortar launcher....
 
Meanwhile, that other mission: to save lives on that mile-high mountain. At the top: tens of thousands of members of a religious minority – trapped for days by the ISIS militants, threatening them with death.

Journalist David Martin used the same labeling during his report on CBS Evening News:

DAVID MARTIN: ...Five hundred-pound laser-guided bombs hit a field gun Islamic militants were using to shell the city of Erbil in northern Iraq, where scores of American military personnel and diplomats are based. The F-18 jet fighters, which dropped the bombs, returned to the carrier George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf. Later in the day, U.S. aircraft carried out two more strikes against militant forces on the outskirts of Erbil....

The militants are known as ISIS, but are, in essence, the successors to al Qaeda in Iraq, and they have caught everyone by surprise with the effectiveness of their attacks and swiftness of their advance. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes, and the Pentagon now estimates 35,000 are stranded on a mountain surrounded by militant fighters....Getting the refugees off the mountain could require more U.S. airstrikes to help Iraqi or Kurdish forces establish a safe passage corridor through militant lines.

CBS correspondent Holly Williams then followed Martin, and also used the "militant" term. However, she included a detail often omitted by the Big Three networks: the fact that ISIS is also targeting Iraqi Christians for persecution.

HOLLY WILLIAMS (voice-over): ISIS is on Erbil's doorstep, as the militants extend the boundaries of what they call their own Islamic state. Erbil is a Kurdish stronghold, and Kurdish soldiers are the only ones still fighting ISIS on the ground in northern Iraq, after the Iraqi army ran away two months ago. But ISIS launched a new offensive this week, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives, many of them religious minorities – include Yazidis and Christians.

Yesterday, Kurdish fighters helped some Yazidi families escape the barren mountaintop where they've taken refuge from ISIS. Many say they were given a stark choice by the militants: convert to their strict version of Sunni Islam, leave their homes, or face death....

SCOTT PELLEY (live): Holly's joining us now. Holly, what's it like in Erbil tonight? Is there panic?

WILLIAMS: Well, Scott, people here tell us that two days ago, there was panic, in the sense that Erbil might soon fall to ISIS. Some people even fled the city. But now, people here seem to be more relaxed – and even hopeful – because they think that the U.S. airstrikes will give the Kurdish fighters the time and space they need to regroup, and then, push the militants back.

On Thursday, the MRC's Dan Gainor pointed out that the Big Three networks have followed a similar pattern with regard to the Islamic extremist group Hamas: "ABC, CBS and NBC journalists referred to Hamas as 'militants,' 'fighters' or 'soldiers' 13 times more often than they called them 'terrorists.' (65 stories to 5 stories.)"

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center