First, give the New York Times credit for doing what NewsBusters' Ken Shepherd found Newsweek unable to do.
The Times, in a report (link requires free registration) by Robert F. Worth and Nada Bakri, actually called the recently slain Hezbollah commander Imad Mugniyah a terrorist:
A top Hezbollah commander long sought by the United States for his role in terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in the 1980s, died Tuesday night in Damascus, Syria, when a bomb detonated under the vehicle he was in, Syrian officials said.
No one claimed responsibility for killing the commander, Imad Mugniyah, who had been in hiding for many years and was one of the most wanted and elusive terrorists in the world.
But, as James Taranto at Best of the Web noted, the Times's headline ("Bomb in Syria Kills Militant Sought as Terrorist") is nowhere near as clear as the first two paragraphs of the article's text, and a related Times online video by reporter John Kifner is much more blunt in its judgment of Mugniyah (Kifner received a reporting credit but not a byline in the print article).
Among the things Kifner says in the video about Mugniyah:
He is really a terrorist mastermind. Up to 9/11, he killed more Americans than anybody else, including 241 Marines and sailors in the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks (in Beirut). 65 people were killed that same year in the bombing of the American embassy.
He ran a string of kidnappings in the 1980s, including my colleague Terry Anderson, who was held for six years, and William Buckley, CIA Station Chief in Beirut who was tortured and killed.
Normally, you'd expect a print article to go into more detail than a video. But the Times's print report managed to avoid the "more than anybody else until 9/11" context, and also failed to mention Mugniyah's involvement with Anderson, perhaps the most-remembered of the 1980s hostages.
Taranto's attempt to explain discrepancies such as these offers two alternatives:
It's interesting that Kifner is much more forthright in his video than the Times is in print. One could put that down to his speaking for himself and thus feeling freer. Or one could say that the Times's editors seem to view their role as seeing to it that the news is sufficiently muddled.
I vote for the latter.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.