Poor, Media-Maligned Dictators and Terrorists?
The Poynter Institute's Romenesko weblog draws some strange letters, where some feel passionately that dictators like Fidel Castro and terrorist groups like Hezbollah have been maligned by media labeling. Yesterday, Harrison Chastang of the non-commercial San Francisco radio station KPOO-FM complained:
Many news outlets doing stories on Cuban leader Fidel Castro's surgery have lead stories with "Cuban dictator Fidel Castro...." The term dictator is rarely, if ever used to describe the leaders of China, Vietnam or Saudi Arabia, all nations with unelected leaders of governments that match the classic description of the term dictatorship. In regards to Castro, the term dictator is the favorite word President Bush and the Miami exile community uses to describe Castro. Do reporters and editors buy into the mindset of the Bush administration and the exile community in using the term dictator to describe Castro, but not leaders of other Communist or unelected governments.
Someone might want to explain to Chastang that China and Vietnam are also headed by communist dictators. Arguing on behalf of Hezbollah was a letter-writer named David Evans, who "cringes" when Hezbollah is pejoratively labeled:
I continually see the Hezbollah fighting forces in south Lebanon named as "guerilla forces" or some variation on the word "guerilla" itself. And I cringe when I see it, because it feels vaguely like a loaded term. I believe this description or characterization is not accurate, and used in the Lebanon sense as a blanket pejorative. Every definition I have looked up defines "guerilla" as an irregular fighter, (that is, not a part of a government-organized and controlled armed forces) and further characterized as typically fighting out of any sort of uniform (that is, visually blending in with the populace.) Since Hezbollah is, as I read it, a legitimate Lebanese political party that is sanctioned by the national government to keep weapons, and because the formal (as opposed to field) video/visuals I have seen of Hezbollah typically shows them fully uniformed and in parade formation, and because the UN resolution on their disarming de facto recognizes Hezbollah as a formal organization, in what way does Hezbollah now devolve into the status of being "guerillas?"
Regardless of the nature of the conflict we are looking at here, wouldn't journalists be more accurate in describing Hezbollah as a "militia?" (But, of course, "militia" has, largely, positive connotations in the history of the USA, which would mitigate the pejorative our press might want to heap on this well-organized fighting group. Just maybe.) I'd be interested in what sort of justification our various editors would be able to drum up for the use of "guerilla"... as opposed to "militia"... in this instance.
Well, after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the news media didn't exactly use "militia" as a favorable term, but gave us a pile of stories on the domestic threat of violence faced by far-right wackos in combat fatigues and their shortwave radio stations.