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Citations Needed

Nov 8, 2023

“Israel Called Them ‘Precision’ Strikes. But Civilian Homes Were Hit, Too.,” The New York Times equivocated back in May 2023. “US Military Footprint in Australia Expands to Counter China,” Bloomberg announced in July 2023. “NATO to launch biggest military exercise since Cold War,” the Financial Times reported in September 2023.

Far too often, media accept and parrot the terminology of the Pentagon, never pausing to consider how deceptive and pernicious this language may be. War reportage is regularly littered with euphemisms, metaphors, jargon, and esoteric acronyms that obscure the enormity of the warfare and war crimes waged and backed by the US, warping public perceptions of the violence happening throughout the world in service of US empire.

Some major news outlets, such as the New York Times, have adopted policies not to use terms like “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a Bush-era phrase used to sanitize the committing, sanctioning and outsourcing of literal torture by the US government. More recently, the BBC has said it will no longer use the term “terrorist,” as it is “a loaded word, which people use about an outfit they disapprove of morally.” But, troublingly, many loaded, euphemistic words and phrases remain in the vocabulary of leading news media, painting a woefully inaccurate and incomplete picture of both the past and the current state of US-led and US-backed violence around the world.

On this episode, Part I of a two-part series on the language of war, we’ll examine five of the 10 most insidious terms that US media and government officials use to sanitize military aggression worldwide, discussing how journalists, writers, and others in media can use terms that are clearer and more representative of the human stakes of war. Next week, we’ll complete the list of 10 with Part II.

Our guests are Maha Hilal and David Vine.