Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Justice Potter Stewart knew it when he saw it.

Scare quotes, according to the Oxford Dictionary, are “quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.” Perhaps nowhere is the use of scare quotes more galling than when used to justify Arab attacks on Jews. No one could possibly doubt that it is, in fact, a terror attack when an Arab shoots Jews dead in a Jerusalem synagogue on Shabbat. Yet despite this fact, a number of news reports placed the words “terror attack” in scare quotes, as if to cast doubts on the rightness or wrongness of the event. This malign and antisemitic practice of using scare quotes to excuse terror, is as common and familiar as terror itself.

Sometimes there is a thin line between scare quotes and just plain old quotation marks. There are also times when the intent is subjective, as in this Twitter exchange from 2016:

I thought it was clear just from the title: Israel police: Explosion on Jerusalem bus was a “terror attack.” Seven years later, I still think those are scare quotes and I still don’t think I need to read the article. But perhaps I am jaded. Associated Press writer Matt Lee thought the quotation marks perfectly legitimate in that context—and I happen to like Matt Lee. He asks the most awesome, penetrating questions at State Department press briefings.

Speaking of which, the White House had no problem saying it like it is in its press release on the recent attack on a Neve Yaakov synagogue. No scare quotes in the title: "Condemning the Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem." 

And none in the statement itself, which begins:

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack that occurred today outside of a synagogue in Jerusalem.”

Sky News, however, took the Matt Lee route, claiming the quote came from the police, as opposed to the sick and twisted mind of the writer or his editor:

Police said the gunman arrived at around 8.15pm local time (6.15pm UK time) on Friday and described the shooting as a "terror attack".

Same deal with the Independent—and oh, by the way, Neve Ya’akov is not a settlement, but a Jerusalem neighborhood:

Israeli police described the shooting as a “terror attack” and said it took place at a synagogue in the Neve Ya’akov settlement.

The BBC, of course, is always first and worst, this time suggesting that while Israel called the dude who killed Jews in shul a “terrorist,” it ain’t necessarily so:

The man who attacked the synagogue on Friday was identified by local media as a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, who police described as a "terrorist".

The BBC, of course, has a vested interest in using scare quotes in this context. They would like you to think that the shooting was in self-defense, or that a gun went off by accident, or perhaps even that murdering Jews is a mitzvah, because Jews live on land Arabs want.

What was disappointing this time was the use of scare quotes by the Washington Free Beacon, often fairer than most when reporting on Israel:

Israeli police described it as a "terror attack" and said it took place in a synagogue in Neve Ya'akov.

Here too, the quotes are subject to interpretation. The journalist can always say he is quoting the police. But the lack of context is troubling. It is too easy for the reader to conclude that the shooting was not motivated by terror and might even have been justified.

From the standpoint of the journalist, quotes from officials lend authority to a report. Here, however, the quote does no such thing, because it’s not really a quote. Like Judge Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it, in this case, a quote. Which leads us right back to scare quotes.

Any reporter worth his salt knows that the writing should always be clear and without any taint of bias. For this reason, a good writer always tries to get into the head of the reader. Here, the report needed to be unambiguous. There should have been an effort to remove all doubt from the reader's mind, because the shooting was, in fact, a terror attack, by even the most objective standards. 

And of course, there is always another way for a writer to say something. If you get stuck for words, have a cup of tea and try again, for goodness sakes. Rather than sow doubt and suspicion against the yahud, be on the side of truth, and state it as fact:

Israeli police have confirmed that a terror attack took place in a Neve Ya’akov synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath.

Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

Or order from your favorite bookseller, using ISBN 9798985708424. 

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 19 years and 40,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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