Lawmakers criticize Associated Press for declining to classify Hamas as a terrorist group

Guidance from the news service’s influential style guide urges against utilizing the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ to describe Hamas and its Oct. 7 attack on Israel

Monica Schipper/Getty Images for The Community Service Society of New York

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) speaks on stage during Community Service Society Of New York (CSS) Powering A More Equitable New York 2022 Benefit at City Winery

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter on Friday criticizing the Associated Press and its style guide for guidance that advises against using the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” to describe Hamas and its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Guidance from the news service’s style guide about the war states, “The terms terrorism and terrorist have become politicized, and often are applied inconsistently. Because they can be used to label such a wide range of actions and events, and because the debate around them is so intense, detailing what happened is more precise and better serves audiences.” 

The AP’s wire service feeds coverage to news organizations worldwide, and many news outlets rely on its style guide in their own coverage. Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack has fueled renewed debate over whether journalists should refer to Hamas as “terrorists” or “militants.”

The letter, led by Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI), states that the lawmakers are “deeply disturbed by the AP’s failure to accurately label Hamas a terrorist organization.” It warns of “potential dangers that may arise” from this guidance.

The lawmakers said that the guidance ignores a definition of terrorism and description of the Hamas attacks provided in the same document. 

“The decision by the AP to avoid using terms such as ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ due to their perceived politicization is deeply unsettling,” they wrote. “Mislabeling Hamas undermines journalistic integrity and confuses the public as to the nature of events transpiring in Israel and Gaza. By not accurately labeling Hamas and its continued terroristic actions, we believe the AP inadvertently provides cover for these heinous acts to be accepted.”

The letter makes the case that “failing to accurately describe Hamas as a terrorist organization can result in significant consequences for public perception, online discourse, and even the safety of communities,” arguing that the AP’s “mislabeling [of] Hamas and its actions” is helping to legitimize the Hamas attack and could fuel surging antisemitism “based on a skewed understanding of the conflict.”

The letter urges the AP to adopt “a more nuanced and context-sensitive approach to terminology, rather than an outright avoidance of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist.’” It asks the news organization to explain the reasoning behind the guidance.

“We look forward to a continued dialogue on this issue and greatly appreciate you taking into consideration our concerns, especially with a distinct understanding of the significant impact the AP’s guidance has on the larger journalistic community,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was co-signed by Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Don Bacon (R-NE), David Kustoff (R-TN), Tom Kean (R-NJ), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Susan Wild (D-PA) and Kathy Manning (D-NC).

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