NPR public editor Elizabeth Jensen reviewed reader and listener questions and complaints about NPR’s coverage of the killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani this month. NPR declined to comment further when contacted by iMediaEthics.
NPR managing editor for enterprise Gerry Holmes and managing editor Terence Samuel told Jensen NPR is using assassinated but it isn’t mandatory, adding, “We feel it is an appropriate use of the word, which is defined as the killing of a political leader by surprise. We realize there is some debate about the term as it is an illegal act under U.S. law and the current administration does not call Gen. Soleimani’s death an assassination.”
That matches the AP definition of assassination, she noted. But, Jensen flagged that the AP definition and the Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition, which NPR uses as a standard, both say assassination is murder, which legally means “unlawful killing.”
Jensen also pointed to AP standards editor John Daniszewkski’s comments in an AP article that, “The AP has mostly refrained from describing Soleimani’s death as an assassination — both because it would require that the news service decide that the act was a murder, and because the term is politically freighted.”
Because of the question of whether of not Soleimani’s killing was a murder or not, Jensen suggested using “targeted killing” until more information is available from the U.S. administration. “I’m going to waffle just a bit here, largely because ethics and language issues are not always as clear cut as we would wish or as some might think they are,” she wrote.
I agree with Elizabeth Jensen’s decision to use “assassination” to describe the event. It crystal clear that is what happened. It sounds like they were at first apprehensive to describe the action that way, which might have been a form of self censorship.