“Is there anybody out there who wants to call these monsters freedom fighters?” My colleague Charlotte Hays asked that question yesterday in connection with the horrifying massacre of 156 children and as many adults trapped in a school building in Beslan, Russia. (See Beslan: Where Women Killed Children, Sept. 7.)

No one in the press to my knowledge has quite gone so far as to attach the title “freedom fighters” to the drugged-up Chechen fanatics who did the deed. But journalists sure are avoiding the most accurate term for these thugs: “terrorists.” Indeed, Daniel Pipes has a fine piece in the New York Sun detailing the astonishing euphemistic lengths to which members of the press are willing to go in order to avoid the T-word when writing about Beslan. (Thanks, Arts and Letters Daily, for the link.)

The list of 20 Orwellian synonyms that Pipes has collected among the news stories about the massacre include “assailants” (National Public Radio), “captors” (Associated Press), “fighters” (Washington Post), “radicals” (the BBC), and–Pipes’s personal favorite–“activists” (Pakistan Times). The policy of these media seems to be either to avoid the word “terrorists” altogether or to use it only when quoting someone else’s use of the word.

Pipes’s list is not entirely accurate. The usually oh-so-politically-correct New York Times does forthrightly use the word “terrorists” several times in the body of a story cited by Pipes–as does a UPI story and a New York Post editorial cited by Pipes. Still the point he makes is a chilling commentary on the mainstream media’s apparent desire not offend groups that frankly could use a little offending. As Pipes writes:

“’I know it when I see it’ was the famous response by a U.S. Supreme Court justice to the vexed problem of defining pornography. Terrorism may be no less difficult to define, but the wanton killing of schoolchildren, of mourners at a funeral, or workers at their desks in skyscrapers surely fits the know-it-when-I-see-it definition….

“Politically-correct news organizations undermine their credibility with such subterfuges. How can one trust what one reads, hears, or sees when the self-evident fact of terrorism is being semi-denied?

“Worse, the multiple euphemisms for terrorist obstruct a clear understanding of the violent threats confronting the civilized world. It is bad enough that only one of five articles discussing the Beslan atrocity mentions its Islamist origins; worse is the miasma of words that insulates the public from the evil of terrorism.”