Media note Obama did not say "terrorism," but don't discuss why

››› ››› TOM ALLISON & JOCELYN FONG

Numerous media figures followed a Politico article in noting that President Obama did not use the words "terror," "terrorism," "terrorist," or "war on terror" during his speech at Cairo University, suggesting the omission was notable, but did not discuss possible reasons why Obama chose other words.

Reporting on President Obama's June 4 address at Cairo University, the Politico's Josh Gerstein wrote on June 4 that Obama "managed never to utter the one word that comes to mind most often when many Americans think about Islam: terrorism." Subsequently, numerous media figures noted that Obama did not use the words "terror," "terrorism," "terrorist," or "war on terror" during the speech -- without raising the question of why Obama used other language in his lengthy discussion of those who "engage in violence against civilians." For instance, Fox News anchor Bret Baier stated on June 4 that the speech "lasted a little over 55 minutes" and "was 6,000 words." He added: "Words that you did not hear in the speech -- terror, terrorist, or terrorism -- although the president did talk about the 9-11 attacks and a lot of other topics." Baier did not discuss or report possible reasons for Obama's word choice.

By contrast, in reporting that Obama did not use the words "terror" or its variants, The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny and Alan Cowell wrote on June 4: "That was a departure from the language used by the Bush administration, but one that some Middle East experts suggested reflected a belief by the new administration that overuse had made the words inflammatory." In a separate June 4 article on regional reactions to the speech, the Times' Michael Slackman reported that Obama's speech "was also embraced for what it did not do: use the word terrorism, broadly seen here as shorthand for an attack on Islam."

Similarly, during the June 4 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, referring to why Obama chose not to use the words "terror," or "terrorism" in his speech, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour stated, "I don't know what goes on in his head. But I certainly know what the people in the Islamic world say. In all those countries which I visited, where there are wars or not, they are fed up with being completely and monolithically associated with terror. Perhaps that was what was going through the president's mind when he chose not to use that word."

In a June 5 article, the Los Angeles Times' Christi Parsons and Jeffrey Fleishman reported that the "invasion of Iraq and President Bush's declaration of a 'war on terror' angered Muslims, many of whom believed Washington was using its military power to control the Middle East and its oil." They further reported: "Obama did not use the word 'terrorism,' which many Muslims associate with the U.S. drive for military action in the Muslim world."

In his speech, Obama addressed at length the issue of "violent extremism":

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths -- but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who've been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future -- and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

Nonetheless, several media figures and outlets focused on Obama not using the words "terror" or its variants but did not discuss why Obama instead used the term "violent extremism," including:

  • The Politico's Mike Allen: In a June 4 article, Allen wrote: "Obama spoke bluntly of some of the 'sources of tension' between the cultures, including head scarves and the role of women, but did not include the word 'terrorism' or its variants."
  • WorldNetDaily.com Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein: In a June 4 article headlined "Obama minimized terror, distorted issues," Klein wrote: "The U.S. president did not once use the word 'terrorism.' "
  • Fox News America's Newsroom co-host Megyn Kelly: On the June 4 edition of the program, Kelly stated that "what [Obama] did not talk a lot about was terror." Kelly later added, "So he goes out -- this is a big speech, 3,000 people in attendance, but millions, if not more, watching around the world, and not one mention of terror, the war on terror, or terrorism." During the segment, Fox News aired on-screen text reading: "Why Didn't Pres Obama Use The Word 'Terror' In Cairo Speech?":

  • Fox News host Sean Hannity: During the June 4 edition of his Fox News program, Hannity stated, "[I]n his remarks, Mr. Obama refused to use these words -- 'terror,' 'terrorism,' 'terrorist' -- or even that term, 'manmade disasters.' But he repeatedly quoted the Quran and even accused Americans of overreacting to the 9-11 terror attacks." Additionally, on his radio show the same day, Hannity said, "By the way, 'terror,' 'terrorism,' 'terrorist' -- how many times do you think those words were mentioned in the speech? It wasn't. Not even 'manmade disasters' -- that wasn't even mentioned. 'Me': six; 'my': seven; 'I': 50; 'Christians': six; 'Muslim': 39. He quoted the Quran far more often than he did the Bible."
  • CNN's Lou Dobbs: During the June 4 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs stated: "In a speech in Cairo, President Obama called for democracy and human rights in the Muslim world and a new alliance against what he called, 'violent extremists.' Not once did President Obama use the phrase, 'radical Islamist terrorists,' or 'terrorists.' "
  • The Washington Times: In a June 5 "analysis" headlined "President's words worry Israel's backers," the Times asserted that "[a]lthough Mr. Obama called for Palestinians and other Muslims to end violence, he never used the word 'terror' or 'terrorism' to refer to their violent acts."
  • Fox News Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy: During the June 5 edition of Fox & Friends, Doocy stated that Obama "had a 6,000-word speech, and yet, of those 6,000 words, not once did he use the word 'terrorist,' 'terrorism,' or 'terror,' 'war on terror' or any of that stuff." During the program, on-screen text read: "President's Word Play: Obama Avoided Using 'Terror' In Speech"; "Terror Term Dropped: Doesn't Appear Once In 6,000 Word Speech"; and "What Obama Didn't Say: Pres Ditches Words 'Terror,' 'Terrorism' ":

From Allen's June 4 Politico article:

The 55-minute speech was remarkable and historic not so much for the delivery or even the words, but for the context, the orator, the moment. Obama included blunt talk about the United States, Israel, Iraq, his predecessor and al Qaeda.

"I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11," he said, speaking before a red curtain and six pairs of U.S. and Egyptian flags. "But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day."

[...]

Conservative critics seized on a passage in which he said: "Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared."

However, Obama spoke bluntly of some of the "sources of tension" between the cultures, including head scarves and the role of women, but did not include the word "terrorism" or its variants.

"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," he said. "One based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.:"

From Gerstein's June 4 Politico article:

In a nearly 6,000-word address Thursday extending an olive branch to the Muslim world, President Barack Obama managed never to utter the one word that comes to mind most often when many Americans think about Islam: terrorism.

While both the White House and the Pentagon denied earlier this year that the Obama administration had issued orders to stamp out the phrase "war on terror," the president's decision to rely on the word "extremism" throughout his high-profile speech made clear his desire to execute a rhetorical shift.

More than that, Obama sought to decouple Islam entirely from those who perpetrate violence.

"Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace," Obama said.

It's just one aspect of his speech that seems sure to draw fire from conservatives, and particularly those who are strong supporters of Israel. Even some in Obama's own party -- already critical of his firmer line against Israel - seem sure to resist some of his harsher language, including comparing the "intolerable" plight of the Palestinians to African slaves in the United States.

[...]

In comments that will also be portrayed as an apology, Obama told the Cairo audience that the U.S. overreacted to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals," he said. "I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year."

From the June 4 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

KELLY: Well, the president talked a lot in his speech today about reaching out to Muslims. What he did not talk a lot about was terror. Bill Sammon is Fox News vice president of news and our managing editor down here in the Washington bureau. He joins me live on set. Hi, Bill.

SAMMON: Hey, Megyn. Good to have you here in person.

KELLY: It's a pleasure to be here. And a lot of people don't know -- I have mentioned this before on the air -- but a lot of people don't know that if it weren't for Bill Sammon, I would not be working at Fox News.

SAMMON: I single-handedly recruited you.

KELLY: You did. He --

SAMMON: And I never tire of telling the bosses that, because that gets me in good with them.

KELLY: And he told me, he said if it works out well, I'm going to take all the credit, and if you stink, I'll act like I never knew you.

SAMMON: No blame. No blame here.

KELLY: All right, so, getting back to President Obama. So he goes out -- this is a big speech, 3,000 people in attendance, but millions, if not more, watching around the world, and not one mention of terror, the war on terror, or terrorism.

SAMMON: Yeah.

KELLY: What do you make of it?

SAMMON: Well, I make of it that he has taken us off a war footing as a nation. And it's now clear -- when you give a 6,000-plus word speech to the Muslim world and you don't mention terror, terrorist, or terrorism, you know, that's not an accident.

From the June 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

BAIER: President Obama today said in a speech directed at the world's 1.3 billion Muslims that the cycle of suspicion and discord with the U.S. must end. The address from Cairo, Egypt, featured references to both the 9-11 attacks, and the war in Iraq, but did not use the words "terror," "terrorist," or "terrorism."

White House correspondent Wendell Goler is traveling with the president and reports from Cairo.

[...]

GOLER: Those acts, enhanced interrogations, and the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay were supported by many, if not most Americans, though the president says ending them deprives Al Qaeda of recruiting tools. Although he didn't use the word "terrorism," the president noted Islamic extremists have killed more Muslims than anyone else and he called on believers to fight them.

[...]

BAIER: The White House billed this speech as a major address to the Muslims of the world. It lasted a little over 55 minutes, was 6,000 words. Words that you did not hear in the speech -- terror, terrorist, or terrorism -- although the president did talk about the 9-11 attacks and a lot of other topics.

From Klein's June 4 WorldNetDaily commentary:

Firstly, he pointed to "violent extremism in all of its forms." He vowed "America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security."

"Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace," Obama declared.

The U.S. president did not once use the word "terrorism."

From the June 4 broadcast of ABC Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:

HANNITY: By the way, "terror," "terrorism," "terrorist" -- how many times do you think those words were mentioned in the speech? It wasn't. Not even "manmade disasters" -- that wasn't even mentioned. "Me": six; "my": seven; "I": 50; "Christians": six; "Muslim": 39. He quoted the Quran far more often than he did the Bible. Now, look, why are you saying this, Hannity? What does that mean?

Well, I'm going to give you a full analysis of this. The first thing that stuck in my mind, watching this at 6 a.m. this morning -- and by the way, it's not the best way to wake up and start your day -- is, you know, Obama speaks about the tension that has existed between the West and the Muslim world. And he said in essence that both sides are to blame. But when it came to the West, he mentioned colonialism.

Now, Muslim majority countries, you know -- and he talks about how they were treated poorly in the Cold War and the fact that modern society, globalization has led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam -- you know, in other words, Apology Tour 2.0.

From the June 4 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: We begin tonight with the president's appeal for a new beginning with Muslims. In a speech in Cairo, President Obama called for democracy and human rights in the Muslim world and a new alliance against what he called "violent extremists." Not once did President Obama use the phrase "radical Islamist terrorists" or "terrorists."

President Obama also drew a parallel between the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, and Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The president said we will be blind to the truth, as he put it, if we see the Arab-Israeli conflict from only one side. President Obama also appeared to some to apologize for U.S. policy in the Muslim world.

From the June 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: And that is our headline tonight: Blaming America first. Now in his remarks, Mr. Obama refused to use these words -- "terror," "terrorism," "terrorist" -- or even that term "manmade disasters." But he repeatedly quoted the Quran and even accused Americans of overreacting to the 9-11 terror attacks. He went on to imply to the foreign audience in Cairo that the U.S. is a nation that tortures.

OBAMA [video clip]: I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States. And I have ordered the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed by early next year.

HANNITY: He also decided to give 9-11 sympathizers a voice on the world stage.

OBAMA [video clip]: I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the offense of 9-11.

HANNTIY: And throughout the speech, Mr. Obama spoke out of both sides of his mouth.

[...]

HANNITY: The word "terror" didn't come up. "Terrorism" didn't come up. "Terrorist" didn't come up. "Manmade disaster" didn't come up. Don't you think that that would be -- those would be vital terms to use in a speech like this?

NEWT GINGRICH (Fox News political contributor): Well, I think you captured part of what's going on here, which is you have a man who's in considerable conflict with himself. On the one hand, he's trying to reach out to the Muslim world and trying to open up a new dialogue. On the other hand, he just can't help himself in blaming America first and saying things about America.

From the June 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Yesterday, we covered it live right here on Fox & Friends. President Obama was at Cairo University, he had a 6,000-word speech, and yet, of those 6,000 words, not once did he use the word "terrorist," "terrorism," or "terror," "war on terror" or any of that stuff. Now we've seen a rhetorical shift over the last couple of months --

KILMEADE: He never even said Terry.

DOOCY: I know. What's going on here?

KARL ROVE (Fox News contributor): Well, I'll tell you what was even more troubling than that is he did say the word "extremism." He did make it clear that we would fight against those who attacked America on 9-11. He did use the word Al Qaeda.

But in the section of the speech devoted to the war on terror, he had eight paragraphs mostly critical of the United States, and one paragraph in which he called upon the Muslim world to confront extremism that emerged from within.

From the June 5 Washington Times analysis:

Mr. Obama repeated his insistence that Israel stop adding to Jewish settlements in territory controlled by Arabs before 1967 -- a break with the policies of the George W. Bush administration, which approved thickening of existing settlements. Although Mr. Obama called for Palestinians and other Muslims to end violence, he never used the word "terror" or "terrorism" to refer to their violent acts.

From the June 4 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

ANDERSON COOPER (host): Let's talk about some of the specifics. Christiane, you mentioned that he did not use the word "terror." That's being picked up by a lot of people, particularly conservatives very critical of the president, saying, "How can you have a 55-minute speech to the Muslim world and not use the word 'terror,' 'terrorism'?"

AMANPOUR: Well, he chose not to do that. He chose -- and he has -- his policy has been not to use this term "war on terror." And he's -- on the other hand, he did say that they would fight extremists. He -- the clip that we just played talked about how there are still those militants and extremists, and the United States is still engaged against them.

I didn't write his speech. I don't know what goes on in his head. But I certainly know what the people in the Islamic world say. In all those countries which I visited, where there are wars or not, they are fed up with being completely and monolithically associated with terror.

Perhaps that was what was going through the president's mind when he chose not to use that word.

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