Labeling Hamas as a Terrorist Organization

Data Highlights

·  Reuters, with nearly 1,700 articles, refers to Hamas as an “Islamist group,” a “Palestinian group,” a “Palestinian militant group,” or the “Islamist movement that governs Gaza.” Reuters occasionally refers to the group as “Iran-backed Hamas.” Reuters describes members of Hamas as “militants” or “gunmen.” Reuters does mention that the U.S., European Union, and other governments have designated Hamas as a terrorist group.

·  NYT, in its just over 1,200 articles mentioning Hamas, refers to them as “Palestinian gunmen,” “militants,” “assailants,” and the “armed (Palestinian) group” emphasizing their armaments. However, while they do not refer to Hamas as terrorists, NYT does describe the events of October 7 as the “Hamas-led terror attack” or the “Hamas terrorist attack.”

·  The Washington Post’s over 600 articles from the past month that reference Hamas describe them as “militants,” “a militant group,” “Palestinian militants,” or “fighters.” In its page providing background information on the conflict, Washington Post refers to Hamas as “one of the two major political parties in the Palestinian territories,” but notes that the U.S. has designated it as a terrorist organization.

·  CBS, in 627 articles, calls Hamas a “terror group” or “militant group” comprised of “terrorists” or “militants,” They also call Hamas a “militant group.” CBS has also been careful to note that Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization.

·  ABC, which has 262 stories and 837 wires about Hamas describes Hamas as “militants,” “fighters,” or “gunmen.” However, ABC supplements their coverage with conscientious and accurate descriptions of Hamas as a terrorist organization. ABC’s Timeline of Key Events and their timeline on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both of which are linked within articles, describe Hamas as a “terrorist group” and “terrorists,” respectively. ABC also describes Hamas’ activities as “terrorism” and their attacks as “terror attacks.”

·  CNN, which mentions Hamas in just over 800 stories, refers to them as a “Palestinian militant group,” “gunmen,” or an “Islamist militant group.” CNN also provides a history-focused description of Hamas. CNN defines Hamas as “an Islamist organization with a military wing that emerged in 1987 out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a non-violent Sunni Islamist group that was founded in the late 1920s in Egypt” [emphasis added]. CNN also uses legitimizing language, such as “Hamas, like most Palestinian factions and political parties…” Such language ignores how Hamas’ wider political and social activities cannot be separated from its terrorist actions.   However, CNN has been careful to note that Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization. Furthermore, some opinion pieces refer to “Iran-backed Hamas” as a “terrorist organization.”

·  Fox News has released 21,500 articles between October 7 and November 7 that mention Hamas. Fox routinely describes Hamas as “terrorists” or “a group of Iranian-backed terrorists,” which emphasizes the broader issue of state-supported terrorism. Fox occasionally refers to “Hamas militants.”

·  NBC, which tends to name Hamas without providing additional descriptors, occasionally refers to them as a “militant group” or as “fighters. However, NBC has quoted President Biden describing Hamas as “terrorists.” NBC also routinely describes Hamas’ attack as a “terror attack” or a “terrorist attack,” indicating some recognition of Hamas as a terrorist entity.

·  WSJ refers to Hamas as “Palestinian militants,” “Palestinian forces,” and/or “Palestinian fighters.”

·  AP has published nearly 2,500 articles between October 7 and November 7 that reference Hamas. These articles routinely describe members of Hamas as “militants,” “fighters,” or “gunmen.”

Associated Press Style Guide
AP publishes a stylebook for journalistic coverage, which includes an online topical guide about the Israel-Hamas conflict, the “Israel-Hamas Topical Guide.” News organizations worldwide utilize the AP style guide’s terminology, background information, and recommendations for coverage of the conflict.

Unlike world governments, AP’s online style guide refrains from calling Hamas a terrorist organization, instead preferring terms like “militants,” “fighters,” “attackers,” and “combatants,” unless providing a direct quote. According to AP, the label of “terrorism” is too vague and vulnerable to politicization; therefore, it should only be used cautiously to denote the “calculated use of violence, especially against civilians, to create terror to disrupt and demoralize societies for political ends.” To avoid overusing the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist,” AP’s style guide urges journalists to describe “specific atrocities” perpetrated by the group.

However, in the present case, the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” accurately describe Hamas’ actions and motivations. As AP notes, Hamas embraces violence against civilians to annihilate Israel. The specific atrocities they carry out to that end include suicide bombings and civilian targeting, most recently, the massacre of civilians on October 7. Put differently, Hamas engages in calculated violence against civilians, with the express purpose of causing terror to serve political and ideological goals.

Thus, Hamas represents one of the extreme cases in which, by the AP’s own definitions, Hamas should be called a terrorist group. While AP’s circumspection regarding the “terrorist” label is generally warranted, one should not sacrifice accuracy out of excessive caution. The AP must accurately describe Hamas as a terrorist organization to avoid legitimizing Hamas and whitewashing their terrorist ideology and actions.

Conclusion & Call to Action
Many news sources neglect to describe Hamas as a terrorist group, opting instead for vague terminology in an attempt to seem unbiased. But in doing so, they omit the full picture of what Hamas is and the nuanced situation in Gaza.

ADL calls on all news organizations to explicitly mention that Hamas is a designated terrorist group, as recognized by six major governments around the world. ADL also calls on news organizations to label the October 7 events as a “terrorist attack,” even if they choose not to describe Hamas as “terrorists” in their own reporting. Without this added context, news organizations are biasing readers’ perceptions of the conflict.

[1] Hamas Backgrounder, in Extremism, Terrorism & Bigotry, ADL ( October 10, 2023.

[2] Data from Media Cloud queries scanning for references of “Hamas” and its derivates between October 7, 2023, and November 7, 2023.

The article is published courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).