CAMPAIGNS: MAT spreads word about appropriate 'terror' references

PR Team: Padilla Speer Beardsley, The Maccabee Group, and Minnesotans Against Terrorism (all in Minneapolis) Campaign: Speaking Terror's Name Time Frame: March-June 2002 Budget: Under $25,000

PR Team: Padilla Speer Beardsley, The Maccabee Group, and Minnesotans Against Terrorism (all in Minneapolis) Campaign: Speaking Terror's Name Time Frame: March-June 2002 Budget: Under $25,000

When two Minnesotans witnessed a Palestinian blowing himself up near a Jerusalem hotel, their lives and the way they viewed the media changed. Returning to their native Minneapolis, they began noticing that the hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, was not referring to suicide bombers as terrorists. Rather, stories about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks in Israel were calling perpetrators "militants" or "activists." Looking a bit more closely, they also realized that the Tribune was editing New York Times and Washington Post stories it ran, replacing the word "terrorist" with less volatile terms. "We found out they could do that if they wanted, but we asked, 'Should they be doing this?" says Marc Grossfield, cofounder of Minnesotans Against Terrorism (MAT). He and attorney Mark Rotenberg started the organization to convince the Tribune that it should not be sanitizing stories about terrorist attacks. Strategy Rotenberg's wife Amy is a VP at PR agency Padilla Speer Beardsley, and the firm quickly agreed to work on MAT's efforts pro bono. Paul Maccabee, head of The Maccabee Group, also become involved after he heard about the initiative. Maccabee, himself Jewish with relatives living in Israel, felt he had to help. "This was the most emotional campaign I've been involved with in more than 20 years in the business," he says. "This wasn't arms-length for me, and we didn't see this as an academic PR campaign. We saw this as doing what we could." Taking on the dominant media voice in the upper Midwest wouldn't be easy. Other news outlets normally don't rush to cover stories dealing with how one of their own covers a certain story, Maccabee contends. Tactics The PR team decided it needed something dramatic to focus attention on the issue. It also "had to play on their playing field," says Maccabee. After The Wall Street Journal website wrote about what the Tribune had been doing, the group tried to get the newspaper to run that column so its readers could see it. When the paper refused, the decision was made to create an ad featuring the column, and pay to have it run in the Tribune. "We wanted it to appear in the same pages that the readers were reading," says Amy Rotenberg. The ad was signed by more than 350 prominent Minnesota political, business, and religious leaders. Efforts were made to gather signatures from a wide spectrum of leaders to show the group felt it was addressing something that was more than a Jewish issue. "We needed something tangible. We needed to take a gauntlet and throw it down to the editors at the Star Tribune," explains Maccabee. "It was necessary to have something for people to react to." A press conference was held at the state capitol in St. Paul the day the ad appeared, and a press release went out to hundreds of outlets around the world. The group's website went live the same day. Ten days later, a second release contained examples of New York Times and Washington Post stories that the Tribune had run without the word "terrorist." By late May, Tribune editors had addressed the issue, and MAT sent out its third release discussing the newspaper's acknowledgement of the problem. Results Coverage reached more than 29 million Americans through 40 print stories and 46 television and radio reports. TV coverage included Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and CNBC. Print coverage ranged as far afield as The Jerusalem Post and Agence France Press. The Star Tribune has increased its use of the word "terrorism" to describe the killing of Israeli civilians. Furthermore, nearly 1,000 supportive e-mails came to the group from around the world. In addition, HonestReporting.com began a campaign called TerrorPetition.com, urging the media to refer to suicide bombers as "terrorists." Future MAT continues working on one of its other stated goals: increasing public awareness of terrorism. The group has more than 800 members, and has sponsored lectures on terrorism. It's also developing a series of videos, and has been supplying books about terrorism to Minneapolis and St. Paul libraries in a new campaign called "Books against Hate."

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