Was the overthrow of Egypt’s government a coup?

UPDATED ON MONDAY:

When the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist government last Wednesday, placing him under house arrest, AP took a wait-and-see approach to use of the word “coup.” We initially recommended that our staff not describe the events as a coup because of what appeared to be wide public support of the army’s action — and the fact that the overthrow resembled a popular revolt as much as a classic military coup.

However, the military’s subsequent actions — jailing the leaders of the Morsi regime, arresting members of his political party and cracking down on the pro-Morsi media — have made the takeover seem more than a simple response to public pressure in that first night. Violent clashes between pro-Morsi groups and those supporting his ouster, and the dissolution of parliament by the military-installed president, laid bare deep conflicts in Egypt that are likely to continue.

“Coup” now seems to be an accurate term for what transpired, by the AP Stylebook’s main reference dictionary. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines a coup as “the sudden, forcible overthrow of a ruler, government, etc., sometimes with violence, by a small group of people already having some political or military authority.”

Therefore we’ll now use the word coup to describe the military intervention. But we’re asking our writers to add some qualifying explanation nonetheless. For example, we might refer to “an overthrow by military force — spurred by a popular revolt against the Islamist-dominated government, whose adherents resisted the coup.”

In a headline, coup is acceptable. However, stories should, for completeness, point out that the coup/takeover followed a series of widespread national protests.


Our Wednesday blog entry:

Here’s a story we put out today on the use of the word “coup” in connection with the Egypt story. As we explain in the last paragraph, the AP is, for the time being, avoiding that word in our descriptions of of what has happened. (We will use the word of course, in quoting those who do use it.)

Was the overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist government on Wednesday a coup?
Much hangs on the exact words used to describe what happened.
If the U.S. government determines the Egyptian military carried out a coup, it could affect the $1.5 billion in economic and military assistance Washington gives Egypt each year.
“U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Lahey, a key decision-maker on U.S. foreign aid, said Wednesday. He said his foreign assistance committee “will review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture.”
In Egypt, too, the legitimacy of the military’s action hangs on how it is publicly viewed. In an English-language tweet, deposed President Mohammed Morsi said the military had staged a “full coup.” The military rejected the term, saying in a statement it never engages in coups but “always stands by the will and aspirations of the glorious Egyptian people for change and reform.”
The usual Arabic term for a military coup is “inqilab askari.” Inqilab literally means overturning; askari means military.
“Coup” comes from the French “coup d’etat,” or “stroke of state.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines it as the “sudden, forcible overthrow of a ruler, government, etc., sometimes with violence, by a small group of people already having some political or military authority.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language also speaks of a “small group.”
Egypt’s military overthrew an elected government after giving Morsi and his political opponents first seven days, then 48 hours to work out their own differences. Egypt’s top military officers could also be defined as a “small group,” but they acted after millions of citizens across the country demonstrated for Morsi’s removal. The military’s statement said its move was “an interaction with the pulse of the Egyptian street.”
The military installed a civilian government, not putting generals directly in power.
So far, The Associated Press is not characterizing the overthrow as a “coup,” using purely descriptive terms like “the overthrow of Morsi by the military.”
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Associated Press reporters Donna Cassata in Washington and Lee Keath in Cairo contributed to this story.

Rowhani or Rouhani? AP adjusts its spelling for Iran’s president-elect

AP stories about the Iranian presidential election referred to one of the leading candidates as Hasan Rowhani, the spelling we’ve long used for this Iranian politician and former nuclear negotiator.

However, after he became president-elect, we noted that some publications have been spelling his name Rouhani. So we asked officials working with him what he prefers. Although both spellings are legitimate transliterations from Persian, “Rouhani” is the English rendering preferred by the president-elect himself, according to two officials working for him — one with his campaign, and the other at the Center for Strategic Research, where he still works. It is also the spelling used in the name of his website, http://www.rouhani.ir.

The AP Stylebook says we should “follow the individual’s preference for an English spelling if it can be determined.” Therefore, the AP is switching from Rowhani to Rouhani.

Rouhani is scheduled to become president Aug. 3.

Perhaps the greatest variety of English spellings for a world leader were those applied to the former Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi. Spellings of his name included Qaddafi, Qazzafi, Qadhdhafi, Qaththafi, Gadhdhafi, Khadafy. Even Libyan officials could offer no recommended spelling. Although the AP long used Khadafy, it eventually shifted to Gadhafi, based on the name’s pronunciation in Arabic and the spelling Gadhafi used in a series of English-language letters to American schoolchildren.

AP CEO lays out 5 measures to ensure press freedom

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt addresses National Press Club in Washington, June 19, 2013.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt addresses National Press Club in Washington, June 19, 2013.

In the wake of a secret seizure of AP journalists’ phone records by the U.S. Department of Justice last month, Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt said the overbroad action is already having a chilling effect on journalism.

In a speech today at the National Press Club in Washington, Pruitt, a First Amendment lawyer by training, outlined five steps that are “imperative to give meaning to the powers spelled out” in the Constitution to safeguard press freedom:  

  • “First: We want the Department of Justice to recognize the right of the press to advance notice and a chance to be heard before its records are taken by the government. This would have given AP the chance to point out the many failings of the subpoena. We believe notice was required under existing regulations; if the DOJ sees it differently, then regulations must be strengthened to remove any doubt.
  • Second: We want judicial oversight. We need to ensure that proper checks and balances are maintained. In the AP phone records case, the Justice Department determined, on its own, that advance notice could be skipped, with no checks from any other branch of government. Denying constitutional rights by executive fiat is not how this government should work.
  • Third: We want the DOJ guidelines updated to bring them into the 21st century. The guidelines were created before the Internet era. They didn’t foresee emails or text.  The guidelines need to ensure that the protections afforded journalists from the forced disclosure of information encompass all forms of communication.
  • Fourth: We want a federal shield law enacted with teeth in it that will protect reporters from such unilateral and secret government action.
  • Fifth: We want the Department to formally institutionalize what Attorney General Holder has said: that the Justice Department will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job.  The Department should not criminalize — or threaten to criminalize — journalists for doing their jobs, such as by calling them co-conspirators under the Espionage Act, as they did Fox reporter James Rosen.  This needs to be part of an established directive, not only limited to the current administration.”

Read the full text of Pruitt’s prepared remarks.

Read the AP news story.

Whistle-blower or leaker?

With two secret-spilling stories in the news — NSA/ Edward Snowden and Wikileaks/Bradley Manning — we reviewed for our staff today our use of the term “whistle-blower” (hyphenated, per the AP Stylebook).

You can look it up: A whistle-blower is a person who exposes wrongdoing. It’s not a person who simply asserts that what he has uncovered is illegal or immoral. Whether the actions exposed by Snowden and Manning constitute wrongdoing is hotly contested, so we should not call them whistle-blowers on our own at this point. (Of course, we can quote other people who call them whistle-blowers.)

A better term to use on our own is “leakers.” Or, in our general effort to avoid labels and instead describe behavior, we can simply write what they did: they leaked or exposed or revealed classified information.

Sometimes whether a person is a whistle-blower can be established only after the revelations have sunk in, depending on what wrongdoing is confirmed or how public opinion eventually develops.

AP photographers accept Pulitzer Prize for Syria coverage

Five Associated Press journalists accepted the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography at an awards ceremony at New York’s Columbia University on May 30.  It is the 51st Pulitzer for AP and the 31st for photography.

Earlier this week the team reflected on the challenges and risks of documenting the civil war in Syria.

See a slideshow of the winning images.

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From left are: Pakistan chief photographer Muhammed Muheisen, Manu Brabo of Spain, Narciso Contreras of Mexico, Rodrigo Abd of Peru and Gaza-based Khalil Hamra. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

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From left are: Gaza-based Khalil Hamra, Rodrigo Abd of Peru, Pakistan chief photographer Muhammed Muheisen, Manu Brabo of Spain and Narciso Contreras of Mexico. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

AP CEO: Secret seizure of phone records ‘unconstitutional’

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In this Sunday, May 19, 2013, photo provided by CBS News, Gary Pruitt, the President and CEO of the Associated Press, discusses the leak investigation that led to his reporters’ phone records being subpoenaed by the Justice Department on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in Washington. (AP Photo/CBS, Chris Usher)

Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the U.S. Justice Department’s sweeping and secret seizure of journalists’ telephone records “unconstitutional” during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Pruitt, a former First Amendment attorney, told host Bob Schieffer that the DOJ acted as “judge, jury and executioner” with the overbroad action and said it would have a negative impact on journalism. Some officials are already telling AP they’re “a little reluctant” to talk and fear they’re being monitored by the government, he said.

Read or watch the AP news story.

Updated: AP responds to latest DOJ letter

Statement from May 14, 2013

From Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of The Associated Press:

We appreciate the DOJ’s prompt response, but it does not adequately address our concerns. The letter simply restates the law and claims that officials have complied with it. There are three significant concerns:

The scope of the subpoena was overbroad under the law, given that it involved seizing records from a broad range of telephones across AP’s newsgathering operation. More than 100 journalists work in the locations served by those telephones. How can we consider this inquiry to be narrowly drawn?

Rather than talk to us in advance, they seized these phone records in secret, saying that notifying us would compromise their investigation. They offer no explanation of this, however.

Instead they captured the telephone numbers between scores of AP journalists and the many people they talk to in the normal business of gathering news. How would narrowing the scope of the phone records have compromised their investigation?

In their response today, the DOJ says the seized records cover only a portion of April and May of 2012. However, in their original notification to us on May 10, they say they have “received toll records from April and May 2012,” and then list 20 different numbers for AP offices and staff.

Finally, they say this secrecy is important for national security. It is always difficult to respond to that, particularly since they still haven’t told us specifically what they are investigating.

We believe it is related to AP’s May 2012 reporting that the U.S. government had foiled a plot to put a bomb on an airliner to the United States. We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed. Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.

The White House had said there was no credible threat to the American people in May of 2012. The AP story suggested otherwise, and we felt that was important information and the public deserved to know it.

Statement from May 13, 2013

The U.S. Department of Justice notified The Associated Press on Friday, May 10, that it had secretly obtained telephone records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP journalists and offices, including cell and home phone lines.

AP is asking the DOJ for an immediate explanation of the extraordinary action and for the records to be returned to AP and all copies destroyed.  

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt protested the massive intrusion into AP’s newsgathering activities in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, May 13.

In the letter Pruitt states:

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

“We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

Read the AP news story.

AP Social Media Guidelines update, including newsgathering in sensitive situations

From AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin and Standards Editor Tom Kent:

When there’s been a mass killing, a natural disaster or a breaking event in a war zone, AP journalists need to use every tool at their disposal to get the story — and, when possible, the images.

As always, we need to work quickly. But when potential sources of newsworthy tips, witness accounts and amateur content are in dangerous or otherwise sensitive situations, it’s critical that we make smart and ethical newsgathering decisions.

Today, we’re releasing the latest version of our social media guidelines for AP employees, and a key update is a new set of guidance on how (and whether) to use social networks to get information and amateur content from people who are in danger, or who have suffered a significant personal  loss. That newsgathering guidance is an abbreviated version of a broader set of tips recently written for AP staff by AP social media experts Eric Carvin and Fergus Bell, in collaboration with other editors.

Here are some of the other updates in the new version of the guidelines. (Note that some updates are simply additions to the document; some of these are policies already in effect that are just being formally added to the guidelines now.)

  • Staffers are advised to avoid spreading unconfirmed rumors through tweets and posts.
  • A new section explains how staffers can use personal sites and blogs to share a portfolio of work they’ve done for AP.
  • New guidance offers tips on how to handle breaking news that surfaces first on a public figure’s social media account.

Do you have thoughts or questions about the latest version of our guidelines? Feel free to reach out to Eric Carvin or Tom Kent on Twitter, or drop an email to AP at standards@ap.org.

Should we use the term “Obamacare”?

The other day, a reader told us that the term “Obamacare” has been “used by opponents to encourage hostility and partisanship.” He said AP shouldn’t use the term when referring to the U.S. Affordable Care Act.

In fact, it’s a little more complicated. While opponents of the legislation have often used “Obamacare” derisively, Obama himself, and some of his supporters, have used it. They apparently don’t consider it derogatory.

But given the various views of the term, we’ve advised our editors to allow the word mainly whenwe’re  quoting someone who uses it — not on our own. On the rare occasions we use it ourselves, we should say something like “also known as ‘Obamacare,’ ” with quotes around the word.

 

Former AP White House photographer honored for ‘Lifetime Achievement’

Former Associated Press Senior White House photographer Ron Edmonds is being honored by the White House News Photographers Association with its Lifetime Achievement Award. It will be presented at the 2013 “Eyes of History” annual awards gala on Saturday, May 11, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington.

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President Barack Obama congratulates AP White House Photographer Ron Edmonds, with his wife Grace and daughter Ashley, upon his retirement from AP. (White House photo by Lawrence Jackson, July 30, 2009)

Edmonds is “the quintessential Washington photojournalist,” said J. David Ake, AP assistant chief of bureau for photography in Washington. “Many of his images have stood the test of time and are now icons in our collective memory. He was arguably during his Washington tenure, the AP’s most published photographer.”

In interviews with AP and PBS, Edmonds offered recollections of his fascinating career and the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan — a split-second that he captured and that earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

“I have had one of the most fantastic jobs in the world,” Edmonds told colleagues in an email upon his retirement from AP after 28 years. “It has allowed me to work with some of the greatest journalists in the world and to make images of some of the biggest events in the last thirty years. I hope that in some small way, I have helped the Associated Press maintain its prominence as the number-one news organization.”