Reuters kicked out of Iran for story headline about ninjas

Sometimes in the quest for the catchy headline, a fact or two gets lost in the shuffle—it’s a reality as true for hardcore news reporters as it is for storytellers like Mike Daisey. Sometimes the err in journalistic integrity is a big fabrication, and sometimes it’s as small as a single word, as was the case with a recent Reuters story that caused the government in Tehran to revoke the press credentials of all Reuters reporters in Iran.

The headline in question concerned ninjas. Yes, ninjas. Female ninjas. In Iran. Amazingly, the single offending word was not “ninjas” but “assassins.”

The story centered on a video, which you can watch below, of Iranian women practicing a form of martial arts. Turns out there are ninjas in Iran, after all. But these aren’t actual ninjas like the ones of sixteenth and seventeenth century Japan, i.e. deadly mercenary assassins. Their training is simply for sport and exercise.

The headline Reuters ran was “Thousands of female Ninjas train as Iran’s assassins,” which the Tehran government accurately pointed out is totally misleading—these women are not actually training to kill anyone. Given the recent geopolitical tension around Iran’s supposed quest for a nuclear bomb, it’s no surprise the government would be sensitive to the portrayal of a nation full of female assassins.

“We acknowledge this error occurred and regard it as a very serious matter,” said Reuters editor in chief Stephen J. Adler. The ninja headline was changed to “Three thousand women Ninjas train in Iran,” but the government has yet to reinstate press credentials for the 11 Reuters reporters in Iran.

While this whole story is good fun, there’s actually a serious story beneath the veneer about the empowerment of Iranian women. Women have been subjected to strict conditions when practicing sports of any kind in Iran and faced punishments for breaking any Islamic traditions in the process. The ninja trend seems like a potent symbol of progress. It’s also interesting to note, however, that the ninja outfit maintains the traditional Burqua-style head covering traditionally expected of women in Iran.

At any rate, head coverings aside, these ladies aren’t actually trying to kill anyone. Check out the video below.