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Afghan Bombing: The New York Times Joins the Pentagon's Public Relations Department

December 24, 2001

At a time when the greatest untold story of the Afghan War is the massive number of civilian casualties inflicted by U.S. bombing, what does the New York Times do?  It publishes a Page 1 story extolling the accuracy of the bombing campaign.  The article literally seems to have been published verbatim from a Pentagon or White House press release.

After an opening vignette, just the next three paragraphs contain the following terms: "precision," "precise bombing," "deadly precision," "swiftness and accuracy," "devastatingly accurate," "stunning speed and accuracy," "relentlessly accurate."

In true Pentagonese, the article next vaguely mentions  the "relatively small number of civilian casualties."

What do they mean by "small number?"  Perhaps the "newspaper of record" might want to quantify things.  Their own reporter concluded three weeks ago that "at least several hundred civilians, perhaps more" had been killed in U.S. airstrikes.  Is that number "small" to the New York Times?

A recent study by a U.S. professor, Marc Herold, finds that over 3,500 Afghan civilians have been killed by the U.S. bombing campaign.  The Times totally ignored that study. Would the newspaper consider 3,500 civilians to be a "small" number?

And we have, of course, the Times' use of the term "relatively," as in "relatively small number of civilian casualties."  What poor newspaper writing, what wonderful press release obfuscation!  Relative to what?!

To Afghanistan's size?  If the paper's own reporter is correct and several hundred civilians were killed, that already is greater proportionally for Afghanistan-- Afghanistan only has 1/11 of the U.S. population -- than were killed in the U.S. on September 11.

Relative to the number of deaths on September 11? If Professor Herold's study is accurate, than the literal number of Afghan civilians killed by U.S. bombing is already greater than the number of U.S. civilians killed on 9/11 -- and proportionally, the U.S. has inflicted 11 WTC-level massacres on Afghanistan.

A little further down, the article claims that it was "especially early in the war," when there were no spotters on the ground, that "American bombs damaged residential areas... killing and wounding an unknown number of civilians."

First of all, had the Times looked at Professor Herold's study, it would have realized that civilian deaths did not occur "especially early in the war," but that large numbers of civilians continued to be killed and maimed until the last date covered by the study, December 10.  And there have been many deaths since then as well.

Second, if the number of civilians killed is "unknown" to the newspaper, how can it earlier claim that the number is "relatively small"?

And third, of course, why is the number "unknown"?  Why hasn't the "all the news that fit to print" newspaper conducted its own systematic investigation and reported the results to us?

After all, printing Pentagon press releases verbatim shouldn't take up much of its time.

Then there's this scary passage:

The ability to bomb targets with precision could be a potent weapon against terrorist safe houses and command centers hidden among schools, hospitals and homes in crowded urban areas, Pentagon planners said. Indeed, satellite images from Afghanistan show bomb craters circling mosques and homes showing the Pentagon's confidence about striking near civilians.

Gee, might the satellite images have been just the ones the Pentagon wanted the reporter to see?  What about all the satellite images of destroyed homes and villages?  Might those have cast some doubt on the validity of the "Pentagon's confidence about striking near civilians"?  Certainly the hundreds, if not thousands of Afghan civilians killed would not be impressed by these satellite photos.  God help the civilians in the next bombing campaign should the Pentagon act on its "confidence" and bomb yet more crowded civilian areas.

It must be noted that the article buries way down the information that only "60 percent of the 14,000 missiles, bombs and other ordnance were steered to their targets by lasers or satellites."  That leaves 5,600 missiles, bombs and other ordnance of the "dumb" variety."  They certainly played their fair share in killing civilians.

Nowhere does this article even present the slightest opposing point of view to its breathless presentation of a "relentlessly accurate" bombing campaign that killed only a "relatively small number" of civilians.

The New York Times in 2001 is not the same brave newspaper that defied the government in 1971 by publishing the Pentagon Papers.

Today's version of the New York Times not only would have obeyed the government and suppressed publication of the Pentagon Papers, but would have instead published a puff piece extolling the government for its openness and honesty in explaining the Vietnam War to the American public.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on U.S. Bombing & Civilian Casualties

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