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MEDIA SELF-CENSORSHIP ON BOMBING DEATHS

Remember: They're Deliberately Not Reporting All the War News

December 15, 2001

I've complained here often about the mass media's failure to report civilian casualties from U.S. bombing.  My apologies to my readers, therefore, since until now I failed to mention how there is written evidence of such a policy of self-censorship.

Norman Solomon, Media Beat columnist for the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, recently awarded his annual "P.U.-Litzer Prizes" for 2001.  Here are two of the entries:

  • PROTECTING VIEWERS FROM THE NEWS PRIZE -- CNN Chair Walter Isaacson

    "It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan," said Isaacson, in a memo ordering his staff to accompany any images of Afghan civilian suffering with rhetoric that U.S. bombing is retaliation for the Taliban harboring terrorists. As if the American public may be too feeble-minded to remember Sept. 11, the CNN chief explained: "You want to make sure that when they see civilian suffering there, it's in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States." [full Washington Post story this is based on]

     

  • PROTECTING READERS FROM THE NEWS PRIZE -- Panama City News Herald

    An October internal memo from the daily in Panama City, Florida, warned its editors: "DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. Our sister paper ... has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails... DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT."

This would be bad enough, but as anyone who has worked for a boss knows, sometimes you have to read between the lines to find out what the boss really wants.  The real message of these memos is, don't report the civilian casualties at all.  That this is the case is borne out by the virtual complete absence of such reports during the Afghan War.

Moreover, when a comprehensive analysis of the bombing campaign by a U.S. professor estimated that American airstrikes had killed 3500 civilians, the mass media ignored that also.  Don't the American people have the right to know what is really being done in their name?

Perhaps because the war is winding down, some media outlets may now be feeling that it is safe to relax their self-censorship a bit. The New York Times, for example, carried a few reports in the past weeks about civilian casualties. But such stories are still few and far between. 

And more importantly, where were such reports when the vast bulk of the bombing was going on and coverage of the large numbers of civilians being maimed and killed could have caused enough of an uproar to force a change in bombing strategy?  Exactly, non-existent, to fit in perfectly with the wishes of the war planners in Washington, D.C., who during this conflict seem even more than usual to be leading the media around by the nose.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on Media Coverup of Civilian Casualties

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