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New York Times Still Refuses to Honestly Report on Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

January 3, 2002

Last week the New York Times published such a puff piece extolling the accuracy of the Afghan bombing campaign that I was compelled to label the nominally liberal publication an official mouthpiece for the Pentagon.  An examination of two subsequent pieces of reporting shows that the newspaper continues to fulfill that role.  In fact, they've gotten worse, since these two articles seem on the surface to be providing information about civilian casualties, while in reality they seriously mislead the reader concerning that subject.

One article, published right after the puff piece, was headlined "Even Precision Bombing Kills Some Civilians, Tour of City Shows."  I assumed "Oh, here's the counterpart to balance the puff piece."  But that assumption was wrong.

The newspaper again uses vague terms meant to downplay the number of deaths: "some civilians," "relatively few innocent bystanders."

The reporter visited 20 bombing targets in the city of Kandahar.  He found three instances of innocent people being killed, with a total of 22 deaths.  While the article didn't see fit to analyze it this way, these numbers mean that fifteen percent of the "precision" strikes killed innocent civilians.  The overall death rate for these "smart bomb" attacks averaged a little over 1 death per air strike.

The article should obviously have told us how many targets have been hit in Afghanistan overall, so that an extrapolation could be made.  Also remember, smart bombs only account for 60% of U.S. airstrikes, so one would expect the number of civilian dead and injured to be far higher in the other 40% where "dumb" ordnance was used.

Moreover, the article points out that that more civilians would undoubtedly have been killed had many residents of the city not fled in anticipation of just such carnage.

Someone not reading the article carefully would walk away with the impression that 22 civilians had been killed in the Afghan bombing campaign, not remembering that this was just in one city, based on a small sample of the total number of targets hit.

The second piece of misleading New York Times reporting was in an article a few days later, "Gains and Limits in New Low-Risk War" (the title in the online version is different).  The "low-risk" was obviously in reference to U.S. lives, since nowhere in the text of the article are civilian casualties even mentioned, let alone is it explained that their number is greatly increased by the very use of the high-altitude bombing which creates the "low-risk" for U.S. troops.

The worst aspect of the piece, however, is contained in a scroll along the bottom which is a calendar of significant events from September 11 to December 28.  The newspaper lists only three incidents resulting in civilian casualties during that entire period.  Two of them are in the first two weeks of the bombing campaign, then nothing until December 1.

Again, someone reading this summary, which contains scores of dates giving much detail about other aspects of the war, would come away with the impression that there were only three incidents of civilians being killed by U.S. bombs (sort of like the three incidents the reporter in Kandahar saw fit to report).  The scroll nowhere informs us that there were many other such incidents, even though others were reported in the newspaper itself, and a reporter for the paper had earlier written that at least several hundred people have been killed by U.S. bombs.

The New York Times has never mentioned that the news agency Reuters has said that 982 people have died in just 14 incidents, that the U.S. organization Human Rights Watch has put civilian deaths at 1000, or that U.S. professor Marc Herold's latest compilation puts the death toll at 4,050 Afghan civilians killed by U.S. bombing.

How can The New York Times say it publishes "All the News That Fit to Print" when readers of this publication come away from its otherwise intense, detailed overage of the war with the impression of at most dozens of civilians killed, when the true numbers are at least 1000, and very possibly several times that?

Apparently, it's not "Fit to Print" news that could create doubt in people's minds about how antiseptic and accurate the U.S. bombing campaign has really been.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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