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
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
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.