AP trivializes Iraqi death toll, amplifies censorship

by Brad Jacobson

From the aftermath of the 2003 “shock and awe” bombing campaign all the way through Thanksgiving Day 2008, major US news outlets have nearly uniformly blacked out or downplayed reports of the Iraqi death toll. But a recent Associated Press article reveals the depths to which these outlets are still willing to delve to censor this information.

In the November 27 article “Iraqi Parliament OKs US Troops for 3 More Years,” by Christopher Torchia and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP editors approved the following characterization of Iraqi deaths suffered since the US invasion:

The war has claimed more than 4,200 American lives and killed a far greater, untold number of Iraqis, consumed huge reserves of money and resources and eroded the global stature of the United States, even among its closest allies.

How’s that for a statistically rigorous accounting? With the exactitude of a third-grader’s book report cribbed from a novel’s dust jacket copy, the AP — America’s #1 wire news service — blankets US news outlets with a quantification of Iraqi casualties that would’ve made Stalin proud.

Seriously, it’s 2008. Everybody knows the emperor has no clothes and no clue. Barack Obama is the President-elect. Reality, thankfully (however tentatively), is in vogue. Yet America’s “most respected news sources” are still treating the Iraqi death toll as if we’re living in a pre-neoconned world.

As MediaBloodhound reported last April, when Opinion Research Business (ORB), a well-regarded non-partisan British polling agency that has conducted studies for the BBC and the British Conservative Party, released its January 2008 follow-up report estimating over 1 million Iraqi deaths since the US invasion — which both reconfirmed its September 2007 estimate as well as supported prior findings of the 2006 John Hopkins study published in the British medical journal Lancet (650,000 deaths) — a LexisNexis search showed no US mainstream news outlet carried the story.

MediaBloodhound also pointed out at the time that, writing in FAIR’s newsletter Extra!, Patrick McElwee cited an “Associated Press poll in February (2/24/07) that asked Americans how many Iraqis have died received a median response of less than 10,000.”

The November 27 AP article in question, which glibly and mindlessly quantifies Iraqi deaths since the invasion as merely a “far greater, untold number” in comparison to Americans killed in the war, reflects how AP’s February 2007 poll respondents could be so clueless.

Even Iraq Body Count’s estimates, proven to undercount for a few reasons (for one, they only attempt to account for “noncombatants”), were tens of thousands of casualties higher than the median estimate provided by respondents in the 2007 AP poll. Today, the Iraq Body Count estimates around 100,000 Iraqi deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) published its estimate of Iraqi dead last January, though its count only covered the time from the beginning of the war through June 2006. Its findings then, which wouldn’t account for nearly two and a half years of the war since? The WHO estimated between 104,000 and 223,000 deaths, with a median of 151,000.

Whenever citing the Iraqi death toll since the 2003 invasion, the AP, and any news outlet wishing to be seen as credible, should at the very least either a provide a range of estimates from viable sources (e.g., 200,000 to over 1 million) or a median estimate (e.g. roughly 600,000).

As McElwee stated nearly a year ago, “If Americans are to make informed judgments not only about the invasion of Iraq and whether the occupation should continue, but also about future wars our government may wish to start, then we need to have good information about the war’s impact on Iraqis.”

Major US news outlets, with their number #1 wire service now leading the way in censoring the Iraqi death toll, continue to report on this subject, the rare times it surfaces in articles, as though it’s still 2003. It was wrong then. Today, it should at least be grounds for editors to be reprimanded or lose their jobs and for immediate corrections to be printed.

It’s 2008. Enough is enough. Give us the damn facts and get out of the way.

UPDATE: Today’s New York Times article “More Iraqi Dead Last Month, But Fewer Than Last Year,” by Alissa J. Rubin, keeps up this grand tradition of censoring the Iraqi death toll in a report about the Iraqi death toll. Here’s the lede:

The numbers of Iraqi civilian deaths and improvised explosive devices increased in November, although there were still fewer of each than in September, according to statistics from the Interior Ministry.

The number of civilian deaths last month was 148, compared with 118 in October and 156 in September.

The number of I.E.D.’s was 108, compared with 79 in October and 113 in September. Most measures of violence remain much lower than last fall.

As far as numbers go, that’s all our paper of record provides. No range of estimates on the number of Iraqi dead. No median calculation derived from that range. Not even a reference to the overall Iraqi lives lost since the US invasion. AP’s “far greater, untold number” may be woefully deficient yet Times editors managed to ignore the topic altogether, as though counting Iraqi deaths is only possible in monthly increments, microcosmic snapshots that conveniently keep the genocidal numbers out of sight and out of mind.

Cross-posted from MediaBloodhound.

3 replies »

  1. I’m half surprised that we haven’t started referring to dead Iraqis as “liberated”…that way we could shout it from the rooftops. “148 Iraqis liberated in October,” according to a press release from the DoD, “we’re working hard to liberate as many Iraqis as we can so that democracy might prevail.”

    But we’ll barely own up to, much less actually honor our own fallen.

    There are a lot of things we refuse to admit. Ignor(e)ance is one of our most basic problems.

  2. This reminds me of the Obama / McCain / Rick Warren evening. Warren asked each man if they believed that evil existed, and should America negotiate with evil, appease evil, or defeat evil (a rather useless question.) McCain bluntly said DEFEAT IT, DEFEAT IT. Obama said we must defeat it, but that we must be careful not to create more evil in defeating evil. Naturally, McCain got a loud round of applause, Obama got crickets from the congregation.

    We don’t count their dead because we don’t want to face our own mistakes and evil. From all estimates, we’ve killed 1 to 3 times as many Iraqis in 6 years as Saddam did in 30 years, not to mentioned the estimated 4 million Iraqis displaced without and within Iraq.

    We want to believe in our exceptionalism, our stature as a moral compass, so we shy from anything that could diminish our own view of ourselves. This keeps us from true greatness, and the past eight years have lead us down a hellish path. I think Obama brings both intellect and pragmatism to move America back to a leadership role in this world.

  3. Agreed. While not all Iraqi dead were killed by Americans, we are directly responsible for all Iraqi deaths because we started this ill-planned, illegal war.

    We’ve created more terrorists than existed prior to the “War on Terror,” even though we’ve killed quite a few of them (no real numbers on that either, by the way – I’ve always wondered when you see reports such as “the U.S. mlitary has reported 150 Iraqi insurgents killed in such-and-such an action” – how many of those were actual insurgents, and how many were just innocent people sitting down to lunch?).

    If Bush has any positive legacy at all (doubtful), it’s that he’s taught us that military strength alone will never defeat terrorism, and in fact can have the opposite effect.