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[casi] "Precise" and "Surgical": NBC's Bombing Claims Lack Verification

March 26, 2003

The Pentagon can be expected to claim that its bombing campaign against
Iraq is accurate.  But without independent verification, reporters should
be skeptical about these claims about "precision" bombing.

Recent reports on NBC News illustrate the opposite tendency.
Correspondent Bob Faw (3/20/03) described a Florida town as "a community
which very much endorses that surgical strike against Saddam Hussein."
Anchor Katie Couric (3/21/03) also referred to "a series of surgical
strikes focusing on Iraq's key leadership" during the first two nights of
bombing.  Anchor Matt Lauer (3/21/03) agreed: "The people in that city
have endured two nights of surgical air strikes and they've no idea what
could come tonight."

Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski (3/21/03) took it a step further,
reporting that "every weapon is precision guided-- deadly accuracy
designed to kill only the targets, not innocent civilians." On the Today
show the next morning (3/22/03), Miklaszewski reiterated his point: "More
than a thousand bombs and missiles were dropped on Baghdad, three times
the number from the entire Gulf War. And this time, they're all
precision-guided, deadly accurate, designed to kill only the targets, not
innocent civilians."

That same day, reporter Chris Jansing sized up "the first daylight
pictures of severe damage from yesterday's massive and incredibly precise
air assault on the Iraqi capital."

But on-the-ground reports from the scene of the bombings would be
necessary before making any definitive claims about "surgical" strikes.
When allegations are made about civilian deaths and destruction from the
bombing, the stories are treated with skepticism, often framed as claims
made by the Iraqis: "The BBC and the Arab network Al-Jazeera have devoted
significant time to what Iraq suggested were innocent victims targeted in
the bombings" (NBC Nightly News, 3/22/03).

Yet it is plain that some bombs are going off course. Syrian civilians in
a bus in northern Iraq were killed in one attack, two cruise missiles have
landed in Turkey (Dateline NBC, 3/23/03) and several missiles have
reportedly hit southwestern Iran (Washington Post, 3/24/03).

Some reporters in Baghdad have been able to document some of the civilian
effects of the bombing; John Daniszewski reported in the Los Angeles Times
(3/25/03) that "the deaths and injuries from misdirected or errant bombs,
or from shrapnel and fragments that spray into nearby homes even when the
munitions find their intended target, are making more and more people
believe that the United States is heedless of the Iraqi public."  Such
information gives some needed perspective about claims of "precision" or
"surgical" bombardment.

ACTION: Ask NBC to avoid using terms like "precision" or "surgical" to
describe the bombing of Iraq. Encourage them to exercise skepticism about
the claims coming from both sides regarding the bombing.

NBC Nightly News

NBC's Today Show

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