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US Media Misleading Public on Iraq Casualties* By Matthew Riemer Columnist USA 26/7/2003 233 US families are mourning the deaths of their loved ones in Iraq.Media outlets have been spinning the information on US casualties in a most curious way. Instead of regularly updating viewers and listeners concerning the number of killed and injured US servicemen and women since the beginning of the war in Iraq, an insidious and disingenuous distinction is being emphasized more than ever: that of the ³combat deaths² and the ³non-combat deaths.² Phrases like ³hostile fire,² ³friendly fire,² and ³in-action deaths² are now commonplace in Washingtonıs and the mediaıs handbook of propaganda and euphemisms. News agencies are constantly making the above distinction, reporting the number of US soldiers killed by ³hostile fire² as well as those killed in other ways but only keeping a running tabulation of those who have lost their lives in combat. Updates are almost unheard of regarding the number of casualties resulting from non-fatal injuries. As of July 21st, 233 US soldiers have died and over 1000 have been injured since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Yet the media focuses only on those killed by ³hostile fire² as if those killed in other ways or those simply injured are less important. An Internet search will reveal a thousand stories about the numbers killed by ³hostile fire² to every one that offers the complete details. For example, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty ran a story by Charles Recknagel on July 15th that began, ³As the number of US troops killed by hostile fire steadily grows, Washington is becoming increasingly preoccupied with the poor security situation in Iraq and what it means for efforts to stabilize the country. The toll now stands at 32 US soldiers killed since US President George W. Bush declared major combat over in Iraq on 1 May. Most of the soldiersı deaths have occurred in attacks on patrols and convoys by unidentified men firing rocket-propelled grenades.² Nowhere in the remainder of the article is the total number killed or wounded mentioned, though the pressures faced by Washington are the focus of the story. Such articles are misleading because they exclude important information to the point of being conspicuously incomplete. One of the reasons for concern in Washington is due to the ever-increasing domestic criticism directed towards it by its own soldiers and their families both in Iraq and at home. Much of the time, such criticism emanates from the families, friends, and comrades who have lost friends and loved ones in Washingtonıs war. More US soldiers have been killed in ³non-hostile² situations than in actual combat since May 1st. This is significant because it is many of these individualsı friends and families those not killed in combat who are now critical of the Bush administration. So the tension now looming over the occupation of Iraq, whether one is in a firefight in Baghdad or waiting for oneıs son to return, is caused by the totality of all the dead and injured, not just those from ³hostile fire.² In another, more glaring example, National Public Radio reported on July 20th about new casualties in Iraq and, in a logical manner, closed the report with a tally of the dead. The newsreader said, ³That brings the number of US soldiers killed in the war in Iraq to 150.² So not only does NPR make the same distinction as their less palatable media brethren (because 233 US soldiers have actually been killed), but they donıt even inform the listener when giving updated casualty figures that their numbers donıt include those killed in any other way except from ³hostile fire² a clear breach of journalistic integrity. However, unlike in the first case, this obviously incomplete and vaguely presented information is clearly fallacious. A listener who does not follow international events or politics that closely may have no idea what is really happening in Iraq. Following this NPR report, then, they may believe that only 150 US soldiers have lost their lives while serving in Iraq, that only 150 families are now grieving for their fallen loved ones. They may even refer to such a ³fact² in a conversation with a fellow citizen and once they have, the radiation of misinformation has begun. Another half-truth being perpetuated by various news agencies is that more US soldiers have died in the current war in Iraq than in the first. This is true for ³hostile fire² deaths only but not for total deaths: as already mentioned, 233 have died so far in Operation Iraqi Freedom while 299 died in Operation Desert Storm. While many reporters do make this distinction, many donıt. The most conspicuous example again took place on NPR on July 21st when Diane Rehm, host of the eponymously named talk show, said in a painstakingly clear and simple sentence that more US soldiers have died this time around than in Desert Storm. And then she stopped speaking and the show went to a break. No qualifying statement, no explanation, no insidious distinctions, nothing. Maybe she was unaware of these facts, but a host of a popular, national talk show has no excuse for such ignorance. So, at the very least, she passed on false information to millions of listeners. The importance of these partial truths and media spin are significant for two reasons: one apolitical, one political. First and foremost, the obfuscation of US casualties by very wide swaths of the media is a disservice to the US armed forces, their families, and the American public. Whether or not one considers US servicemen and women heroes without equal, respectable people just doing their jobs, or patriots who have been duped to serve the geopolitical interests of a fairly undemocratic bureaucracy called the US government, shouldnıt change the fact that all of their lives are of equal value. How does the mother who lost her son to friendly fire or a truck accident feel as the media constantly chatters about ³combat deaths² and about how ³these deaths² are putting pressure on President Bush and Paul Bremer? Does she wonder if her sonıs death is putting pressure on anyone or has forced others to reconsider whatıs happening in Iraq? Does her sonıs life matter as much? Or is her son half way in between an Iraqi and an American killed by hostile fire on a scale of their worth? And what about all the injured who go unmentioned? Itıs hard to imagine a soldier claiming that his life was not changed forever because of the war, but many have had their lives changed in the most horrible ways. These soldiers are now paraplegics and cripples, blind and deaf, or learning to live with artificial limbs. Are not these victims part of the ³cost of war² as well? Secondly, and finally, this deception is significant for the anti-war movement and, more broadly and accurately, the large and inherently diverse cross-ideological, international resistance to US hegemonic bullying in the Middle East, if only because it seeks to lessen the perceived impact of the war and now occupation upon the feelings and beliefs of the American public and, to a much lesser degree, the international community. All individuals opposed to the US occupation of Iraq should highlight this ³oversight" on the part of the media so as to make others more aware of the actual impact of this poorly conceived, designed, and executed unnecessary war and occupation. Matthew Riemer writes about philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied the Russian language for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union. He is also a member of the executive team in the online magazine YellowTimes.Org. You can reach him at mriemer@YellowTimes.org *This article was originally published in YellowTimes.Org _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk