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[casi] Number crunching - humanity's sadness - again

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
*This article was originally published in YellowTimes.Org

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