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The 'New York Times' on Iraq Airstrikes: Zero Dissent Allowed
by FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

February 23, 2001 [posted 2-28-2001]

Despite the chorus of international condemnation that followed last week's large-scale airstrikes on targets in Iraq, not a single word of criticism or dissent could be found anywhere in the New York Times' February 17 coverage of the attack. U.S. and British planes struck five Iraqi air-defense targets February 16 while patrolling their self-declared, internationally unrecognized "no-fly zone" over the south of the country.

The Times ran four articles dealing with the raid-- a news article, a news analysis, an unsigned editorial and an op-ed. None featured any criticism of the airstrikes whatsoever. The lead story on the front page quoted seven sources; all seven were government or military officials, all of whom supported the attack-- a Pentagon spokesman, a "senior Pentagon official," a "senior defense official," a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Bush, and a Republican and a Democratic senator.

David Sanger and Frank Bruni's accompanying news analysis, "The World Stage, Act I," mused emptily about what kind of "statement" Bush was making in authorizing the strikes, concluding that Bush had "arrived on the world stage," that "despite his inexperience" in foreign policy, "he was a player." No dissenting views were included.

Official Iraqi media reported 2 civilians killed and 20 injured in the raid. But in the Times' 1,600-word news story, the subject of civilian deaths and injuries was brushed off in two sentences: "Iraqi television reported numerous civilians had been wounded" but "Pentagon officials said they have no evidence of civilian casualties."

The Times appears to have great confidence in the sincerity of official U.S. statements on Iraqi casualties. However, when former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Hans von Sponeck independently investigated civilian damage from several U.S.-British airstrikes in 1999, finding 144 people killed and 446 injured that year, the Clinton administration tried to have him fired and he soon quit in protest. ("U.N. resignations point to failure of U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq," Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, 2/26/00). His replacement, Tun Myat, has no plans to investigate the damage from the latest bombing, a U.N. spokesperson in New York told FAIR.

In announcing Bush's arrival on the world stage, the news analysis article quoted his explanation of the attack-- "Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement he signed after Desert Storm"-- but refrained from pointing out that Bush had made a gaffe: The post-war agreement with Iraq contained no mention of no-fly zones, dealing only with Iraqi withdrawal and compliance with U.N. resolutions. Unlike the Times, the Washington Post pointed out the mistake in a Feb. 19 article, "Bush on Stage: Deft or Just Lacking Depth?"

The Times' opinion pages kept up the cheerleading, with a lead editorial judging the airstrikes "justified" and "timely." Instead of printing a balancing view, the facing op-ed page ran a piece by military hawk Anthony Cordesman headlined "No Choice But To Strike" that declared the bombing a "necessary if not vital" step. Cordesman was condemned by Amnesty International last year for a report he authored for the Center for Strategic and International Studies proposing the use of "interrogation methods that border on psychological and/or physical torture" against Palestinians as one viable method of enforcing a peace agreement. (See "ABC News Analyst Advocates Brutality," 11/21/00.)

The total absence of criticism in the Times stands in marked contrast to the outpouring of criticism around the world. In the days that followed, one country after another, including key NATO allies, lined up to condemn the attack. Several said the bombings were a blatant violation of international law. France expressed "incomprehension" and "disappointment" (AFP, 2/17/01); the Italian prime minister called it "counterproductive" (ANSA, 2/21/01); the German foreign minister, though publicly circumspect, protested the bombing in diplomatic meetings in Washington (Agence Europe, 2/19/01). Turkey, Jordan, and Iran-- three of the neighboring countries supposedly being protected from Iraqi aggression-- denounced the strikes, later joined by even Saudia Arabia (London Guardian, 2/22/01), while the other Gulf states "maintained an embarrassed silence" (AFP, 2/17, 2/18/01). None of this was reported by the New York Times.

All of this raises poignant questions about the Times' journalistic priorities. Instead of printing a windy disquisition on Bush's "arrival" to the world stage, the paper could have dispatched a reporter to Baghdad to check on Iraqi reports of U.S.-caused civilian deaths. Rather than invite Anthony Cordesman to make exactly the same pro-bombing argument on the op-ed page as the editorialists did on the facing page, the editors could have published an opposing view.

ACTION: Write to the New York Times and tell them to report on criticism of U.S. policy toward Iraq and not just quote U.S. officials. Ask them to do original reporting on the effects of U.S. airstrikes on the ground in Iraq. Remind them that balance in news reporting is essential.

New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036-3959
Toll free comment line: 1-888-NYT-NEWS

As always, please remember that your comments will be more effective if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc with your correspondence.

(c) FAIR, 2001 Reprinted by Emperor's Clothes for Fair Use Only

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Further Reading

There are so many articles exposing the sort of flagrant bias that FAIR is talking about here. Some of the most helpful are Phillip Hammond's articles analyzing coverage of the war against Yugoslavia:

'NATO's Propaganda War '

'But Does It Matter?'

'The Lies Last Time'

'Media and the Kosovo Crisis '

'Reporting Kosovo : Journalism vs. Propaganda'

'A War of Words and Pictures'

'The War on TV'

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