NY Times softer on Obama’s civilian casualties
What a difference a couple of years (and a new President) make in the headlines of the NY Times. Two stories, two years apart, telling similar stories. One is dated May 13, 2007, the other May 7, 2009. Both stories detail the precarious situation for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan resulting from mounting civilian casualties, but one headline is far more benign than the other. Can you guess which story is the former, and which is the latter?
Notice how the second headline intentionally omits the word “death,” opting instead for the less graphic “toll.” Also note that nothing in the second creates a vision of the strain placed on US and allied forces as civilians perish, though the first conjures up the idea of a practically unwinnable battle.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the second article was published today with Obama as Commander-in-Chief, the first was written when Bush occupied the Oval Office.
The obvious bias that softened the NY Times coverage of civilian casualties is further illustrated by the prose buried in the articles, both co-written by Carlotta Gall.
The earlier article was written in response to “scores of civilian deaths over the past months” while the second follows on the heels of American airstrikes that “had killed dozens and perhaps more than 100 civilians” in one village in one day. Though the more massive, destructive, and deadly one day bombardment would almost certainly provoke a much greater fury than the smaller attacks spread across several months, the headlines give the opposite impression. A villager described the more recent attacks saying, “It would scare a man if he saw it in a dream.” From the earlier story, ” ‘We are not saying that the foreigners should leave or stay, we are just saying they should not do this,’ said a farmer, Fateh Muhammad, 55, gesturing with his scythe at an enormous bomb crater and his neighbor’s collapsed house. He showed the place where two of his neighbors had been killed in a field nearby.“
Comparing these two quotes, most would certainly expect the latest story to follow the more emotional headline. But there’s more.
From the earlier story, “Since the beginning of March at least 132 civilians have been killed in at least six bombings or shootings, according to officials. The actual number of civilians killed is probably higher,* since the areas of heaviest fighting, like the southern province of Helmand, are too unsafe for travel and many deaths go unreported and cannot be verified.” In the more recent article, “American airstrikes that Afghan officials and villagers said Wednesday had killed dozens and perhaps more than 100 civilians…If the higher toll proves true,* the bombardment, which took place late Monday, will almost certainly be the worst in terms of civilian deaths since the American intervention began in 2001.” (emphasis added)*
Notice the difference of the approach taken in these two articles, by the same reporter.
Under President Bush, the Times’ reporter assumed the death toll was higher than reported, but went out of her way to imply the number of civilians killed under President Obama was lower than reported. The first article also claims “nearly half” the civilian deaths in airstrikes on one village were women and children, but the second makes no mention of women and children among the dead.
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe that an attack on a village resulting in such a huge number of dead civilians somehow managed to avoid killing any women and children.
It’s clear this reporter now writes in a completely different tone than she did when Bush was President, and it’s also apparent the Times’ editors now put a different spin on similar stories with their headlines.
Note: In no way should this article be construed as a criticism of US or allied forces in Afghanistan. As a USMC veteran, I realize and understand that collateral damage occurs in any war. I also firmly believe that anytime US forces are placed in harm’s way, such collateral damage should not in any way reflect badly on them. This article is solely intended to shed light on the obvious bias present at the supposedly objective NY Times.