Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

When is a murder not a murder? When it happens in Iraq

Posted by metaphorical on 9 December 2006

Does the American media overreport bad news coming out of Iraq? It’s hard to say, when the main source of information underreports the bad news. The magazine Editor & Publisher notes that

the Iraq Study Group report [asserts] “there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq” by the U.S. military. “The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases,” the report continues.

Looking at one day, the report found undercounting of violent attacks by more than 1000 percent.

“A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack,” the report explained.” If we cannot deter mine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence [officially] reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.

“Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.”

Orwell would put it more strongly: Whoever controls the news controls the policy.

One Response to “When is a murder not a murder? When it happens in Iraq”

  1. You may have heard it already, but I’ll plug This American Life’s What’s in a number? episode. It profiles the scientist who did the Iraq mortality study in 2004 (and its recent followup too) and has some interesting asides.

    It is disconcerting that a rigorous scientific study like the Lancet’s and another method, like Iraq Body Count could come up with such wildly different numbers. IBC has put up a vigorous defense of its count. The Lancet study is sound science and its followup is even better grounded. So who is right?

    Whatever the cause of the discrepancies, it is telling that we just can’t answer such a basic question as ‘how many people are dying in Iraq and what are their causes of death?’

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