Fit To Print?

Violence declined sharply in Iraq last month. This was such unwelcome news at the New York Times that the story, which opened with the sentence “The number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq dropped precipitously in September compared with the previous month”, was presented “below the fold” on page 10, having been knocked off the front page by a fast-breaking story about how girls in their early teens have become an attractive demographic target for Broadway producers.

One must imagine that gladder tidings, such as a massive flareup in sectarian violence, preferably with heavy coalition casualties, would have been featured more prominently.

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  1. Kevin Kim says

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    Posted October 2, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  2. Sorry to be the skunk in the garden party, but this is not a front page story, and your inference that the Times ran it on page ten because it didn’t like the news is unwarranted.

    1) Ramadan started September 13. Of course violence went down.

    2) The mortality rates are imprecise and considerably variant among the different sources.

    3) One month does not make a trend. The weather, the stock market, and Iraqi death counts all fluctuate.

    4) Many people speculate that Iraqi communities are so balkanized that the ethnic cleansing will be reduced simply because the Sunnis have left mixed neighborhoods to Sunni safe havens and vice versa. To say “there’s no one left to kill” is an overstatement, but it gets the point across.

    5) From the article: “Iraq Body Count had reported that violence against civilians in Iraq reached highs in the last six months of 2006, and that the first six months of 2007 was the most deadly first half for civilians of any year since the war began.” That’s the money quote, not what happened last month. Making the argument that a single month’s decrease in violence to a mere 1280 deaths – and the implication that the Times would have been thrilled to put a catastrophic story on page one and bury a somewhat sunnier story on page ten – is like arguing that the Mets have been playing pretty decent baseball because they ended up getting some guys on base in their last game.

    Posted October 2, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Figured you might weigh in, Pete.

    Actually, violence often spikes during Ramadan. Furthermore, the numbers quoted in the lead, from the Iraqi government, were actually the least favorable among the various sources:

    The Iraqi official’s September civilian death count was much higher, and the percentage decline much smaller, than those seen in reports provided by other groups that regularly monitor civilian deaths in Iraq. For example, Iraq Body Count, a nongovernmental group based in Britain, said the number of civilian deaths in September was 1,280, compared with 2,575 in August, a reduction of nearly half.

    Also on Monday, Reuters, citing information gathered from the Iraqi Health, Interior and Defense Ministries, also reported a 50 percent decline, but gave different figures, saying 884 civilians were killed in September — the lowest monthly total this year — compared with 1,773 in August.

    Finally, would it be too much to ask that the Times might, just for once, simply show a little interest in giving us some good news from Iraq? Apparently so. They certainly never bury the bad. Do you really think that they maintain a scrupulous editorial neutrality?

    Posted October 2, 2007 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  4. Well, the bad vastly outweighs the good. Is your suggestion that there should be some kind of equal time rule between the bad and the good?

    Also, what little good news there has been — the only thing which comes to mind was the elections and the purple thumbs — got extensive first page play, not to mention favorable if not enthusiastic mention on the editorial page.

    Moreover, the Times runs a feature on the op-ed page on a period basis which compares the various metrics of life in Iraq (e.g., hours of electricity, amount of oil produced, civilian casualties, etc.) on a periodic basis. In one sense, they are keeping score using whatever statistics are available, and they are doing so regularly and in a prominent place. So I think it is unfair to accuse them of bias.

    Posted October 2, 2007 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Even the Public Editor himself has openly acknowledged that the Times has a liberal slant in its editorial stance.

    You are welcome, of course, to disagree, but I think that the fact that violent deaths are suddenly down by half in Iraq is an important bit of news, and were it not for the obvious fact that good news from Iraq is bad news in the eyes of the Times, it would have been given more prominent mention.

    Posted October 2, 2007 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  6. The Times absolutely has a liberal editorial stance. The question is whether the politics on the editorial page affects its reporting. I think not, but this is an eye of the beholder thing more than anything else.

    I think that the reduction of violence in a single month is important, but hardly earth shattering in the context of a war which has lasted for over four years (and whose violence in longer time frames has been increasing). In my view, this should be a page ten story. Front page news? NFW.

    Posted October 2, 2007 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Well, we disagree. Given the national focus lately on the wisdom of the troop surge, I think that such a sharp drop in violence having occurred is indeed a pretty big story; certainly more so than the news that a lot of 13-year-old girls got a charge out of “Legally Blonde”.

    Front-page news? I say: FW.

    Posted October 2, 2007 at 1:00 pm | Permalink