Associated Prevaricators

A RECENT ASSOCIATED PRESS STORY SO THOROUGHLY TWISTED THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE to present the opposite of reality, Bill Clinton might be writing its headlines.

On Saturday, the AP ran a story with the depressing banner, “U.S. March toll nearly twice Iraq forces.” In it, AP writer Steven R. Hurst asserted, “The U.S. military death toll in March, the first full month of the security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army.”

One could begin by asking when in history the success or failure of a mission was judged by an algebraic formula comparing the number of American troops killed vs. those of our allies. (Imagine the headline: “U.S. D-Day toll nearly 6,600-times that of French.”) Aside from the fact that the reporter apparently chose this comparison from thin air for the lone purpose of making President Bush’s troop surge appear a failure, it is also factually wrong – as the story itself makes clear.

According to Hurst, “The Associated Press count of U.S. military deaths for the month was 81, including a soldier who died from non-combat causes Friday.” So, the “U.S. March toll” stood at 80 dead. Hurst writes, “the Iraqi military toll was 44. The Iraqi figures showed that 165 Iraqi police were killed in March. Many of the police serve in paramilitary units.”

In other words, the number of U.S. deaths was less-than-half that of Iraqi forces. The very premise for Steven Hurst’s arbitrary story is based on an incomplete count that ignores those serving on the front lines of the Iraq war. However, since most Americans did not read beyond the headline to scrutinize his flawed methodology, they walk away believing the troop surge is proving futile.

This story appears designed to demoralize, and it likely succeeded.

Hurst managed to bury the good news deep in the story: “The civilian death toll for the month was down significantly.” A somewhat less modest description of the death toll would be that of Reuters: “the lowest for four months.” Maj. Gen. William Caldwell reports in the one month since the surge began in earnest, “there has been an over 50 percent reduction in murders and executions.” Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, the Iraqi commander of the Baghdad security plan, also noted the operation’s success. Even the BBC has conceded “violence in the Iraqi capital has fallen by 25%.”

The odd emphasis of Hurst’s story is highlighted by the fact that it appeared one day after Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero announced at a press conference:

all across Iraq sectarian violence remains at reduced levels. Attacks against civilians are down by about 20 percent, and civilian deaths are down by about 30 percent. Specifically in Baghdad, comparing the same six-week periods, attacks against civilians are down by 20 percent, with civilian deaths down by about 50 percent…The Iraqi public also shows increasing signs of support…It has [been] reported that citizens are hoping the security plan will last.

All this progress took place with approximately one-third of the projected surge forces in Iraq. Nonetheless, in another story filed last Saturday, Steven R. Hurst editorialized, “While Bush, the American military and U.S. diplomats in Iraq have expressed cautious optimism about the crackdown…the ease with which suspected al-Qaida suicide bombers have continued striking Shiite targets must be deeply disconcerting.”

Hurst buried significant news in that story, as well: Al-Qaeda has started using chlorine gas against fellow Sunni Muslims, because the Sunnis now support America. “Al-Qaida-linked insurgents were believed to have turned to the weapon to strike terror among fellow Sunnis who have sided with U.S. forces.” In fact, the Sunnis are now engaged in “active combat” with al-Qaeda in Iraq and have signed up for the aforementioned Iraqi Police.

Maj. Gen. Barbero – who noted the U.S. is now receiving tips from inside Sadr City – gave a better assessment: “The use of poison gas on innocent Iraqi civilians discredits all of the Sunni extremist propaganda of being, quote, ‘an honorable resistance,’ focused on, quote, ‘driving out the infidels.’”

It also discredits the omnipresent objection of the antiwar Left, expressed by Hillary Clinton only yesterday: “It is time for us to get them out of the middle of this sectarian civil war.”

The media’s coverage also elided the depths of depravity to which Iraqi terrorists have sunk. Al-Qaeda packed an explosive backpack on a 12-year-old boy, which detonated in Haditha on March 21. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the terrorists have burned or attacked 208 schools, killed numerous teachers, and particularly targeted schools open to girls.

In response to these misogynistic, anti-human measures, the BBC has highlighted supposed Coalition murderers. The New York Times similarly complained, “Hundreds Disappear Into the Black Hole of the Kurdish Prison System in Iraq.” (These arrests, the story later sheepishly admits, were of terrorists picked up during the Kurds’ war with Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda affiliate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi).

This kind of twisted, false measure is but a continuation of the prestige media’s coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom since its inception. As I reported, the day after Christmas the AP reported, “U.S. Deaths in Iraq Exceed 9/11 Count.” In the ultimate casualty obsession story, the world’s largest news service reported with bated breath when the death toll hit 2,974 – one more American than died on 9/11. The implication is clear: Iraq was a “war of choice,” and by extension President Bush is a greater killer than Osama bin Laden. There were media orgies for the 2,000th casualty, the 1,000th casualty, even the 721st casualty. The media bemoaned a ban on portraying military caskets – which they quickly broke – and have taken to classifying each month as, e.g., “the fourth deadliest month of fighting.”

This is not reporting: it is news manipulation designed to massage public opinion against the war. It is an important reminder of the ever-present filter through which Americans receive their news.

That is, if they haven’t smartened up.

This article originally appeared as the lead story on Wednesday, April 4, 2007, on FrontPage Magazine.