On the standards at the New York Times

On Memorial Day, the New York Times ran a risible story about the state of reporting on the war in Iraq. I noted their amazing claim that we the public, not the media, are responsible for the poor coverage of the war. Meanwhile, other bloggers were upset about this paragraph:

But the tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer place for American soldiers. Last year was the bloodiest in the five-year history of the conflict, with more than 900 dead, and last month, 52 perished, making it the bloodiest month of the year so far. So far in May, 18 have died.

This is entirely misleading, for several reasons:

  • Last year was the bloodiest because it included the surge, which took the battle to the enemy. The surge succeeded within months, and the latter months of 2007 saw a dramatic drop in violence. (James Taranto gives the raw numbers.) Thus, the surge did make Iraq a safer place for American troops. (One might argue that the surge cost lives in doing so, but that’s not relevant to the actual claim, which regards the surge’s outcome, not its process.)
  • As a minor point, the surge significantly increased the number of troops in Iraq. Thus, on average, Iraq is a less dangerous place than the absolute numbers might suggest.
  • The month of April was the bloodiest month of 2008 so far. Of course, there are only three months that precede April. In the first four months of 2008, April was slightly worse than average and February was slightly better. All four numbers are within the range of random variation.
  • May is another story altogether. May saw a precipitous drop in violence that rivals the drop in mid- to late 2007. The story quotes the figure from May as if it supported its thesis, when in fact it refutes it.

That paragraph is a great example of how to lie with half-truths. Each of the claims that can be fact-checked are literally true. Not one of them, however, supports the paragraph’s overall thesis.

Jason Van Steenwyk (a veteran of Iraq) complained to the New York Times. The story’s author, David Carr, replied:


all do respect, I see nothing to correct. last year was the bloodiest of the war. last month was the bloodiest so far this year. it is still a dangerous place to be a soldier.

Now we see the standards at the New York Times. It’s okay to deceive your readers, so long as the facts you cite are literally true.

(Via Gateway Pundit.)

ASIDE: As most anyone familiar with the military could tell Mr. Carr, the Marine Corps provides much of the US force in Iraq, and Marines are not referred to as “soldiers.”

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