Fresh from her comments slamming Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings for reporting things the military wouldn’t like, CBS reporter Lara Logan weighed in on the WikiLeaks story on last night’s CBS Evening News, where she argued that reporters should do more to stress the Taliban’s record of killing civilians:
KATIE COURIC: Also mentioned in these documents is the number of Afghan civilians who have been killed. How do you think this will damage the war effort?
LARA LOGAN: Well, the issue of civilian casualties is a major one. And the U.S. has taken a lot of criticism because of this. However, what’s interesting to note is that according to the documents, 195 Afghan civilians have been killed. But also according to the documents, 2,000 Afghan civilians have been killed by the Taliban, which is more than 10 times the number said to be killed by U.S. and NATO forces. And very little is being made of that. If the coverage would indicate that it’s more of an issue for the U.S. to kill Afghan civilians than it is for the Taliban to do so.
It would be absurd to suggest that only 195 Afghan civilians have been killed in the war. That tally from the WikiLeaks data is incomplete, as the Guardian reported:
At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely to be an underestimate as many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.
As Afghan human rights advocate Erica Gaston (Huffington Post, 7/27/10) points out, the WikiLeaks database on civilian casualties is by no means definitive–many well-known incidents are missing. A summary of estimates of U.S./coalition-caused civilian deaths provided by Wikipedia suggests that the number Logan seemed to think was credible is off by a factor of at least 28.
As for who bears more responsibility for civilian killings, there have been various attempts to make such determinations. In 2008, U.N. monitors counted over 2,000 civilian casualties; when responsibility could be determined,41 percent of the deaths were attributed to U.S./NATO forces.On a CBS Evening News broadcast in early 2009,however, military sources were telling viewers that 80 percent of the dead were killed by the Taliban, in a segment devoted to the propaganda tactics of the Taliban enemy (a report that relied entirely on U.S. military sources). That would seem to be the type of journalism Logan would like to see more of.
On the same broadcast in which Logan gave her critique, CBS reporter Chip Reid seemed afraid that the media were likely to obsess over civilian deaths, noting that the Obama White House
may be underestimating the problems here because, yes, people were aware and certainly the president was aware of the problem with civilian casualties, but if we’re now going to be bombarded for days on end with a long series of specific examples, that’s going to make it more difficult for both the Afghan people and the American people to support this war.
Somehow I doubt there is any danger that corporate media will be “bombarding” anyone “for days on end” with stories of dead Afghan civilians.