NYT Undercounts Drone Deaths in Pakistan

The New York Times editorial page (11/30/12) weighs in on the Obama administration’s drone policies. What the paper wants is more accountability: The government “must stay within formal guidelines based on the rule of law.”

That’s all well and good–but the paper should do a better job of counting the innocents killed by drone attacks. The Times explains that aspect of the story this way:

For eight years, the United States has conducted but never formally acknowledged a program to kill terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban away from the battlefield in Afghanistan. Using drones, the Central Intelligence Agency has made 320 strikes in Pakistan since 2004, killing 2,560 or more people, including at least 139 civilians, according to the Long War Journal, a website that tracks counterterrorism operations.

That’s an astonishingly low rate of civilian deaths. And it’s fiercely contested by researchers who have tracked the CIA drone program.

The British Bureau of Investigate Journalism estimates the civilian death toll is at least four times greater. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

So why would the Times use what would appear to be one of the lowest estimates of the civilian toll? The paper is aware of the Bureau‘s work. In February, the Times reported on their research–but, for the sake of “balance,” allowed an anonymous U.S. government source smear the Bureau as Al Qaeda sympathizers.

The Long War Journal, the Times failed to tell readers, is a project of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, whose advisers include William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Joe Lieberman and Iran/Contra conspirator Robert McFarlane.

In the end, the editorial’s call for the government to give a clearer picture of the drone policy is undercut by the fact that the paper does not seem all that interested in knowing how many innocents that policy has killed.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.