Jun 1 1998

Press Sanctions Famine

On April 28, millions of American television viewers saw a news story about Iraq receiving humanitarian aid from a Connecticut-based relief group called AmeriCares. Both CBS Evening News and ABC‘s World News Tonight did reports on the shipments; each network described the AmeriCares mission as in some way “a first” or “pioneering.” “This is the first time since the Gulf War that American aid of any kind has been flown in,” ABC‘s Peter Jennings declared. CBS described the shipment as the “first approved humanitarian aid from the U.S.”

The reports were literally correct, but deceptive: A group called Voices in the Wilderness started delivering relief to Iraq in 1996, and recently completed its 12th aid mission–but its supplies came in by truck, not plane. And unlike AmeriCares, which has a close relationship to U.S. intelligence services, Voices in the Wilderness has carried in food and medicine in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

U.S. mainstream media outlets tend to view the rest of the world through the State Department’s eyes, so it’s not surprising that AmeriCares is heralded while groups like Voices in the Wilderness are generally ignored. On the rare occasion that attention is focused on non-approved humanitarian projects, it can be quite hostile: A piece by Barbara Crossette in the New York Times, for example, reports that an anti-sanctions coalition “produced a graphic videotape of dying children in Iraq, asserting that they were killed by sanctions, which they label ‘genocide.’ The video juxtaposes shots of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, speaking in a different context, calling the sanctions policy ‘worth the price.'”

The assertion that Albright was “speaking in a different context” is either sloppiness or deceit: The videotape, Genocide by Sanctions, includes a straightforward clip from 60 Minutes (5/12/96) where Leslie Stahl asks Albright: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

To which Albright replies: “I think this is a very hard choice. But the price–we think the price is worth it.”

When a senior U.S. official asserts on national TV that half a million dead children are a worthwhile price to pay, one would hope the New York Times would not cover up that fact.

Please contact the New York Times to ask for more serious coverage of the human toll of the Iraqi sanctions–a toll that might well be daily front-page news if it was being inflicted on a country that was not an official enemy. Write to the Times‘ foreign desk at 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036 (phone: 212-556-7415; fax: 212-556-3690).