Dec 2 2011

CBS Undercounts Iraqi Deaths

Rewriting Iraq War history

A December 1 CBS Evening News report about the Iraq War managed to mislead viewers about the start of the war and severely diminish the loss of civilian lives.

Reporting on the handover of the U.S. military headquarters to Iraqi forces, anchor Scott Pelley announced:

What began in 2003 as an effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein became a vicious religious war, pitting Iraqi against Iraqi–with the U.S. caught in the middle.

Of course, the United States invaded Iraq with the stated aim of disarming Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist. (“The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun” was how White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer announced the beginning of the invasion–, 3/19/03.) Any serious conversation of the war should include this fact.

And the United States, as the instigators of that war, cannot credibly be considered to be “caught in the middle.”

Then, at the very end of the piece, Pelley made this claim:

In addition to the American losses, it is estimated that more than 50,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the war.

The on-screen graphic is 50,152 dead, sourced to

But that figure is only a tally of deaths since January 2005, as the icasualties website clearly indicates.

What’s more, icasualties has an important caveat:

This is not a complete list, nor can we verify these totals. This is simply a compilation of deaths reported by news agencies. Actual totals for Iraqi deaths are much higher than the numbers recorded on this site.

The site suggests that readers visit Iraq Body Count or read a study in the Lancet British medical journal for more detailed information.

The Iraq Body Count estimate for civilian deaths as a result of violence is 104,000 to 113,000; the group notes that WikiLeaks documents could indicate an additional 15,000 deaths.

Other estimates are far higher. The 2006 Lancet study (10/11/06) estimated 600,000 violent deaths. Another survey, conducted by the British polling firm Opinion Research Business (9/16/07), put the death toll at over 1 million.

The World Health Organization’s 2008 report (New England Journal of Medicine, 1/31/08) estimated 150,000 violent deaths through June 2006, which would omit some of the bloodiest periods of the civil war (New York Times, 1/10/08). The Associated Press reported (4/23/09) that an Iraqi government tally put the death toll at 87,000 from 2005 through February 2009; the news service estimated, based on hospital records and media reports, that the total figure was more than 110,000. The Brookings Institution (10/28/11) estimated that between May 2003 and July 2011, about 115,000 Iraqi civilians died.

Why would CBS Evening News choose the lowest number death toll estimate it could find–one that, according to the group that published it, is a gross underestimate?


Contact CBS Evening News and tell it to correct its December 1 report about Iraqi civilian deaths.


CBS Evening News

Phone: 212-975-3247