655,000 dead: reporting the reporting

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, George Bush's lies have killed not 30,000 innocent Iraqis, as the president not long ago estimated, but nearly 22 times that amount, or 655,000. Neither the Pentagon, nor much of the mainstream media have made much attempt to make their own counts -- it's just not that important to anyone. So how has the U.S. media reported on these shocking-albeit-necessarily-imprecise findings, based on door-to-door surveys in 18 provinces, by the experts trained in this kind of thing? The actual methods included obtaining data by eight Iraqi physicians during a survey of 1,849 Iraqi families -- 12,801 people -- in 47 neighborhoods of 18 regions across the country. The researchers based the selection of geographical areas on population size, not on the level of violence. How strict were their standards? They asked for death certificates to prove claims -- and got them in 92 percent of the cases. Even so, the authors say that the number could be anywhere from 426,000 to 800,000.

Well, Greg Mitchell has written two columns on the topic for Editor & Publisher and he finds, here and here, that:

  • The Associated Press casts a very skeptical eye on the study, emphasizing the views of one "expert" Anthony Cordesman, (as the AP describes him) who charges that it is nothing but "politics," with the November election approaching.
  • The Washington Post, meanwhile, interviewed Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years. He called the Johns Hopkins survey method "tried and true" and added that "this is the best estimate of mortality we have."
  • Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights Watch in New York, told the Post, "We have no reason to question the findings or the accuracy" of the survey.
  • Frank Harrell Jr., chairman of the biostatistics department at Vanderbilt University, told the Associated Press the study incorporated "rigorous, well-justified analysis" of the data.
  • Richard Garfield, a public health professor at Columbia University who works closely with a number of the authors of the report, told The Christian Science Monitor: "That's exactly wrong. There is no discrediting of this methodology. I don't think there's anyone who's been involved in mortality research who thinks there's a better way to do it in unsecured areas. I have never heard of any argument in this field that says there's a better way to do it."
  • The sampling "is solid. The methodology is as good as it gets," said John Zogby, whose polling agency, Zogby International, has done several surveys in Iraq since the war began. "It is what people in the statistics business do." Zogby said similar survey methods have been used to estimate casualty figures in other conflicts, such as Darfur and the Congo.

I recall seeing on The Daily Show that when Bush got done playing around with Suzanne Malveaux and her fashion statement that day, she asked him about the study. He replied that "their methodology has been pretty well discredited." This is a bald-faced lie, of course. But here's my question. Were there any follow-ups? Or was the purpose of the question merely to get the president on the record without holding him responsible for anything at all, even the unnecessary murder of hundreds of thousands of people? What the hell kind of society kills all these people and cannot be bothered to care? Cannot be bothered to count them and when someone does, risking their lives in the process, lies to discredit them -- and no one cares about that either?

A Republican political consultant seeks to discredit the survey in The Wall Street Journal today, here, and the madman, Hitchens, writes in Slate: "The Lancet figures are almost certainly inflated, not least because they were taken from selective war-torn provinces. But there is no reason why they may not come to reflect reality more closely. It is a reminder of the nature of the enemy we face, and not only in Iraq, and a very clear picture of the sort of people who would have a free hand in Iraq if the coalition were to depart." In fact, the first claim is flat-out false. The study specifically did not pick particularly violent provinces, as Hitchens could have discovered if he looked at the study, not that he gives any impression of having any experience with this type of statistical sampling. But even so, the sanctions were a social, moral, and epidemiological catastrophe as well. I never supported them either. The sad fact is that Hussein could have been contained militarily without all of these people dying unnecessarily. Easily. But our leaders couldn't prove themselves sufficiently macho for chickenhawk neocons to take the necessary steps, and so we have all this blood on our collective hands, to say nothing of our own soldiers' deaths, an increased terrorist threat, a trillion dollars wasted, and the hatred of the world toward our citizens.

It's pathetic that Slate enables this crap. Oh, and nice job, liberal hawks. And thanks again, Ralph ...

P.S. As I was writing this, I received this ABC News bulletin: "DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVERAGE MOVES PAST 12,000 FOR FIRST TIME TODAY ON DECLINING OIL PRICES, STRONG CORPORATE EARNINGS." Funny, I don't remember reading anything when we learned that the U.S.-led invasion had been responsible for the deaths of roughly 650,000 innocent people.

P.P.S. This is the one I got yesterday: "Disgraced ex-Congressman Mark Foley, R-Fla., will in the coming days tell the Archdiocese of Miami the identity of the priest who he claims molested him as a young teen, his civil attorney said today"

Myra MacPherson responds to Berman to Alterman to Berman to MacPherson on Izzy Stone, here.

Peggy Noonan's bummed about the state of our public discourse, what she calls the lack of "civil grace." Naturally, she's blaming liberals. But Boehlert wonders about Noonan's own work, like when she called right-to-die advocates "red-fanged and ravenous," Al Gore "not fully stable," and suggested Bill Clinton was being sexually blackmailed by Fidel Castro. So much for grace.

Mike Kinsley, like Maureen Dowd, has helped ruin American journalism by being so good at what he does and inspiring so many acolytes and imitators who do it badly. Not his fault, but there it is. Anyway, the only good mini-Kinsley I keep saying is Jonathan Chait, whom I've never met and continues to justify his wrongness on the war, and works for Marty, but still ... is great. He's got a Rummyache.

Kinsley's now the American editor of the Guardian, you know. That's actually a bit worrisome because America's best columnist is not necessarily America's best editor ...

In any case, the past week, I've been to talks by the editor of The Economist, here, and the Guardian, here. Interesting that both the best daily newspaper and the best newsweekly magazine in America -- well, on the Web in America -- for foreign affairs, by a long shot -- are both British. Ditto on the issue of best liberal newspaper and conservative magazine. (America does not have any liberal daily newspapers of which I am aware, though the NYT and a few others have liberal editorial pages.) The Guardian is also miles ahead of all U.S. news organizations in terms of sense of corporate responsibility, owing to the process of its social, ethical and environmental auditing process. Read all about that here.

Has any author in history ever flacked for himself more shamelessly than Mark Halperin? Well, maybe one ... (And wouldn't a better title have been: Wrong About Everything: Why I Now Embrace All the Views I Used to Call People "Traitors" For ...

Like those famed sugar plums, visions of a Democratic House, and even Senate, are dancing in the heads of party activists, while hopes are rising for what the power of congressional "oversight," the power to investigate, the power of a subpoena, might do to Bush administration dreams of endless domination. But sometimes -- even assuming all this came true -- a little dash of cold history in the face is a salutary thing. Greg Grandin supplies just that in recalling the Iran/Contra era, the last time the Democrats found themselves in such a mood.

He begins his new piece at TomDispatch: "A Republican Party on the ropes, bloodied by a mid-second-term scandal; a resurrected Democratic opposition, sure it can capitalize on public outrage to prove that it is still, in the American heart of hearts, the majority party." He then explains why, thanks to political timidity, Democratic investigations in Ronald Reagan's presidency failed -- and why, even in a new Democratic Congress, they might just fail again.

Garrett County Press asked 56 international artists to "color in" its newest publication, The Pat Robertson and Friends Coloring Book. The results are on Powell's Books, here.

Baby, I can drive my car (and that's about all): I don't know anything about cars, and I plan to keep it that way. I only use one in the summer, living as I do in the greatest walking city in the world and the most expensive garaging one. So when my Acura starting eating money with 104,000 miles on it, I decided to buy a new one. My only criteria were that it would be cheap, last forever, and not be that ugly. It also had to have four doors and a trunk large enough for beach chairs. I wanted to buy a UAW car, especially the PT Cruiser, which appeals to my sense of history and classicism. But no one would let me, based on the lasting forever thing. (I forgot to ask Mickey what to buy; he seems to care a great deal about design, which I don't.) Anyway, I bought a 2006 Corolla with automatic transmission but absolutely no bells and whistles, save a CD player and AC. As I recall, it came in at around $13, 500, plus tax. I don't know why Seth Stevenson doesn't include the Corolla here. It's not at all ugly, and I think it will last forever, and it's a better deal than any of those he mentioned, I think, given the automatic transmission.

Quote of the Day: "You know the average Post reader is a complete cretin." -- Jared Paul Stern, here.

From the Benton Foundation:

SOURCE: TomPaine.com, AUTHOR: Bill Moyers and Scott Fogdall

Like the Romans, we Americans have used our technology to build a sprawling infrastructure of ports, railroads and interstates which serves the strength of our economy and the mobility of our society. Yet as significant as these have been, they pale beside the potential of the Internet. Almost overnight, it has made sending and receiving information easier than ever. It has opened a vast new marketplace of ideas, and it is transforming commerce and culture. It may also revitalize democracy. The Internet is revolutionary because it is the most democratic of media. All you need to join the revolution is a computer and a connection. We don't just watch; we participate, collaborate and create. Unlike television, radio and cable, whose hirelings create content aimed at us for their own reasons, with the Internet every citizen is potentially a producer. The conversation of democracy belongs to us. That wide-open access is the founding principle of the Internet, but it may be slipping through our fingers. How ironic if it should pass irretrievably into history here, at the very dawn of the Internet Age. Already, the notion of a level playing field -- what's called network neutrality -- is under siege by powerful forces trying to tilt the field to their advantage. The Bush majority on the FCC has bowed to the interests of the big cable and telephone companies to strip away, or undo, the Internet's basic DNA of openness and non-discrimination. So the Internet is reaching a crucial crossroads in its astonishing evolution. Will we shape it to enlarge democracy in the digital era? Will we assure that commerce is not its only contribution to the American experience? The monopolists tell us not to worry: They will take care of us, and see to it that the public interest is honored and democracy served by this most remarkable of technologies. They said the same thing about radio. And about television. And about cable. Will future historians speak of an Internet Golden Age that ended when the 21st century began?

P.S. Moyers's show on the future of the Net is on PBS tonight. Catch it. (I'm Tivoing, as the Altercation community has come through with yet another ticket. Thanks, Steve and Rob ...)

BROADCASTERS OF FAKE NEWS MAKE FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT VNR STUDY [SOURCE: PRWatch]

In an October 16, 2006, letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy refuted spurious claims made by the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) and the National Association of Broadcast Communicators (NABC), a new consortium of broadcast PR firms, about the FCC's ongoing investigation into corporate-funded "fake news" on local TV stations. The letter reads: "The Commission's ongoing investigation of undisclosed VNRs is not an intrusion upon First Amendment principles, as the RTNDA filing contends. Ensuring disclosure of broadcast materials provided by third parties is clearly within the Commission's mandate. It should be noted that disclosure does not keep public relations firms from producing VNRs or TV stations from broadcasting them. What disclosure does is honor news audiences' right to know who seeks to influence them. The RTNDA needs to understand that their members' use of the public airwaves is a privilege, not a right. When TV stations turn their backs on the public interest to air "fake news" provided by public relations firms, they defy the spirit and letter of their broadcast licenses."

Alter-reviews:

John Coltrane, Fearless Leader box set:

The music on this amazing six-CD box set was recorded between May 1957 and December 1958, around the same time as the recently discovered and even more amazing Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane: Live at Carnegie Hall, right after the time Trane managed to kick his habit. Here, as sidemen, we get pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, trumpeters Wilbur Harden and Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Cobb, Albert Heath and Arthur Taylor on drums, among others. Some of it is tentative; not all of it works, and there's barely a hint of the brilliance and craziness to come, but it's damn near all beautiful, with all that Concord has led us to expect from Rudy Van Gelder and the new 24-bit remastering process. It's the first of three planned box sets to document his Prestige recordings, and for all us historians, the packaging contains 60+ page color booklet, a detailed sessionography, reproductions of the front and back of all of the albums, with the original liner notes, shots of the original LP labels, single and EP sleeves, original catalog numbers and release dates, and a bunch of useful essays. And believe it or not, it's pretty cheap, at least as these things go. Yes, you gotta have the classics first, but once you do, it's hard to imagine how you'll be in a bad mood after getting this. Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Edward Furey
Hometown: New York

At least some of the district weighting is also accounted by the same factors as the Senate -- states have to have at least one member of the House, and the GOP tends to be strongest in the smaller states, so that favors them. That, b the way, may be changing.

But the gerrymander can be overrated. You only have to invoke the magical word "computer" and political reporters, who know less about computers than their school-age kids, assume there is something wondrous about the latest gerrymander. But computers only make it easier for less skilled pols to do what very skilled pols have done for almost two centuries.

In Indiana, gerrymandered to favor the GOP, the Democrats are primed to pick up two and probably three seats in November. In Pennsylvania, the Dems are looking to gain four, helped along by timely wife-beating and daughter search warrants. California was gerrymandered to let everyone keep their seats -- the GOP is now looking to lose three. The list goes on.

In the 1970s, the Indiana delegation was gerrymandered to return a Republican majority; by the middle of the decade it was returning an even larger Democratic majority. Candidate quality and the issues matter more than political reporters like to think. And the GOP always has more money than the Democrats; this year's margins are actually smaller than usual. If the smart money did not start covering its collective ass by shoveling money to the Democrats when the Foley scandal broke, then it's suddenly gotten dumb. But the guess here is that it has not, and the GOP and allied organizations have an even smaller margin than in recent years, which will only show up in the very last reports.

A party does not keep pulling money out of races, as the GOP is doing, when it is really flush with cash. There's a scene in Blazing Saddles when the minister tries to appease the crowd, angry that Cleavon Little is the new sheriff, by invoking the Bible. When someone shoots a hole in the Good Book, he turns to Little and says" "You're on your own, son."

The national Republicans are telling an ever-growing number of candidates, "You're on your own, son."

Or daughter, in a few cases, like Florida.

Name: Wm. Weissbeck
Hometown: Schererville, IN

In reply to Larry of Oak Park, the partial answer may be the particular state of politics in Illinois. National Democrats are almost entirely disconnected from and disassociate themselves from the State Democrats. The state party at the Springfield and Chicago local levels are preceived to be too corrupt. Even though Obama was a former state senator, no one connects him in anyway with Mayor Daley or the Governor. In fact the hope for Bean and Duckworth is not the Democratic machine operations, but the fact that the GOP's candidate for governor will suppress GOP turnout.

Name: Dale
Hometown: Clarendon Hills, IL

I think it's even worse than the study cites. I travel all over the Midwest for my job. I was in MO last week where Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Jim Talent are duking it out for U.S. Senate. While the newscasts were short on analysis, the commercial breaks were loaded with Talent ads attacking McCaskill and McCaskill ads attacking Talent. Each commercial break would have one attack ad from a candidate immediately followed by the exact opposite claim from the other. For example, first you find out that Claire McCaskill has failed seniors, only to find out in the next commercial that Jim Talent has failed seniors. Same is true in other places, such as the Michigan race for Governor where Granholm and DeVos are bickering over who has sent the most Michigan jobs overseas. The lack of analysis is market driven -- both in the sense that the stations feel that the nuance involved in a thorough examination of the claims of the candidates would likely drive the audience away and that an important advertising market for the station are the candidates themselves. The local affiliates must be raking in a fortune from campaign advertising -- why would they want to risk alienating one or both of candidates by determining who has actually failed seniors or sent jobs overseas? So viewers are treated to a he said/she said without any context. Heaven help our democracy.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.