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LA Times Treats Body Count Report With Some Skepticism


The LA Times did a better job than CNN, Reuters and the BBC in applying skepticism to the Iraq Body Count report on civilian casualties in Iraq. The Times reporters consistently refer to the authors of the report as anti-war, and they at least attempt to answer the question: How did they define civilians?

Outside experts cautioned that because of the difficulty of gathering reliable information in Iraq and the inevitable political biases, the information was almost certainly incomplete. However, “the high casualty figures indicate the stubbornness of the anti-coalition forces,” said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.


The new report is particularly vulnerable to the criticism raised by Cordesman that it may have counted some people as civilians who in fact were allied with the insurgency. In a guerrilla war, it is often difficult to tell who is a fighter and who is a passerby.

“Making that judgment is one of the most intricate things we do,” said Hamit Dardagan, one of the study’s authors. “We made a judgment based on the context of each article we reviewed, and most of our uncertainty about the numbers is due to that,” he said.

While the Times article still treats this report — compiled from media sources by anti-war activists with a clear agenda — with too little skepticism, it is a big improvement over the BBC’s press release for the group.


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