Independent Periodic News and Analysis
Number 350, October 20, 2006
On the Web at http://www.nygaardnotes.org/
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1. “Quote” of the Week
2. Using the Media by Asking Your Own Questions (Nygaard Notes-style)
3. Off the Front Page: Financial Costs of the Iraq War
4. Off the Front Page: Human Costs of the Iraq War
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“Quote” of the Week
On October 11th, the highly-respected British medical journal The Lancet published the results of a major study by the Johns Hopkins school of public health. That major study, an update of a similar study done in 2004, found that “as of July, 2006, there have been 654,965 excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the [U.S. attack on and occupation of Iraq].”
On October 13th the London Guardian published a commentary on the Johns Hopkins study, written by Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet. Here are a few of the words from that piece:
“Iraq is an unequivocal humanitarian emergency. Civilians are being harmed by our presence in Iraq, not helped. That should force us to pause and ask what we are doing and why. There is no shame in saying that we have got the policy wrong. Moreover, we have a legal obligation under the Geneva conventions to do all we can to protect civilian populations. These findings show not only that are we not adhering to this legal obligation, but also that we are progressively subverting it year on year.”
Using the Media by Asking Your Own Questions (Nygaard Notes-style)
Last week I gave one reason why Nygaard Notes is unique and worthy of your support. I pointed out that this newsletter makes a point of going beyond simply providing information to constantly talk about how we get our information and what we do with it once we have it. That’s pretty important, but it certainly isn’t the only thing that makes Nygaard Notes unique. Another somewhat unique feature—and one that some of you may not even be aware of—is that I am always writing between the lines. Here’s what I mean...
I often leave some of my “lessons” unstated, preferring to let people discover them for themselves. For instance, in the series on media and propaganda, one of the things I said was this: “Fundamentally, the job of a journalist is to ask questions. The news reports that we see and hear every day are nothing more than the answers to those questions.”
I said a few more things about that idea, but what I didn’t say was this: Since the discovery process of a journalist starts with questions, doesn’t it make sense to imagine that the same thing is true of readers and viewers? I didn’t state that, but I was counting on that idea sneaking into the heads of at least some of the readers. And, beyond that, I was counting on some of those readers then re-thinking how they approach the daily news. Beauty, eh?
Here, then, is how I hope some of that re-thinking might go:
Most people, in my experience, turn to the news to see “what is in there.” I recommend a different approach. I recommend that you think about what you want to know, and formulate your own questions on the subject or subjects of importance to you, in line with your values and priorities. THEN go to the media and look for the answers to YOUR questions. Suddenly it’s a different ballgame, don’t you think? One thing you’ll learn is that much of the media doesn’t even attempt to get answers to the most important questions. Or, if they do, they are often “buried” on the inside pages of the paper. (Getting this point across is part of the point of my occasional “Off the Front Page” feature.)
What do I mean by “the most important questions?” Here an example: In terms of health care, what are the social and economic barriers preventing the United States from providing high-quality health care to all of its people? Attempts to answer that basic question should, in my mind, be what animates the daily news flow about “health care.” It’s almost never talked about. Another example: What are the effects of macroeconomic policies on different social groups? Does a policy of “lower taxes” help some people and hurt others? (Answer: Yes.) Who does it help? Who does it hurt? The same question should animate reporting on the policies of the Federal Reserve, the international financial institutions, the “business” decisions of the big domestic banks, and so forth. Again, explaining and focusing on these social effects is almost never the point of “economic reporting.”
(Homework assignment: See if you can think of “the most important questions” that you would want answered if you were to be as well-informed as you’d like to be. Where would you find the answers to them?)
There’s Some Good Stuff in the Media. Really!
When I teach classes on media, I make explicit the point that people have the option of asking their own questions. Once we do that, we stop leaving the all-important issue of “Which questions?” to some nameless reporter whose first duty (whether they are aware of it or not) is to draw in potential customers for the advertisers.
I hear some people say that they “don’t trust the media.” I don’t think that’s the point. Once we begin asking our own questions, then we can look for the answers wherever they are found. And they are found all over the place, including in the daily media. True, they may be buried on the inside pages, or written in code, or they may have to be pieced together from several different reports because the news outlet didn’t ask the questions directly. But there is important information available in the corporate media, if you know how to read it. Helping people know how to read it is a part of what this newsletter you are reading is all about.
The point is to help people find the information they need in order to effectively act to change things for the better. There are a million ways to do that, and I’m sure many readers are actively engaged in some of them.
That’s why I constantly (explicitly and between-the-lines) reinforce the idea that we are in charge of our own lives, and do not need to—indeed, should not—rely on the powers that be to limit our options for acting for change.
So, that’s the end of Part II of “What Makes Nygaard Notes Unique and Worthy of Your Support.” I hope you will seriously consider making a concrete contribution to keeping this project going. In fact, why don’t you DO IT NOW!?
Off the Front Page: Financial Costs of the Iraq War
George W. Bush said this on March 6th of 2003: “Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.” Thankfully, he’s stopped saying that, but he still talks about the “mission” or the “job” that we must “finish” or “complete” or “fulfill.” What is that “mission,” really? What are the real and fundamental goals of the U.S. occupation of Iraq—as opposed to the assumed or stated ones—and are they legitimate and moral? The failure to investigate and explore the answers to this question is the fundamental problem with the major media’s reporting of the U.S. occupation of Iraq (USOI) at the present time.
Beyond the fundamental problem, it is very disheartening to watch the major media’s reporting of the secondary—but very important—issues surrounding the USOI: The costs. During an election season in which many voters seem to consider Iraq a central, if not THE central, issue in the campaign, one might think that the media would place prominently on the front page any and all news about the costs of the USOI. The most obvious costs being, first of all, the human costs of death and destruction, and secondly, the financial costs borne by U.S. taxpayers. Two major news items on these two major aspects of the USOI came out recently, and both were relegated to the inside pages of the nation’s newspapers.
Let’s look at the financial costs first, since that story broke on September 8th. Here’s the headline from an Associated Press (AP) story from that day: “Senate Approves $63 Billion More for Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.” That’s pretty big news, right? Front-page material, right? No. Almost no U.S. newspaper reported it at all, let alone on the front page. The New York Times did carry a heavily-edited version of the story, but it was relegated to the bottom of page 17. And it’s kind of interesting how they edited the sharp edges off of the AP story, so I’ll include a couple of examples of that...)
The AP story said, “The Senate agreed to spend an additional $63 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as lawmakers on Thursday passed a massive bill that funds the Pentagon.” The New York Times version read: “...passed a bill to finance military spending.”
The AP said: “The bill sailed through by a vote of 98-0...” (NYT version: “The measure was approved 98-0...”)
“The overwhelming support for the overall bill and the money to support U.S. troops in harm's way came despite increasing criticism by Democrats of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.
A lot of the AP story was left out of the NY Times’s version entirely. One of the more important comments was this one: “Appropriations for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars averaged almost $10 billion per month for the current year, so President Bush early next year will have to make another request for money for military operations in Iraq.” Might not citizens wish to know this?
The second edited-out comment was this oh-so-politely worded comment on Congressional budget “oversight” by the Congress: “To a considerable degree, the defense bill demonstrates the flexibility with which the Congress and the administration treat budget limits set on the Pentagon.” Flexibility! Right-O!
The overall picture is mind-boggling, to say the least. “With the latest infusion of war funds,” said the AP story (or, as the NYT preferred, “With the latest infusion of money,”) “Congress will have approved about $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other anti-terrorism efforts in the five years since the Sept. 11 terrorist assaults, according to the Congressional Research Service.”
For those Nygaard Notes readers who want to know more about the financial costs of this criminal occupation, that 40-page CRS report they mention is very enlightening, indeed. It’s called “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11” and it can be found online at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf
Off the Front Page: Human Costs of the Iraq War
This week’s “Quote” of the Week has George Bush dismissing a major scholarly study which found that 655,000 people have died “as a consequence of the U.S. attack on and occupation of Iraq.”
In line with this dismissal, the U.S. media similarly dismissed the report, relegating it to the inside pages in almost every case. Page 16 in the New York Times, page 12 in the Washington Post, and page 6 in my local paper. Two U.S. newspapers, the Buffalo News and the Baltimore Sun, did put it on the front page but in each case the headline questioned the study’s validity. (The News: “Bush rejects study's total of war deaths; Says 600,000 killed is 'not credible' finding.” The Sun: “Hopkins Research Yields Toll Far Higher than Most Estimates.”)
You can read the Lancet article for yourself online at http://www.thelancet.com/webfiles/images/journals/lancet/s0140673606694919.pdf
In the meantime, here are just a couple of highlights from the October 11th press release of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
* The study actually gave a range of “excess Iraqi deaths” between 392,979 and 942,636 since the U.S. invaded in March of 2003
* 91.8 percent of the “excess” deaths were caused by caused by violence (as opposed to non-violent causes, such as heart disease, cancer and chronic illness).
* About half of the households surveyed by the Johns Hopkins team were “uncertain who was responsible for the death of a household member.”
* “The proportion of deaths attributed to coalition forces diminished in 2006 to 26 percent. Between March 2003 and July 2006, households attributed 31 percent of deaths to the coalition.”
* “Researchers recommend establishment of an international body to calculate mortality and monitor health of people living in all regions affected by conflict.”
* “The mortality survey used well-established and scientifically proven methods for measuring mortality and disease in populations.”
* The report shows that “about 2.5 percent of Iraqi’s population [has] died as a consequence of the war.”
* “To put the 654,000 deaths in context with other conflicts, the authors note that during the Vietnam War an estimated 3 million civilians died overall; the Congo conflict was responsible for 3.8 million deaths; and recent estimates are that 200,000 have died in Darfur over the past 31 months.”
Epilogue: Here are a few comments about the credibility of the study:
Steve Heeringa, director of the statistical design group at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, says, “I can't imagine them doing much more in a much more rigorous fashion.”
Frank Harrell Jr., chair of the biostatistics department at Vanderbilt University, called the study design solid and said it included “rigorous, well-justified analysis of the data.”
Richard Brennan, head of health programs at the New York-Based International Rescue Committee, which has conducted similar projects in Kosovo, Uganda and Congo, said that “This is the most practical and appropriate methodology for sampling that we have in humanitarian conflict zones,” and added that “While the results of this survey may startle people, it's hard to argue with the methodology at this point.”
U.S. “President” George W. Bush: “I don't consider it a credible report.” (No evidence was offered by the Leader of the World’s Only Superpower to back up his dismissal, yet his comment was widely reported in the daily media.)
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