The first casualty of war: Study finds news reports match misperception of civilian deaths

Nov 06, 2009

Researchers reporting in BioMed Central's open access journal Conflict and Health found that the discrepancy in media reporting of casualty numbers in the Iraq conflict can potentially misinform the public and contribute to distorted perceptions and gross underestimates of the number of civilians killed in the armed conflict.

In February of 2007 Associated Press conducted a survey of 1,002 adults across the United States about their perceptions of the in Iraq. Whilst the respondents accurately estimated the of U.S. soldiers (the median estimate was 2,974 while the actual toll at the time was 3,100), they grossly underestimated the number of Iraqi civilian casualties (the median answer was 9,890 at a time when several estimates put the toll at least 10 times that number and some as high as 50 times that number).

To assess the potential reasons for this discrepancy, Schuyler W. Henderson and colleagues at Columbia University examined 11 U.S. newspapers and 5 non-U.S. newspapers to collate the number of Coalition and Iraqi fatalities reported in the media between March 2003 and March 2008. They specifically looked at tallies (numbers of death over a period of time) and the descriptions of specific casualty events.

The results of their study showed U.S. newspapers reported more events and tallies related to Coalition deaths than Iraqi civilian deaths, although there were substantially different proportions amongst the different U.S. newspapers. In four of the five non-US newspapers, the pattern was reversed.

The authors of the study suggest that as newspapers reflect the interests of their readers, it is not surprising that U.S. newspapers describe more casualties related to Coalition deaths than Iraqi civilians, however they go on to question whether this is consistent with the goals and tenets of ethical and accurate journalism.

"We feel that this study casts an important light on the role of the media in covering armed conflict and communicating the human costs of war to the public" said Schuyler. "Our paper calls into question the role of the media in providing a tool for civilians to accurately gauge the true effects and outcomes of military action and ongoing warfare."

More information: Reporting Iraqi civilian fatalities in a time of war, Schuyler W Henderson, William E Olander and Les Roberts, Conflict and Health (in press), www.conflictandhealth.com/

Source: BioMed Central (news : web)

Explore further: Unintended consequences: More high school math, science linked to more dropouts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

War affects Iraqis' health more after fleeing

Nov 03, 2008

The risk of depression is greater among Iraqi soldiers who took part in the Gulf War than among civilians. Surprisingly, on the other hand, neither of these groups showed any signs of post-traumatic stress ten years after ...

Global war deaths have been substantially underestimated

Jun 20, 2008

[B]Research paper: 50 years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia[/B] Globally, war has killed three times more people than previously estimated, and there is no evidence to support claims of a recent decline in ...

MIT economist analyzes troop surge in Iraq

Nov 05, 2007

Michael Greenstone, 3M Professor of Economics, has applied statistical techniques he uses in measuring the economic impact of climate change to conduct the first quantitative analysis of the U.S. troop surge ...

Why rebel groups attack civilians

May 29, 2008

In civil war, rebel groups often target civilians despite the fact that their actual target is the government and that they are often dependent on the support of the civilian groups they attack. This may seem illogical, but ...

Recommended for you

Soccer's key role in helping migrants to adjust

8 hours ago

New research from the University of Adelaide has for the first time detailed the important role the sport of soccer has played in helping migrants to adjust to their new lives in Australia.

Congressional rift over environment influences public

Jul 31, 2014

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, finds new research led by a Michigan State University scholar.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

designmemetic
4 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2009
I think the government knows this and they influence the media by making access to information on american deaths easily available and actively discouraging collection of information on civilian deaths. I think it's actually a stated policy of the US Government not to consolidate and release information on civilian deaths and they use inflate the concerns about the difficulty of gathering such information accurately and concern for privacy of the victims as straw man arguments to support there self interest.
COCO
3 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2009
the FIRST casualty remains Truth - a war built on lies - helped by a continuing sychophantic press - loyal to the one War party system!!