Magazine article Editor & Publisher

From Kit Bag to Mailbag

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

From Kit Bag to Mailbag

Article excerpt


What does the American public know about deaths and injuries in Iraq, and when will they know it?

Since my Oct. 23 article for E&P Online on the press underreporting injuries and non-combat troop fatalities in Iraq -- and a Nov. 5 follow-up indicating some progress in this area -- I have received hundreds of letters. Many of them raise thoughtful issues about casualties that the press has largely neglected. Others brought to the table wild misconceptions and unfounded rumors.

Some firmly believe, for example, that the Pentagon only counts those who die in Iraq in the official death toll. They have heard or read (on the Web, no doubt) that if soldiers expire in a hospital in Germany or back home in the U.S., they don't make the list. A few calls to the Pentagon revealed this to be wrong.

Others suggest that the American injury count is way over the current number (as of last Thursday) of 2,298. One wire service account, indeed, had over 4000 injuries being "processed" as of a few weeks ago. A bit of investigation, however, revealed that this number included all patients that pass through the military hospitals, not just soldiers wounded in Iraq.

But there were several very relevant queries as well:

* What about non-American coalition casualties? By only reporting American deaths, in this view, the press softens the true cost of war. As of Nov. 13, there have been 75 non-American coalition deaths in Iraq.

* What about contractors who die while working in Iraq? Many contractors work in Iraq in close proximity to U.S. soldiers. "Estimates range from under 10,000 to more than 20,000 -- which could make private contractors the largest U.S. coalition partner ahead of Britain's 11,000 troops," the AP reported recently. There is no complete tally of fatalities, but three employees of Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, have been killed in Iraq since the war began, a Halliburton spokeswoman told me last week. One died in a vehicle accident, another in an ambush, a third due to an anti-tank mine.

* What about Iraqi deaths -- especially Iraqi civilian deaths? While no accurate tally of this category exists, Iraq Body Count, a group of British and American researchers, estimates that between 7,863 and 9,693 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war began in March. The Guardian newspaper of Britain estimates that somewhere between 13,500 and 45,000 Iraqi soldiers have died in the conflict. …

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