Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Friendly Fire. (Press & Media)

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Friendly Fire. (Press & Media)

Article excerpt

"The Civilian Casualty Conundrum" by Lucinda Fleeson, in American Journalism Review (Apr. 2002), Univ. of Maryland, 1117 Journalism Bldg., College Park, Md. 20742-7111.

How many civilians did U.S. forces inadvertently kill in the war in Afghanistan? Critics, many eager to show that the number was large--more perhaps than the thousands of Americans killed on September 11--complained that the U.S. news media soft-pedaled civilian deaths and were too slow coming up with a total. Fleeson, a former reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, is having none of it.

"Obtaining accurate accounts of civilian deaths is one of the most difficult challenges of war reporting," she writes. "Journalists must weigh conflicting information, exaggerations and lies as they constantly debate: How many sources do we need? How reliable are eyewitnesses, who might be in shock or have political agendas? What good are secondhand accounts?" Compounding the usual difficulties were Afghanistan's terrain and "near Stone Age conditions." Correspondents had to travel in armed convoys and risk encounters with "bandits, warring tribes, land mines and stray bombs."

Unfazed by the absence of hard data, some American academics used the Internet to gather news accounts from around the world and came up with their own estimates of civilian deaths: 3,767 as of last December 6, said Marc. …

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