In Pakistan, according to American officials, strikes from Predators and Reapers operated by the CIA have killed more than 2,000 militants; the number of civilian casualties is hotly debated. In Yemen last month, an American citizen was, for the first time, the intended target of a drone strike, as Anwar al-Awlaki, the Qaeda propagandist and plotter, was killed along with a second American, Samir Khan.
“Coming Soon: The Drone Arms Race,” The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2011
Do civilians die in war? Not according
to U.S. officials. Are their claims trustworthy or verifiable? It doesn’t
matter. What does is that they’re making them.
A number of things are noteworthy about
the recent piece in The New York
Times, excerpted above, on China getting into the unmanned killer
drone game. First, there are some basic factual errors. Last month,
for instance, was not “the first time” an American citizen
was the target of a U.S. drone strike; back
in May, Awlaki in fact survived
an earlier such assassination attempt that left two of his companions dead.
And since the list of Americans determined by the Obama administration
to be eligible for due-process-free death by drone is classified, and
since the drone strikes themselves are often not even acknowledged by
U.S. officials, we really don’t know if — and the Times plainly
can’t say with certainty — even that strike was the actually the
first attempt on an American citizen’s life.
Most interesting, though, is what the
piece shows about the willingness of the Times to print, unchallenged,
claims by U.S. officials — and how readily it’s willing to ignore or
downplay widely reported facts when they’re disputed by those in power.
For example, we are told as a matter of unattributed fact that Awlaki
was a terrorist “plotter,” despite the lack of any solid evidence
for that assertion having been made public by American officials. Indeed, Reuters
reports that those very
officials acknowledge “the intelligence purporting
to show Awlaki’s hands-on role in plotting attacks was patchy.”
Experts on the ground in Yemen also report Awlaki “did not have
any real role” in the organization he was accused of being a part
And yet, there it is: “Anwar al-Awlaki,
the Qaeda propagandist and plotter.”
Then there is the line about the number
of “militants” killed by CIA drone strikes. Here, the Times
is very specific: 2,000 have died, though the assertion this time comes
with an “according to American officials.” Are these militants
members of al-Qaeda? The Taliban? Just men between the ages of 12 and
60 who don’t passively accept a U.S. military occupation in their backyard?
The paper doesn’t see fit to tell its readers. It probably didn’t bother
to find out.
A U.S. official said it, after all.
The Times also doesn’t appear
to have bothered to find out the number of innocent men, women, and children
whose lives have been extinguished by flying death robots. That unmentionable
number is merely “hotly disputed” — and the details of the
dispute are not worth reporting.
Never mind that Daniel Byman of the
Brookings Institution, hardly a radical antiwar group, suggests
that “for every militant
killed, 10 or so civilians also died.” Put aside the fact that the New
America Foundation more conservatively estimates that one
in five of those killed
are civilians. And forget that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
credible reports that “[m]ore
than 160 children” and somewhere between “385-775 civilians”
have been killed in U.S. drone strikes. The mere fact that Obama administration
officials like John Brennan assert, contrary
to all available evidence,
that few if any civilians have died is all that matters to a respectable
The lesson for those who wish to be
successful in the corporate media is this: If a U.S. national security
official asserts something, dutifully report it, preferably
with no attribution. Objective facts, on the other hand, are not to
be published if an anonymous government official takes issue
with them, or if they’re just too darn anti-Americany.
Remember, the purpose of the corporate press is to service the needs of the state and its corporate masters. While there may be instances of quality journalism in the likes of The Washington Post and The New York Times, their chief purpose is serving the corporate-state agenda, not the public interest. And the key to any fact being ignored or “hotly disputed” is the degree to which it challenges that mission.