The Rosie O’Donnell-Elisabeth Hasselbeck battle is big news. In a modern female version of CNN’s old Crossfire show, these panelists on ABC’s “The View” let the rhetoric fly on issues like the Iraq War. But there is more at stake than a clash of media personalities. Whatever happened to the media’s responsibility to get the facts right?
On May 17, Rosie implied that U.S. Government officials¯and U.S. soldiers in Iraq¯were terrorists, saying, “I just want to say something. 655,000 Iraqi civilians are dead. Who are the terrorists?” When Hasselbeck incredulously repeated Rosie’s statement, “Who are the terrorists?…Who are you calling terrorists?” Rosie attempted to clarify, saying, “I’m saying that if you are in Iraq and another country, the United States, the richest in the world, invaded your country and killed 655,000 of your citizens, what would you call us?” She later attempted to distinguish between supporting the troops while opposing the government that sent them to Iraq.
But where did this figure of 655,000 come from?
It’s based on a study released last October by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for the British magazine Lancet. The figure is said to be “excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war.” But this study was shown to be wildly off base, as I pointed out in a column last November.
From the political backgrounds and agendas of the authors of the study, to their methodology, to their ignoring the evidence that would suggest that in fact there has likely been a substantial saving of lives through better hospitals and medical care and a vastly increased average life span, this report was badly flawed and misrepresented in the media. Incredibly, the study gives the number of 655,000, but with a plus or minus 250,000. If such a study were accurate, it would suggest that in the 1,300 or so days between the start of the war and the release of the report, an average of over 500 “excess Iraqi deaths” were occurring every day, seven days a week. This is preposterous.
There have been some days when civilian deaths numbered in the hundreds, and these make big news. For example, after the Golden Mosque in Samarra was blown up in February, 2006, it set off what has widely been called the worst week of sectarian violence in the entire war, and the estimated figure was that 1,300 died in that week.
The figure of dead Iraqis is probably closer to 50,000 than 650,000. How many of them were terrorists? And of those civilian dead, a significant number, probably a majority, was killed by insurgents or jihadists.
Roger Aronoff is a media analyst with Accuracy in Media, and is the writer/director of “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.