On Oct. 11, the Washington Post's David Brown filed Study Claims Iraq's 'Excess' Death Toll Has Reached 655,000, reporting this year's Lancet pre-election broadside against the war. While Brown noted the earlier study claiming 100,000 deaths was "controversial" and said this one would be too, he failed to cite a single critic attacking it. He did quote outside experts who support the study, and of course one of its co-authors, Gilbert Burnham. Since then the paper's only mention of the study has been in passing, again without any mention of its critics.
This blinkered view of the world was exposed today in a live chat with Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman:
Cumberland, Md.: The story from last week that has stayed
with me the most is that 2.5 percent of the Iraqi population has died
as a result of the war. That's amazing and sad and incredible and I
wonder why people aren't more shaken up about this? If that happened
here, based on the latest that America's got 300 million people, it'd
be 7.5 million people. Even so, I think the report said that something
like 600,000 people have died because of this. I know there are
elections coming up here, and the voters can express their opinions
then, but are they listening to all of this? Thanks.
It was a shocking statistic, but it was quickly dismissed by President
Bush. The number became just another partisan issue, with Republicans
on one side and Democrats on the other. And as such, people tend to
dismiss such stories as just more political gamesmanship. That's sad
for the researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who after all are not
doing the work of the Democratic National Committee.
Well, not on paid staff anyway. As Newsbusters' Mark Finkelstein pointed out, but the Post has not, co-author Les Roberts unsuccessfully campaigned
this year to become the Democratic nominee for the 24th Congressional
District in upstate New York, and said the Iraq war was launched "under
unsupportable, and probably illegal, pretenses." As Finkelstein and Charles Johnson
have reported, but the Post has not, Lancet editor Richard Horton is a
fierce critic of the war, and Tony Blair, and President Bush. At an
antiwar rally, Horton said:
[the British] government… prefers to support the killing of
children instead of the building of hospitals and schools…As this axis
of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and
conquest, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people
are left to die in poverty and disease.”
If you want to learn about these things, don't read the Washington Post. Read one of my commenters, ErnestD.
And while Weisman says the Lancet statistic was "quickly rejected by
President Bush," it wasn't rejected only by President Bush, as I've been saying for days.
Finkelstein's post cites a number of critics outside the Administration
quoted by the BBC online, AP, and The New York Times. And now we have Iraq Body Count. None of this seems to have arrived inside Weisman's head. Which allows him to say this:
Bethesda, Md.: Two questions. (1)On the Johns Hopkins study
that the Bush administration summarily dismissed, what is Hopkins doing
to counter this disinformation campaign? (2) If the Dems. win the
House, is Pelosi really a shoe-in for Speaker or might the Dems. decide
on a different or more effective voice to represent them? and if so,
who's in the running? Thanks. (I guess thats really three questions.)
1) Nothing. It's not the place of researchers to counter a political
campaign, and they did not release their study to be part of the
Of course not. And the last study these folks co-authored, also
published by the Lancet, also just happened to appear in October 2004
before the last national elections. Most likely the authors wanted to
get it out so they could relax on one of those autumn foliage tours.
Philadelphia, Pa.: "That's sad for the researchers at Johns
Hopkins University, who after all are not doing the work of the
Democratic National Committee."
I wish that point would be made
more often when reporters are covering this story. And that the truth
isn't biased, it's the truth....
Jonathan Weisman: The truth is the truth,
but statistics are not necessarily. The Hopkins study was done by
taking a relatively small sample of households and extrapolating
outward. Just like any academic study, it is subject to legitimate
In theory. In practice at the Post, not so much.
Centreville, Va.: I would remind "Independent" from Arlington
that reporters don't make the news, only report on it. I may be naive,
but I've never really understood the position that the press has a bias
one way or another. I read the stories and decide what to think on my
own. Whatever a reporter's political affiliation, if any, do you think
that most reporters are able to simply report the facts, and let the
facts speak for themselves?
Jonathan Weisman: I think we
are very able. We have multiple layers of editors, and because of folks
like Independent, we are very conscious of perceived bias.
Centreville: Yes. You may be naive. Mr. Weisman: Please unblock your
multiply layered firewalls that apparently lie between you and the
Lancet's critics. Otherwise people ask questions like this (typos in
Twinbrook, Md.: How can Bush just get away with dismissing
the Iraqi death toll study with a wave of his hand? This was a peer
reviewd study using standard widly accepted scientifice methods. How
come that hasn't gotten more press?
Jonathan Weisman: It's
gotten a lot of press, but for goodness sakes, we have a lot to write
about these days. (And we're spending a lot of time on Internet chats.)
Or, in the immortal words of Eugene Robinson, the study provided Science-Based Evidence.
Update: My favorite line in this long post? We have multiple layers of editors. Weisman actually said that.
Cross-posted, with slight alterations, at PostWatch