Volokh Conspiracy scoops the Times on phony Gaza casualty stats UPDATE: The BBC catches on, too

August 7, 2014

Back on July 26th, I pointed out that reporters were engaging in journalistic malpractice by simply accepting civilian casualty figures coming out of totalitarian Hamas-controlled Gaza as gospel. (Hamas’s own policy is clear: “Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine.”)

Two days ago, the NY Times had a reasonably balanced discussion of the dispute over how many of the casualties in Gaza have been civilians, including this paragraph: “The Times analysis, looking at 1,431 names, shows that the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll: They are 9 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34 percent of those killed whose ages were provided. At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.”

The article also has this precious line: “News reports generally rely on the United Nations’ estimate of civilians killed [in fact, as noted below, they, including the Times, often rely on the Ministry of Health, controlled by Hamas]. Matthias Behnke, a United Nations official, said those numbers came from cross-referencing research by several human rights groups, though he declined to say how many, which ones or what methods they used”–which didn’t stop reporters around the world from simply accepting them, despite the fact that UN officials in Gaza are utterly dependent on Hamas for their well-being and security, and tend in any event to be hostile to Israel.

The Times itself has had an interesting history of its reporting on casualties. For the first couple weeks of the war, it referred to “X deaths in Gaza, most of them civilians.” It then switched to “X deaths in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health,” without making it clear that the Ministry is controlled by Hamas. In the last ten days or so, perhaps responding to accumulating doubts about the casualty figures, the Times has been much more reticent about describing Gazan casualties.

FOOTNOTE: The unreliability of the statistics coming out of Gaza not only hasn’t stopped the media from relying on them, it also, not surprisingly, hasn’t stopped Ken Roth, chairman of Human Rights Watch, who, again not surprisingly, credits figures coming out of both the UN and unnamed “rights groups” but doesn’t even mention Israeli military estimates, for which the IDF claims documentation, that about half the casualties have been Hamas fighters. But Roth has long argued that information from Israel or its supporters is all “lies and deception” meant to undermine objective human rights reporting from HRW (something I can type, but not say, with a straight face).

UPDATE: The BBC, which typically accepts Palestinian and UN propaganda as fact, suddenly expresses skepticism: “if the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women….In conclusion, we do not yet know for sure how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters.” So when are media outlets worldwide going to issue a public apology for parroting propaganda about civilian casualties without undertaking independent investigation?

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA. His latest book, Lawless: The Obama Administration's Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law, will be published in November.
Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read National

national

volokh-conspiracy

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters