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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tricky, Don't Use That Number

Sunday Update:   AP just out with another tough piece from them.  See opening: 
"The U.S. government insists it has the intelligence to prove it, but the public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence produced by U.S. intelligence – no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications – connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people."  AP has asked for any evidence, and been refused.

Then the story goes, as I have for the past week, to call the 1429 number dead claim into question.  List of names hasn't grown since 355....

 Every day in more than one story, the NYT continues to give credence to the 1400 number, claimed by Kerry and Obama last week, citing it over and over without the qualifier than nearly all other sources disagree and place it much lower.  Here's just one example today.  Again:  This serves to make the attack seem even more horrifying than it probably was--sparking more support for our assault. And I don't see the Times challenging the lack of transparency on this and probe true number.

Thursday update:   The White House just launched a new site to push for its attack.  Note how it qualifies  that 1,429 number--yet that number taken as near-gospel by media and supporters in Congress for days:  "A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children, though this assessment will certainly evolve as we obtain more information."  Since so many fell for that number, no need for them to make it less "preliminary" or show how it has "evolved."

Earlier: Days have passed,  and we still have no idea where Secretary of State John Kerry got that amazingly precise number of 1429 killed in the alleged Syria chemical attack in August.  Hasn't cited or explained or taken questions on that.  Merely says can't say because it would "compromise" intel, which sounds like utter bull.  And other sources put the number a lot lower.  Obviously the higher number, along with also unproven claim of more than 400 kids, is meant to sell it to the American people--and that's why it's key.  But most in U.S. media still cited the number with little qualifying or probing.

That's starting to change, finally, although few in media charging Kerry with a lie.   In the midst of a major AP story tonight  (on the U.S. missing signs of the chemical attack) the reporter notes:  "The administration says 1,429 died in the attack. Casualty estimates by other groups are far lower."

Mark Seibel, a top McClatchy editor, was on Democracy Now! today taking up that issue, among others, and full transcript is here.  An L.A. Times piece today took a very tough look at it, citing the lower figures from the Brits and French.  And this:
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women. Rami Abdul-Rahman, a Syrian expatriate who runs the organization from his home in Britain, said he was shocked by the White House's count.
"I don't know where this number came from," Abdul-Rahman said in a phone interview.
He said some Syrian opposition groups disseminate propaganda and exaggerated death tolls in an attempt to sway American politicians.  "The U.S. took this high number from one part of the Syrian opposition that is supported by the U.S. government," Abdul-Rahman said. "We don't trust them."
A former CIA official tells the Times:  "I would suspect most of that information would be on the high side initially.  You'll have sources who want to influence you, so they'll give higher figures." Also see in-depth Marcy Wheeler post here.  (My book on how the media helped give us Iraq war, and keep us there.)

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