Media hypes flawed study

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100,000 Iraqi civilians estimated killed

That’s the headline of a Washington Post story the Chronicle ran the other day, based on a newly released “analysis” done by some researchers. In the fourth paragraph of the story, Human Rights Watch says the numbers appear to be inflated. Human Rights Watch! Which pretty much tells us that what follows is junk, if that group doesn’t even buy it.

The study has been demolished here, here, and here. (There are probably more out there.)

But since the Chronicle didn’t feel the need to offer a second, more skeptical follow-up story, today we find this letter to the editor in the Chronicle:

Everyone should read the Chronicle’s Oct. 29 article “100,000 Iraqi civilians estimated killed.”

More than 10 percent of the population of Fallujah (mostly women and children) have been killed by bombs dropped by the U.S. military since we invaded Iraq.

While at work or at the grocery store, just imagine one in every 10 people you see being killed.

Or just imagine one in 10 in your own family being killed from traumatic injuries sustained during attacks.

Is it any wonder that the civilian workers and military personnel associated with the U.S. occupation in Iraq are being targeted?

DOUG MARVY
Houston

Sure the Washington Post story carried a couple of quotes from people saying they didn’t think the numbers were right, but that’s not what the headline conveys and obviously that’s not what the major thrust of the story conveys, either. How do our troops feel, seeing a report like that? Eleanor Clift was on the McLaughlin Group last night, shrieking, “100,000 dead!” Some people will take this report as gospel, no matter what the truth is.

Which leads us to how this happened. Newspapers have editors for a reason – they are supposed to be the grown-ups who prevent missteps like this. That Human Rights Watch quote should have made an editor take a hard look at running this story. Just because the story came from the Washington Post is not a safeguard in and of itself. Yes, this was news, but it wasn’t the only news. And running with it because everyone else was doesn’t make it any less objectionable, now that the study has been shown to be terribly flawed.

Update: Here’s another skeptic who questions the timing of the study. There was some politics involved here? Who would have thought that?


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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.