Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Darfur vs. Iraq, the New York Times vs. New York Times

[First posted 5/9, 8:41 a.m.; updated and bumped]

It's just one word in a article: "killed":

About 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur -- either by violence or by disease and famine -- since ethnic African rebels rose up in early 2003.
Have you ever seen the word "killed" applied to people who have died from disease or famine (otherwise known as malnutrition) in Iraq, or pretty much anyplace else? The issue does arise, as I have discussed in writing about the distinction between the figures for Iraqi dead, as estimated by the Johns Hopkins/Lancet study, and the numbers of Iraqis "killed," as estimated, for example, by Iraq Body Count. But the media has uniformly discounted the former, and never, to my knowledge, used the word "killed" to apply to people who met their death by "natural" causes.

The other interesting comparison is that number, 200,000. I have no idea where it comes from, nor am I questioning it. But I'll just note that Iraq is a largely urban country with large cities, hospitals, morgues, etc., while Darfur is an almost entirely rural region of Sudan. It's curious that the media can quote authoritative figures for the numbers of people killed in Darfur, but don't have a clue how many people have been killed (or have died) in Iraq, isn't it?

The second half of the title of this post is a teaser. The article quoted above is a New York Times article, written by Lydia Polgreen, but appearing in the San Jose Mercury News. The article also appears in the New York Times itself. And the first 16 paragraphs are identical, the next three nearly so. Then the articles diverge, until we get to the way the Times phrases the sentence cited above:

Mr. Egeland visited Kalma in part because the situation here is emblematic of the conflict, which has raged for three years, killed 200,000 people and driven more than two million from their homes.
So in the Mercury News version, "about" 200,000 people have been killed "by violence or by disease and famine," whereas in the Times version, 200,000 people (no "about" about it, and certainly no "estimated") have simply been "killed." Of course I have no way to explain the differences--were they the result of the author's rewriting the story herself, two different editors reworking the same story, etc. I only point to the rather interesting differences between them.

Update: I decided to do just a little research. Here's an interesting "fact sheet" you can find on the U.S. State Department's website. It appears to be the most recent thing they have; unfortunately, it's dated March 25, 2005. Interestingly, it uses the same "excess deaths" concept as the widely disparaged Johns Hopkins study in Iraq, and produces a result with wide variance: "63-146,000 'excess' deaths can be attributed to violence, disease, and malnutrition because of the conflict." It also claims that "wildly divergent death toll statistics, ranging from 70,000 to 400,000, result from applying partial data to larger, nonrepresentative populations over incompatible time periods." I can't find anything more recent that appears to qualify as actual data, rather than just claims. Nevertheless, even this one study from a year ago indicates that the "certainty" suggested by the New York Times' use of the figure "200,000" is surely not warranted.

Why stop here? There's more...

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