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Saturday, December 18, 2010


Asymmetric reporting

AP provides a great example of asymmetric reporting today. In an article about how the CIA chief in Pakistan was chased out of the country by a lawsuit and death threats because of his responsibility for killing civilians with drone strikes, AP writes:
The U.S. spy agency's drone war has eliminated terrorist leaders but also has led to accusations that the strikes kill innocent civilians.
But if anything, this sentence stands reality on its head. Drone strikes may or may not have "eliminated terrorist leaders"; we know from experience that everytime we read a report that "the #2 man in Al Qaeda has been killed," there's a high probability the report is false. And while there certainly are questions about the number of innocent civilians that have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan (not to mention many other countries), it is really way beyond dispute that at least some innocent civilians have been killed. But because it's the U.S. government who claims that "terrorist leaders" have been "eliminated," those claims are simply repeated as fact, while because it's Pakistanis (or Iraqis or Yemenis or Afghans) who are the ones claiming that "innocent civilians" have been killed (never mind that many of those claims have been verified by reporters), those claims are just "accusations," not actual facts.

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