US ‘hiding’ casualty figures in Afghanistan? December 23, 2006Posted by franklittle in Afghanistan, media, Media and Journalism, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.
Firstly, I am not, despite two posts in a row, trying to take over from WBS, and secondly, I really do have to stop using question marks in the titles of my posts.
A short one this time. The indispensible Mother Jones has a really interesting interview with Rick Scavetta, the former US Army chief of media operations in Afghanistan, who finished up in February 2006. Short, snappy and interesting.
For me, the bit that really stuck out a section on page two, edited quotes below:
“MJ: What are other ways to manipulate public opinion?
RS: Since I’ve been home…I get the casualty lists. The thing that’s startling is that they’re masking the casualties, the cost of the war in Afghanistan…..
MJ: What? Masking the casualties? I’ve never heard this before.
RS: It’s a public relations tactic. A news cycle lasts 48 to 72 hours. Say Johnny Smith from New Haven, Conn., is in Kunar Province where his American infantry battalion is operating. He’s in a fight with local insurgents — not Osama bin Laden, maybe some foreign fighters, but mostly local. Johnny Smith dies in combat. Within 24 hours there’s a news release that comes out of this island we call Kabul that says a coalition soldier was killed in Afghanistan today. We’re not going to give out his name because we’re going to say, “The next of kin have to be notified.” We’re not going to give out his nationality because we’re all part of this quote “coalition.”
But here’s the sad fact: 99.99 % of coalition forces in Kunar are in fact American. So now in the news — NBC news, national news, wire services — the only thing that’s released is that a “coalition” soldier was killed in Afghanistan today.
And 72 hours later when the DOD finally releases Private Johnny Smith’s name, the New Haven Register and Channel 8 will pick up the memorial service and how sad Johnny’s family is. But in San Francisco, they never hear about it. In Minnesota, they never hear about it. In Florida, they never hear about it.”
I put ‘hiding’ in inverted commas because he is not suggesting that the number of US casualties is dishonestly represented, merely that the release of news is managed in such a way as to ensure the damaging impact on home morale in the US of US casulaties is minimised. Oh, and subscribe to Mother Jones, support independent investigative journalism, there’s not much of it and it’s named after an Irish-American :)