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NYT Bias Watch

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In their continuing effort to undermine US efforts in Iraq, the New York Times resorts to blatant falsehood in an article claiming Baghdad has the highest murder rate in the world: How High Is the Murder Rate in Baghdad? (Hat tip: Michael S.)

A New York Times op-ed by two Brookings Institution researchers, Adriana Lins de Albuquerque and Michael O’Hanlon, claims that Baghdad’s murder rate is among the highest in the world. Supposedly Baghdad’s annualized murder rate from April to October this year ranged from an incredible 100 to 185 per 100,000 people — a number, they pointed out, that averaged several times greater than the rate in Washington, D.C. …

Yet, according to the Wall Street Journal Europe, the U.S. Army 1st Division in Baghdad reports that the numbers fell continually from a high of 19.5 per 100,000 in July to only 5 per 100,000 in October. The October rate is actually lower than the 5.6 U.S. murder rate in 2002. By contrast, the New York Times’ latest numbers for October claim to show a murder rate of 140 per 100,000 — a difference of 28-fold!

Albuquerque and O’Hanlon not only imply that murders are rampant, but generally rising. By contrast, the Wall Street Journal Europe shows crime is under control and falling. If the Wall Street Journal Europe proves correct, Rumsfeld is vindicated. The murder rate would then never be even half as high as that for Washington, D.C. If Albuquerque and O’Hanlon are right, Rumsfeld has some serious explaining to do.

So whom should we believe? The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal Europe?

I contacted the authors of both pieces. Albuquerque and O’Hanlon, who wrote the Times piece, provided two sources for their murder rate numbers: An article by Neil MacFarquhar in the New York Times (Sept. 16, 2003) and a piece by Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times (Oct. 11, 2003). Yet, both references clearly stated that much more than murder was included in the reports that they used from the Baghdad morgue. MacFarquhar notes that these deaths also included “automobile accidents” and cases where people “were shot dead by American soldiers,” cases that clearly did not involve murders. The Irish Times piece mentions that “up to a quarter of fatal shootings [in the morgue] are caused by U.S. troops.”

For some perspective, in D.C., murders account for fewer than 5 percent of all deaths. Even counting only the types of deaths explicitly mentioned in the stories citing the Baghdad morgue (accidental deaths, murders, suicides) and assuming that soldiers were engaged in the same type of fighting in D.C. as they are in Iraq, murders in D.C. would account for just a third of deaths. (The respective numbers for the U.S. as a whole are even lower: a half of one percent and 11 percent.) Obviously, counting these other deaths as “murders” in D.C. would imply that murders were three to 20 times more common than they actually were.

The Wall Street Journal Europe instead relied on the U.S. Army 1st Division stationed in Baghdad. A public affairs officer with that division, Jason Beck, confirmed for me that a large part of the Iraqi legal system is being overseen by the U.S. JAG officers, and they are using the same standards for murder rates as used in the U.S. and separating out murders from other deaths.

Numbers mean a lot. Perceptions that conditions in Iraq are deteriorating constantly gets play in evaluating whether President Bush deserves re-election. When a publication of record such as the New York Times gets Baghdad’s October murder rates wrong by up to a factor of 28 to 1 and no correction is issued, the consequences are significant. To equate accidental deaths and U.S. soldiers killing terrorists with murders is irresponsible.

And for further evidence of the Times’ disgraceful bias, here’s a piece on a new poll showing that President Bush’s approval ratings are substantially improved since the capture of Saddam—but the article’s tone is overwhelmingly pessimistic, and the quotes they publish from poll responders are full of negativity: Bush’s Approval Ratings Climb in Days After Hussein’s Capture.

“It’s a great thing; it’s one less threat to the world,” said Shari Cook, 44, a school cook from Farnam, Neb., and a political independent. “He’s a horrible, horrible man, but I don’t know that his capture makes up for all the lives that are being lost every day over there.”

Michael Grimaldi, 34, a Republican who is an ambulance dispatcher from Fairfield, N.Y., predicted that the capture of Mr. Hussein would result in a decrease in the bombings in Iraq. But Mr. Grimaldi said he was concerned that the United States was now stuck there.

“It seems to me that another Vietnam is happening,” he said. “I’m just hoping that since we’ve caught him, we can get our soldiers back home and let them deal with their problems on their own.”

UPDATE: LGF reader Melissa points out that Lara Marlowe of the Irish Times, quoted by the New York Times as a source for murder rates in Baghdad, is the wife of none other than über-idiotarian Robert “Hit Me! I Deserve it!” Fisk.

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