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“The First Thing to Be Sacrificed During Wartime Is Truth”: As the Media Refuses to Report On Civilian Casualties of the US Campaign in Afghanistan, We’ll Look at Fifteen Years of the Mediawatch-Dog G

StoryJanuary 18, 2002
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The war isn’t over, but already Pentagon and intelligence agency teams are going to Afghanistan for a post-mortem onU.S. weapons and tactics. The Air Force has launched a similar effort, code-named “Enduring Look.” Yet neither ofthese studies, nor any others planned so far, is set to dig deeply into one of the toughest problems of thewar—civilian casualties. The omission reflects what may be a surprising fact: that behind a screen ofself-congratulatory public statements by senior officials, the U.S. military is tied in knots over the issue, knowneuphemistically as “collateral damage.” Since the Afghan war began more than three months ago, fear of criticismabout civilian casualties has spread through the Pentagon “like a virus,” as one senior commander put it.

“The first thing to be sacrificed during war is truth.” As we reported on Democracy Now, University of New Hampshireprofessor Mark Herold released a tally based on news reports suggesting that the number of civilian deaths from theU.S. campaign exceeds 4,000. But hardly any news outlets reported on it. In wartime, Fairness and Accuracy inReporting’s mission to defend a free and critical press has never been more urgent.

FAIR has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. FAIR works with bothactivists and journalists. Tits small staff maintains a regular dialogue with reporters at news outlets across thecountry, providing constructive critiques when called for and applauding exceptional, hard-hitting journalism. FAIRplays an essential role in the independent media movement, encouraging the public to become media activists and tomake their own media, rather than be passive consumers of news.

In 1989, FAIR did a groundbreaking study of ABC’s Nightline and found that its four most frequent guests were HenryKissinger, Alexander Haig, Elliott Abrams and Jerry Falwell. Over the years, FAIR has held the feet of the mediapowerful to the fire-such as when FAIR founder Jeff Cohen appeared on the Eleventh Hour and took on Robert McNeil.


  • Janine Jackson, Program Director, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR).
  • Laura Flanders, Journalist and Media Critic. Laura was the founder of the Women’s Desk at FAIR, andproduced and hosted FAIR’s weekly, syndicated radio show, “Counter Spin,” for more than 10 years. She is now the hostof Working Assets Radio which can be heard on KALW 91.7 in San Francisco and streaming live on the Internet.
  • Phil Donahue, former host of the daytime talk show Donahue, and winner of 20 Daytime Emmy Awards.


  • Jeff Cohen, founder of FAIR, on The Eleventh Hour.

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