Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
               Media analysis, critiques and news reports

 Massacres vs. Regrettable Accidents:
 Double-Standard for Coverage of Civilian Deaths in Yugoslavia

 Forty-seven civilians die when the bus they're riding on is hit by a
 missile and incinerated. Fifty-eight people are murdered in an attack
 on their village. The two killings, occurring in the same region,
 comparable in scale, must be equally worthy of investigation and
 condemnation, right? Not at the New York Times.

 "Survivor Tells of Massacre at Kosovo Village," said a May 3, 1999 New
 York Times front-page headline. Anthony DePalma's lengthy story gave a
 dramatic account of the killing of 58 Kosovar Albanians at Bela Crkva
 on March 25 (over a month past at the time of the front-page story),
 focusing heavily on the lingering anguish of the survivors.

 In the same day's Times, on page A14, is a brief story headlined "NATO
 Admits Missile Hit Bus but Says Bridge Was a Legitimate Target." This
 story by Philip Shenon reports NATO's admission that on May 1, a NATO
 missile hit a bus in Luzane, killing 47 Yugoslavian civilians. Shenon
 gives a fairly dry, straightforward account of NATO's statements that
 the deaths were accidental and regrettable, but understandable
 because, as a NATO spokesman says, the bridge the bus was on was "a
 legitimate military target."

 The assertion that roads and bridges regularly traveled by civilians
 are military targets was not questioned. Nor were the grieving
 families of the bus passengers interviewed.

 Outrage, sympathy and front-page focus for the 58 people killed a
 month ago by Serb forces. Clinical regret and a minimizing page A14
 for the 47 people killed two days ago by NATO forces. The two Times
 stories are an extreme though hardly unique example of the media's
 tendency to focus justifiable outrage on Serb atrocities, while
 presenting NATO forces as principled strategists who occasionally make

 How many mistakes? A Nexus search of the New York Times from March 23
 to May 3 found that, adding up the casualties reported in various
 articles, the Times has reported incidents in which a total of at
 least 231 Yugoslavian civilians have been killed by NATO since the
 start of the bombing.  (While Western journalists have examined the
 sites of most of these attacks, the source for casualty numbers is
 generally the Yugoslavian government; Yugoslavia claims NATO is
 responsible for 500 civilian deaths overall.)

 Yet estimates of total civilian casualties caused by NATO in
 Yugoslavia since the start of the bombing campaign have been
 conspicuously absent from mainstream coverage, even considering the
 difficulty of gathering data during a war. NATO's persistent focus on
 the "accidental" nature of the deaths is rarely questioned by the
 press; the strongest criticism usually comes in discussions of the
 damage such "accidents" do to NATO's PR image.

 Little effort is being made by the media to hold NATO accountable for
 deaths that result from attacks on targets that are mainly or entirely
 civilian, which would seem to be forbidden as targets by international
 law.  (One exception is "Is U.S. Committing War Crimes From on High?",
 an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5/3/99). Nor is there much
 concern expressed that "intensifying the air campaign" by striking
 military targets in urban areas will inevitably lead to the deaths of
 innocent people--indeed, media pundits have frequently urged the
 government to dismiss such concerns.  (See FAIR's action alert,
 "Civilian Casualties: Media Bear Part of the Blame," April 18, 1999.)

 ACTION ALERT: Please write to national and local media outlets and ask
 them to fully cover the civilian victims on both sides of the war.
 Coverage should make it clear that war crimes committed by either side
 are unacceptable.

Selected Media Contacts:

 New York Times

 Washington Post

 L.A. Times

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