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

 Networks Need to Be Skeptical of Both Sides
 Reporters Repeated NATO Falsehoods on Refugee Bombing

 May 21, 1999

 In the latest in a series of  "accidental" bombings of Yugoslavian
 civilians by the U.S., at least 87 ethnic Albanians were killed May 13
 in the Kosovo village of Korisa.  But the Pentagon did not admit that
 it had in fact bombed the village until several days later; during the
 first news cycle, when the story was big news, U.S. and NATO officials
 advanced a variety of cover stories in order to deny or reduce its
 guilt.  And network news media were all too eager to carry these false

 Here's NBC's Jim Miklaszewski on May 14, the day after the bombing,
 reporting that NATO officials are "fairly certain" they didn't bomb
 the village:

 "NATO's still investigating, but privately, Pentagon officials believe
 the Serbs attacked the village with mortars or small artillery, and
 then laid the blame on NATO."

 Meanwhile, officials were "privately" giving ABC an entirely different
 story.  Here's ABC's John Cochran on the same night:

 "Privately, though, U.S. officials say American planes apparently did
 bomb Korisa, where they say there were legitimate military targets,
 including troops and anti-aircraft artillery. NATO analysts are
 looking at the possibility that, after the bombing, the Serbs
 shelled the town with artillery to make the devastation appear even
 worse.  The analysts say the pictures from the scene do not seem to match the
 damage they believe was caused by the bombs."

Why did officials lead the networks to such divergent conclusions?
First, when you hear about such NATO "investigations," keep in mind that
in modern warfare, planes drop bombs on specified targets whose
coordinates are precisely known. Nonetheless, NBC ran with NATO's
"fairly certain" denial of even targeting the village without a shred of
evidence, when NATO's own targeting data would have revealed the truth.

 ABC, on the other hand, offers NATO's alternate explanation: that Serb
 forces shelled the village after a NATO attack. Again, no
 substantiation was ever offered for the charge that Yugoslavians had
 themselves shelled the site to worsen the carnage. After NATO
 officials dropped this claim, and openly admitted that they had in
 fact bombed the Albanians, they settled on a new story to try to
 redirect the blame for the mass slaughter: The refugees were "human
 shields" who were brought to a military facility in hopes that they
 would be killed and provide a propaganda victory for Yugoslavia. (New
 York Times, 5/15/99)

 But press accounts from the scene cast doubt on the idea that Korisa
 was a military target: The London Independent, reporting from the
 scene, noted on May 16 that "Western journalists who visited the scene
 saw burnt scraps of flesh and the scattered possessions of
 villagers--but no sign of a military presence beyond a small number of
 soldiers apparently billeted in nearby homes."  Reports from
 journalists at the site (e.g., L.A. Times, 5/15/99; Independent,
 5/16/99) suggest that NATO bombs were not aimed at any obvious
 military target, but at the tractors and wagons of the refugees.

 Still, most of the press accepted the "human shields" story with
 little questioning--including those news outlets that had reported
 NATO's original falsehoods without a hint of skepticism.  U.S. news
 reports are properly skeptical of Yugoslavian government assertions,
 since many of Belgrade's claims turn out to be wrong.  Shouldn't
 independent journalists apply the same standards to NATO's frequently
 inaccurate statements as well?

ACTION ALERT: Please contact the TV networks and urge them to show
skepticism of unverifiable claims made by both Yugoslavia and NATO,
since both sides have made a series of claims that have turned out to be

 ABC News
 47 W. 66 St., New York, NY 10023
 Phone: 212-456-7777
 Fax: 212-456-4297

 CBS News
 524 W. 57 St., New York, NY 10019
 Phone: 212-975-4321
 Fax: 212-245-7560

 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112
 Phone: 212-664-4444

                             (212) 633-6700
                          E-mail: fair@fair.org

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