Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have consistently underreported the number of fatalities resulting from US drone strikes. Research conducted by Jeff Bachman, co-director of the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs Program at American University, compares fatality reports from both papers to more completely researched reports from City University London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism. While the NYT reported only two civilian deaths out of 81 drone strikes covered, TBIJ found that there were actually 26 civilians killed. Likewise the Post had reported one civilian death out of 26 drone strikes covered. TBIJ documented seven.
When both the NYT and the Post covered 33 drone strikes that they reported caused civilian causalities, both claimed only nine deaths over the course of three different stories. TBIJ had found between 180-302 civilian deaths.
Bachman also references The Intercept’s “Drone Papers,” authored by Jeremy Scahill, which reports that many of the so-called “militants” killed by drone strikes were actually unarmed civilians. This, Scahill reports, is due to faulty intelligence reports, strikes killing more than the intended targets, and the wrongful labeling of the unknown deaths as “militants.” While these additional and miscategorized deaths are indicative of a deeper issue, the newspapers of record seem to have passed on covering this story or correcting the death tolls reported in their stories.
When Bachman contacted the Times and the Post about making corrections, neither would do so. He reports that an anonymous assistant from the Times Office of the Public Editor claimed, “We don’t re-report old stories, and that’s what would be required here.” It is important to note that the NYT has revisited old stories in the past; just not those dealing with civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. WP Assistant Managing Editor Sylvester Monroe told Bachman, “Even if the CIA were to acknowledge that its count was inaccurate, it would not be up to us to run a correction.”
As of December 1, 2015, no mainstream news sources have covered this issue and the NYT and WP have yet to acknowledge their inaccuracies. There is no indication that either publication is seeking out more accurate sources for future stories.
Jeff Bachman, “The New York Times and Washington Post are ignoring civilians killed by US drone strikes,” TheConversation.com. October 22, 2015. http://theconversation.com/the-new-york-times-and-washington-post-are-ignoring-civilians-killed-by-us-drone-strikes-49416.
John Hanrahan, “Research Shows Mainstream Media Don’t Do Follow-Up Reporting to See if Civilians Are Killed in US Drone Strikes,” Truthout, November 28, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33810-research-shows-new-york-times-washington-post-don-t-do-follow-up-reporting-to-see-if-civilians-are-killed-in-us-drone-strikes.
Jeremy Scahill, “The Drone Papers,” The Intercept, October 15, 2015, https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/the-assassination-complex/.
Student Researcher: Maris Lambie (SUNY Buffalo State)
Faculty Evaluator: Michael Niman (SUNY Buffalo State)