Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stenographer Alert!

I have often embraced Bill Moyers' assessment of our corporate media as "stenographers to power". I think this is a more accurate description rather than labeling the media as inherently liberal or conservative.

Here is a perfect example from Pam Benson over at CNN. In the story that you can find at that link, she reports that the White House has authorized an expansion of the CIA Predator Drone program. Benson sources the information to an anonymous "U.S. Official" and then states:

The U.S. official took exception to reports that hundreds of civilians have been killed in the Predator attacks.

The official said the strikes are "extremely precise" against terrorist targets and that only a "small fraction" of those killed have been civilians.

Last May, CIA director Leon Panetta would not discuss the specifics of the air strikes, but he did say they were "very effective" and resulted in few civilian deaths.

The quote above is how the story ends. What public good is served to the reader of this story by simply repeating what an anonymous "U.S. Official" says? Are these statements true or is this Official just trumpeting this government program because it is part of his/her job? We will never know because the source remains anonymous (it is never mentioned why) and Benson just acts as a stenographer and writes down what she was told. This type of story is a prime example of how the corporate media often gets it wrong.

A better, more critical story, would have also mentioned some more details about the controversial use of these predator drones. Perhaps it would have been relevant to mention the report that came out of the Pakistani paper The News last April that found that 687 Pakistani civilians have been killed in these drone strikes since 2006.

This Foreign Policy study counters the reports in the Pakistani paper yet still finds that about one-third of those killed in drone strikes are likely civilians.

I would think that this information would be relevant to an article about the White House expanding this drone program and to shed greater truth on the topic.

Instead, what we get from CNN's Pam Benson is a quick story that cites one anonymous "U.S. Official" who (while offering no evidence) claims that these reports are not accurate. Perfect if your idea journalism is simply writing down what Government officials tell you without looking into the validity of their claims.


Grumpy said...

Chris, this is war and in war there are going to be civilian casualties. If your attitude had prevailed in WWII, we would all be speaking German now. I want our troops home as soon as possible, but if they are going to be in harm's way, I would rather we take out some bad guys with drones and not have to send foot patrols after them.

Chris said...


But the issue at hand in this post is about how this story was reported not over the issue of drones in general.

The reports on the ground do not seem to support the anonymous U.S. Official who claims that these drone strikes have only killed a "small fraction" of civilians. Combine that with the fact that these drone strikes are controversial to begin with and it becomes clear that CNN should have gone into more detail instead of merely reporting what their anonymous source stated.