Ahmad M (2016) The magical realism of body counts: How media credulity and flawed statistics sustain a controversial policy. Journalism, 17 (1), pp. 18-34. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884915593237
The drone war in Pakistan poses humanitarian, legal, ethical and political challenges. The tactic is controversial and has been condemned by the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. Yet, polls have shown high support for the tactic in the United States (and to a lesser degree in the United Kingdom). Much of this has to do with the media reporting on the war, which consistently underestimates its human toll. Dubious statistics have sustained the image of a surgical war with little collateral damage. But as this article shows, there are reasons to doubt these numbers. The article argues that two interrelated factors have contributed to a flawed accounting of the war’s human toll: (1) rituals of objectivity that privilege ‘official sources’ and (2) fetishizing of statistics as hard facts without regard for the underlying data. The coverage has also been distorted by news values that downplay or ignore deaths in distant places unless they cross an inordinately high threshold.
Drones; military; news values; objectivity; propaganda; secrecy; sourcing; statistics; technology
Journalism: Volume 17, Issue 1