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F.A.I.R - assessment of media
Here is an assessment of the media coverage of the war in Yugoslavia, from the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):
May 21, 1999
NETWORKS NEED TO BE SKEPTICAL OF BOTH SIDES, REPORTERS REPEATED NATO FALSEHOODS ON REFUGEE BOMBING
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 stories.
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. (The New York Times, May 15, 1999.)
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., The Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1999; and The London Independent, May 16, 1999) 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?
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