Home > Analysis, media > FAIR: “How Many Afghan Kids Need to Die to Make the News?”

FAIR: “How Many Afghan Kids Need to Die to Make the News?”

Afghan children killed in the Afghan war (note: NOT from the March 1, 2011 U.S./NATO attack)

(Warning. Image on the left is graphic. Clicking on it will show a larger version of it. Seeing it has made me sick to my stomach.)

The U.N. reported in 2009 346 Afghan children were killed and more than half were killed by NATO, mostly through air strikes.

Just in the beginning of this month, nine Afghan children were killed by U.S./NATO helicopter attack in Kunar Province. Media watch-dog, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), has systemically documented the lack of coverage in the U.S. over this tragedy. I wondered if Americans are aware of the brutal deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan would they still support the bombings in Libya.

I just searched for images of children killed in the Afghan and Iraqi wars and saw some of them. If there is any real humanity in the Western media, they need to show these pictures, not just words justifying the wars. Without the images, Western citizens will continue to be apathetic to the horrific deaths the wars are causing. Below is analysis from FAIR:

How Many Afghan Kids Need to Die to Make the News?


The number of Afghan boys gathering firewood killed by a March 1 U.S./NATO helicopter attack in Kunar Province: Nine.

The number of stories about the killing of the nine children on ABCCBS or NBC morning or evening news shows (as of March 6): Two.

One was an 80-word report on NBC Nightly News (3/2/11), the other a brief ABC World News Sundaystory (3/6/11) about Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s “harsh words for the U.S.” after the “mistaken killing of nine Afghan boys in an airstrike.”

On the PBS NewsHour? Two brief mentions (3/2/11, 3/7/11), both during the “other news of the day” segment.

On NPR? Nothing. On the”liberal” MSNBC? Zero. Fox News Channel? Zero.

CNN had several mentions of the killings. In one report (3/2/11), correspondent Michael Holmes remarked: “It does a lot of damage to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. You don’t win hearts and minds that way.”

In the Washington Post (3/3/11), the children’s deaths were called “the latest irritant” in the relationship between U.S./NATO forces and the Afghan government. Civilian casualties are “a sore point,” and U.S. commander David Petraeus “has had to walk a fine line. Civilian casualties undermine NATO’s counterinsurgency mission here by angering Afghan civilians and bolstering the Taliban’s attempt to portray foreign troops as ruthless invaders.”

In contrast to the corporate media, Democracy Now! (3/3/11) talked about the attack as part of the larger story of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. “It was at least the third instance in two weeks in which the Afghan government accused NATO forces of killing large numbers of civilians in airstrikes,” host Juan Gonzalez noted in introducing a discussion. “An Afghan government panel is still investigating claims some 65 people, including 40 children, were killed in a U.S.-led attack last week.”

It is often said that Afghanistan is largely a forgotten war–a critique usually meant as a comment on the lack of attention paid to the hardships of U.S. military personnel. Far less consideration is granted to the Afghans who are suffering in far greater numbers.

  1. tc
    March 26th, 2011 at 06:28 | #1

    “Free” press means free to report something and free not to report other things. Free to pick what they want to report, so to speak.

    Pen is mightier than the sword. The western media know how to avoid reporting things like this. But, whenever they report about Chinese affairs, they always amplify the molehill to a mountain, or even downright distortion and fabrication. This is based on my 30 some years observation living in the west…. I DO NOT BELIEVE THEM.

  2. March 26th, 2011 at 08:11 | #2

    @tc #1,

    Here is an anecdotal evidence about “free press” choosing what to report. I was at the 2008 Olympic torch relay in San Francisco. As you may recall, it was a tumultuous time, with exile Tibetan and human rights activists trying to sabotage the relay at all cost.

    I was (really, really) surprised at the turnout of the anti-Chinese activists. But I was even more surprised at the Chinese supporters – which outnumbered the anti-Chinese ones by 2-1 if not more. Besides these two, there were even more “neutral” spectators who just wanted to see the torch.

    Guess what, I saw media people with camera trolling around, finding people to interview. They saw me, asked why I was there, and when I told them I was there to support China, they had a disappointed look and went on. I followed and saw that when the next person they asked told them they just wanted to see the torch, they had this disappointed look and moved on. This happened 5-6 times until they finally met someone who said he wanted to see a free Tibet. Then the journalist perked up, pulled the guy to the side, and have the cameramen start rolling the camera. They talked for more than 10 minutes… I talked to him afterwards, asked him about Tibet (to his credit he did know Tibet is in the eastern part of China, but other than that, didn’t know too much more except what you hear on the news). I also found he had been a “protester” all his life – it was his “identity” in life – and protesting about Tibet before like the Olympics seemed to him like right thing to do, at the right time, at the right place. More probing revealed that he was there because he had been urged to come through some massive email mailing that his friend passed on to him (they were supposed to meet up for lunch at some Chinese place afterwards).

    That night, I watched the news, and saw lots of pictures and photos of anti-Chinese protesters … and on one channel, a very brief bit about “surprising number of Chinese supporters.”

  3. March 26th, 2011 at 08:40 | #3

    To follow up on my annecdotal observation in #2, here is a copy of an article from FAIR, not necessarily a pro-China organization:

    Carrying a Torch for Anti-China Protests
    When an official enemy is targeted, media take notice

    By Julie Hollar

    For once, mainstream media have found an anti-government protest to embrace. When the Olympic torch arrived in San Francisco on April 9 and thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to decry human rights abuses by the Chinese government, journalists descended on the scene like ants at a picnic.

    CNN led the feeding frenzy. The cable network gave the torch and related stories more than 40,000 words of coverage throughout the day, according to a Nexis search, and it frequently played as the top story of the hour. During the three hours of Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room, five different correspondents and producers reported from the streets of San Francisco, one “Internet reporter” tracked protesters’ web and text messaging activity, and a correspondent in Beijing relayed Chinese reaction—which was minimal, since the action unfolded around 4 a.m. in China. Live feeds came in from several different helicopters circling over the city, and Blitzer boasted that “CNN is watching every angle of this developing story right now.”

    In many ways, it was a coup for protest organizers, whose message reached far and wide. Despite much shallow coverage and inane speculation about the whereabouts and path of the rerouted torch (Daily Show, 4/10/08), CNN actually did provide a number of different angles on the story and acknowledged its importance. “We will stay with the story, given the international ramifications of what’s going on,” explained Blitzer. “There’s so much at stake right now, not just the Summer Olympics, but a lot of diplomatic and economic ramifications, as well, as we watch very, very closely to see what’s going on.”

    And CNN did give the story more context and explore both background and ramifications. They interviewed an Olympic historian on past games-related protests; they turned to senior international correspondent Christiane Amanpour on the international political repercussions of the protests; and they briefly explained the situations in both Tibet and Darfur, interviewing high-level ambassadors and U.N. figures about them. They sought out the positions of the presidential candidates on the issue as well as those of George W. Bush and House Leader Nancy Pelosi. They explored the potential fallout for big U.S. companies like Coca-Cola that sponsor the Olympic Games. They even made their audience poll of the morning about whether an opening ceremony boycott would be an effective protest method to change Chinese policy.

    Not that the coverage strayed entirely from typical protest coverage. As usual, relatively few protesters were interviewed—along with a similar number of pro-Chinese government counter-protesters. And journalists seemed particularly enthralled by the potential for violence by protesters, particularly after attempts to grab or put out the torch along the London and Paris torch relays. Well before the relay began, CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield announced, “Something else we’re watching—about an hour-and-a-half from now, it’s expected that protesters, whether it be pro-China or perhaps free Tibet demonstrators, will potentially clash as the torch run makes its way through San Francisco.”

    Anchors repeatedly returned to the theme, looking for scuffles: “Are folks rowdy or are they pretty much under control right now?” asked anchor Don Lemon. Blitzer even interrupted a correspondent’s interview to track a minor confrontation between some protesters and police officers during the run. In the end, like most peace protests, the San Francisco protests were almost entirely peaceful, with only a few scuffles and arrests despite the massive police presence (L.A. Times, 4/10/08).

    Not inherently fascinating

    CNN’s torch protest coverage reveals an important lesson about protest coverage in general. Repression and violence … [anywhere] … deserve much more media attention than they receive. But surely protests targeting a pre-emptive war launched by CNN viewers’ own government, either with the aim of preventing it from being launched or ending it after hundreds of thousands of lost lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, would be significantly more newsworthy to an American audience than protests targeting the Chinese government’s actions.

    And yet, comparing word counts on the day of each protest, CNN gave the torch nearly five times the coverage of the most recent large-scale anti–Iraq War protest in January 2007, which drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington—and, as Extra! reported (3–4/07), more coverage than most previous anti-war demonstrations. Even the unprecedented protests that took place in February 2003, in which up to 30 million people in more than 600 cities around the world demonstrated against the imminent Iraq War (Guardian, 2/17/03)—the largest anti-war protests since the Vietnam War—only edged out the thousands of San Francisco torch protesters, in the number of words CNN devoted to them, by about five to four.

    It’s not that the media find the torch itself inherently fascinating. Before the last Summer Games in 2004, when it passed through four different U.S. cities, the torch run generated little media excitement. In fact, media outlets’ own involvement in the torch run seemed to determine its newsworthiness to them: The only broadcast network to give it more than a passing mention was NBC, which owned exclusive rights to the games, and CNN only gave it a brief spurt of attention when it came to CNN hometown Atlanta and a network correspondent acted as a torchbearer (6/18/04).

    Was it the unique mix of torch relay and protests? Olympic historian David Wallechinsky (4/9/08) told CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield: “In terms of protesting, you’ve never seen protests before on a torch relay. This is really the first time.” Whitfield replied, “Yes, you’ve never seen it take place like this, which means that’s why it’s kind of, in part, getting a lot of attention, because this is a moving target, and these protesters have been very aggressive.”

    In fact, just two years ago, the torch was the moving target of more than 33 protests as it wound its way through Italy for two months preceding the Winter Games in Turin (London Independent, 1/25/06). The majority of these focused on the environmental impact of a planned high-speed train from Turin to Lyons, France, which would tunnel through mountains containing asbestos and uranium (AFP, 12/10/05), though others protested the commercialization of the games and their cost to Italian taxpayers (London Guardian>, 2/9/06). The torch was rerouted at least four times in Italy because of protests; it was grabbed from a torchbearer’s hands momentarily, and once protesters threw a flag over it in a failed attempt to put out the flame—all remarkably similar to what happened to the 2008 torch in Paris and London.

    But U.S. media couldn’t have cared less. According to a Nexis search, NBC, which had rights to the games and devoted significantly more airtime to them than the others, mentioned the protests twice (NBC Nightly News, 2/5/06; Today, 2/9/06); CNN devoted less than 400 words to the story, and just about everyone apparently found the mix of the Olympic torch, protests and violence so unremarkable that they had completely forgotten about it by the time the 2008 protests rolled around.

    When hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters took to the streets in September 2005, CNN’s Aaron Brown admitted that “it’s true they didn’t get any coverage” from his network, which only made passing mentions of the protests, because “the national story today and the national conversation today is the hurricane”—meaning Rita, a storm that struck Louisiana and Texas (Media Advisory, 9/27/05). It’s a common media excuse—something else more important was happening, so we just didn’t have the time.

    Of course, what’s deemed important is a judgment call made by the media themselves. The day the torch hit San Francisco also happened to be the fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, and though the Iraqi city was under a tight curfew to prevent protests or violence, at least 23 Iraqis and five U.S. troops were killed. Meanwhile, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker appeared before Congress for the second of two days, calling for an indefinite halt to troop reductions and framing Iran as the top threat to the U.S. in Iraq (New York Times, 4/10/08).

    In newspapers, coverage of the embattled torch edged out coverage of Petraeus and the Iraq policy debate during the week of April 7–13. Despite the fact that no protests happened between April 10 and April 13 and thus coverage dropped dramatically, cable still managed to give the Olympics 6 percent of its news- hole for the entire week, less than the 11 percent they gave to the Iraq policy debate, but double the coverage they gave to events in Iraq (PEJ News Coverage Index, 4/7–13/08).

    Different target, different coverage

    There is one crucial difference between the protests: their targets. While the San Francisco protesters did hope to send a message to their own political representatives, the Chinese government was their ultimate target, and targeting China is firmly in the mainstream at a time when that country’s economic and political power is growing in the face of U.S. economic weakness. China certainly has far more critics among journalists’ favored sources and the pundit class than does the U.S. government in a time of war, making it a much more comfortable target of criticism for the media.

    On the day the torch visited San Francisco, in fact, the U.S. House of Representatives called on China to “end its crackdown on nonviolent Tibetan protesters and its continuing cultural, religious, economic and linguistic repression inside Tibet,” and encouraged the State Department to include China on its list of “the world’s most systematic human rights violators” (House Resolution 1077). Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has spoken out in support of Tibet, and in a politically significant move, George W. Bush received Tibet’s leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama, at the White House.

    The U.S. government has a history of quietly providing limited support to Tibet freedom struggles when strategically useful in its political chess game with China, beginning with CIA support for the 1959 Tibetan revolt, and evident today with National Endowment for Democracy support for Tibetan groups in exile (AlterNet, 5/14/08). The Free Tibet movement calls for much greater and less opportunistic support, but its general message is rather easily accommodated or appropriated by politicians in Washington and their media enablers.

    Those journalists also have biases of their own, and it was sometimes difficult to disentangle journalists’ backing for protesters from anti-China sentiment. Many made references to “Communist China” and some even drew starker parallels. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s legal analyst, argued:

    Whether it was the Nazis in 1936 or the Chinese Communists in 2008, they are all using [the Olympics] to promote their country. And if we want to take a stand against that kind of repression, not going to the opening ceremony is a very appropriate way of doing it. . . . It does say the United States government doesn’t approve of the Chinese government. And that seems like a very appropriate message to send right now.

    CNN’s Jack Cafferty then jumped in and took it even further:

    We continue to import their junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn out the stuff that we’re buying from Wal-Mart. . . . I think they’re basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.

    Host Wolf Blitzer chuckled and went to a commercial break.

    CNN was quick to point out, too, the media repression in China surrounding the protests that they themselves were reporting with such vigor. Coverage in China was “very limited indeed,” CNN correspondent John Vause reported, with state-run media ignoring the protests and mysterious “technical difficulties” blacking out foreign broadcasts at key times. “So, what you’re having here in China is essentially one line being carried by the government. Any other voices are being censored out.”

    In the United States, government censors don’t block out coverage of protests they don’t like, but they scarcely need to, since the corporate media like CNN so reliably drown out those “other voices” that directly challenge the government’s line.

  4. raventhorn2000
    March 26th, 2011 at 13:33 | #4

    the Nazi’s did not need to censor their concentration camps.

    The true horrors were simply ignored by average Germans who lived next doors to the death camps.

    Ignorance is the best censor of the real Truth.

  5. xian
    March 26th, 2011 at 13:59 | #5

    Corporate media plays to the audience’s interest and preconceptions. Casualty news coming out of Iraq/Afghanistan are so common most people don’t care anymore. It’s also the same reason why they highlighted anti-China protests instead of larger pro-China protests back in 08, because it fits the longstanding narrative of “China’s evil government” and “hurr durr Free Tibet”.

  6. SmallTalks
    March 26th, 2011 at 14:27 | #6

    US’s democracy is violent democracy. If you do not come to me, I will come to you(with Bombs)

    By the way, Please take a look at my recent posts. My study tells me that China’s political reform will likely take place in next 5 years. Let me know what do you guys think about it.


  7. Rhan
    March 26th, 2011 at 19:42 | #7

    SmallTalks, interesting piece. I think most acknowledged the fact that CCP does uphold democracy values during their earlier years, including the first few years when they rule China, merely to a stage when some leaders declared that party democracy is dead in the latter years. Therefore the crux of the matter is what will be the mechanism being installed to ensure the same would not happen again? During peacetime and pursue of economy path, a country doesn’t need a charisma and outstanding leader but there always unstable period by looking at the macro history. Can China purge out a leader such as Churchill as what the British did after the world war?

    I agree Singapore is close to one party state but the fact remain that there is general election every five years, and the people still have a said if they truly unhappy with PAP or any of their leader but I don’t know how this work in CCP and China. Come to think of it, I am pretty perplex reading rv on morality and to certain extent, I think CCP is actually lean towards morality base and not scientific base for it internal system, unless there is more fact to support such claim.

    Party democracy can easily be destroyed because the power would normally concentrate in the hands of few and I saw this happen again and again in my country, it is always easier to control/manipulate a few hundreds and thousands party leaders but not the whole population, and our election still work as a checking point though I agree that there is still much to be desired to have a fair and just election process. Singapore PAP “bribe” 55% of their electorate while Malaysia BN “bribe” only the less than 200 party division leader will be good enough to be the Prime Minister and government. Not sure about China.

  8. raventhorn2000
    March 26th, 2011 at 20:14 | #8


    Morality based arguments don’t work in China any more, because the People got sick of all the political moralities during the Cultural Revolution.

    Thus, CCP politicians know that they can’t sell policies by slogans any more. It just doesn’t work. (They do say some of those slogans every now and then, very rarely now, but when they do, they are laughing at themselves inside).

    CCP politicians now survive on their records of numbers and statistics. How many jobs, how much taxes, how many unemployed, foreign or private investments, corruptions, etc.

    “purges” are quite often now in CCP, mostly because of “corruption”, which is often a catch word for a CCP member who is a little too influential or popular, or too wealthy.

    I personally think these regular removal purges are quite healthy for the CCP. It forces old members to retire and allow younger members to rise up, and prevent too much entrenching of power.

    It used to be that the “Shanghai Clique” was very powerful during Jiang Zemin’s era, and now they are pretty much all gone. Even Jiang is pretty much gone from power.

    That they should keep doing.

  9. momo
    March 26th, 2011 at 21:59 | #9

    yinyang,don’t be such a bleeding heart. S**t happens during war, and these boys and girls happened to get in the way of the Almighty American war machine.
    They are children of a lesser god; nothing newsworthy. It’s just collateral damage, nothing personal; reporting should be limited to vague and abstract notions about “irritants” (that’s all they are worth, children of terrorists, and potential future terrorists) and “increasing tensions” between governments.
    No reporting that will put a human face to the tragedy – the loss of innocent young lives, the grief of their families, the anger in their c ommunities.
    *Sarcasm intended*
    Any AFP or Reuters reports on China’s media is always prefixed with “state-controlled”. The Western media works by collusion with government interests. Wonder which is worse.

  10. March 26th, 2011 at 22:11 | #10

    Any AFP or Reuters reports on China’s media is always prefixed with “state-controlled”. The Western media works by collusion with government interests. Wonder which is worse.


    This quote is just as applicable today as ever with these two-faced media jerks:

    “In VS Naipaul’s prophetic novel ‘A Bend in the River,’ Salim, the Indian-African narrator, laments his community’s political immaturity, envying Africa’s European conquerors: “an intelligent and energetic people”, who “wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else,” but who also “wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves”. Salim believes that the Europeans “could do one thing and say something quite different because they had an idea of what they owed to their civilisation”; and “they got both the slaves and statues”.” (An Indian, Pankaj Mishra, once said this of the European colonial powers.)

  11. SmallTalks
    March 26th, 2011 at 22:41 | #11


    I do not know how the one-party-democracy is going to work for CCP, right now. It is still a test run, but multi-party democracy would not be accepted by CCP. And the pressure for reform is accumulating to the point that it has to be done.

    Right now, it appears that do someting is better than do nothing. So, I can only with the best for China.

    The one-party-system is still a blueprint. I believe CCP will revise it during the next few years and they deploy. It would take another 20 years to see the final result.

  12. SilentChinese
    March 28th, 2011 at 06:56 | #12

    I find the idea of a political party quite antiquated.

    what is the needs political parties?
    if the political discourse is solely based on the utilitarian value of an individual’s idea, then the need for political parties would disappear.

    theoritically, CCP can declare itself no longer needed (end stage of communism?) and merge with the government as an institution. while out lawing every political parties in China. Free-association? yes. Association of people entering politics? not allowed.

    Clearly this can be justified on the ground that there is a conflict of interest of that “political association” with duties we expect from government.

  13. March 28th, 2011 at 07:40 | #13

    True enough, I also find political parties and associations to be antiquated.

    If associations are truly “free”, then there is no reason/need to differentiate oneself from others via means of labels of affiliations.

    Such labels carry nothing but emotional symbolism, similar to Religious symbols.

  14. colin
    March 28th, 2011 at 11:30 | #14

    “If there is any real humanity in the Western media”

    But we all know there is not.

  15. Charles Liu
    March 31st, 2011 at 13:36 | #15

    Iraq is starting to become the “forgotten war”. Anybody still remember the depleted uranium oxide dust causing childhood leukemia to skyrocket in southern Iraq, where heavy bombing with DU munition occured:


    And we are doing it again in Libya:


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.