Accuracy in Media

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking at the Brookings Institution on April 5, intensified her efforts to portray Slobodan Milosevic as a modern Hitler. She denied that the mass flight of refugees from Kosovo was precipitated by NATO?s bombing and missile attacks. She said that the bombing the attacks were ordered to halt the terrible atrocities that Milosevic was inflicting on the Albanians in Kosovo, but the only specific example that she cited was the alleged massacre of 45 Albanians in the village of Racak in mid-January.

Albright accused the Serbs of breaking the cease-fire agreement that was reached last October. We have not been able to get any verification of that claim from the State Department, but the Institute for Balkan Affairs says that the cease-fire was broken by the Kosovo Liberation Army, which kidnaped and killed two Serbian policemen. The Institute says the KLA has been killing police and officials in the Serbian province of Kosovo for over a year. The Serbs have retaliated, and it has been reported that between one and two thousand people died in the fighting in 1998.

The State Department says this figure includes soldiers, police, guerrilla fighters and civilians on both sides. The Institute for Balkan Affairs says that the American media have virtually ignored the reports of KLA killings of Serbian police and civilians, including an attack on a refugee camp holding some of the 300,000 Serbs forced out of Croatia. In an earlier commentary we reported that an administration official said last year that the one thing that might trigger armed intervention in Kosovo would be an intolerable level of atrocities. When it was reported that 45 ethnic Albanian villagers had been slaughtered by Serbian police in Racak in mid-January, that became the intolerable level. This is the only alleged massacre that Albright could cite in her Brookings speech. The State Department now says that the killing of 24 KLA guerrillas in Kosovo at the end of January was combat-related.

We said in that commentary that the French press had cast doubt on the claim that this was a massacre perpetrated by Serbian security forces. They reported that there was a battle between Serb police and the KLA and that there was reason to believe that 22 bodies laid out in a ravine may have been KLA guerrillas killed in the firefight. They said that journalists saw little blood and only a few cartridges around the site of the alleged massacre. They speculate that the KLA gathered some of the bodies killed in the fighting and tried to make it look like a massacre.

In that commentary, we erred in saying that Clinton said he was ordering the bombing to “halt this rolling genocide.” It was a senator who said that. In the 12 weeks leading up to the bombing there were nearly 200 newspaper stories that associated Kosovo and genocide. In the week after the bombing began there were over 900 stories, many of them reporting Clinton?s use of the term. The numbers of those killed in the year ending March 24 do not support the genocide charge.

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