Accuracy in Media

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst for ABC News, has blown the whistle on NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Cordesman, who has worked for NATO, has stated publicly what many people suspect—that the bombing has contributed to the worsening plight of the refugees. When Cordesman appeared on ABC’s World News Tonight on April 16th, to give his bleak assessment of the NATO campaign, anchor Peter Jennings knew what was coming because he had already read his report, made available in advance to ABC News. Jennings knew that Cordesman was going to present bad news for NATO.

Although NATO and White House officials have made much of the thousands of sorties, or bombing raids, undertaken against Yugoslavia in the first three weeks, Cordesman said only 102 fixed targets had been hit and very little damage had been inflicted on Yugoslav troops. His report stated, “The net impact of NATO operations may be to worsen the plight of ethnic Albanians rather than paralyze the Serbian operations.” Jennings called that “strong stuff.”

Although the purpose of some of the raids is to disrupt or cut-off supplies for the Yugoslav forces, Cordesman said the result is likely to be the acceleration of the Yugoslav campaign to clear the Albanians out of Kosovo. Indeed, Cordesman said the pressure on the Serbs may force them to use the refugees as human shields to protect their own forces as they operate in Kosovo.

Cordesman also took aim at Pentagon terminology about what targets are being hit and what damage, if any, is being inflicted. He compared the so-called “damage assessment” to the body count terminology of the Vietnam War, in which it was assumed that progress in the war was being made because certain numbers of the enemy were being killed. One problem, he said, is that targets are being reported to have undergone “severe damage” when no one seems to know what that means. Another category of damage is called “destroyed,” which seems fairly obvious, but still another category is “moderate damage.” Cordesman says this apparently means that a target has been hit in some vague and undefined way.

At the same time, executives of seven major U.S. news organizations have written a letter of protest to Defense Secretary William Cohen, saying that “on many days, the state-controlled Yugoslav media has been more specific about NATO targets than the United States or NATO.” The editors said that “Detailed information about the allied operation is vital to an informed public discussion of this matter of national interest.” They said journalists are not being given basic information about how many war planes are being sent on bombing runs on any particular day and how many are actually dropping bombs.

In response, President Clinton, who spoke to the newspaper editors and executives at a meeting in San Francisco, agreed that more details needed to be provided. He blamed the lack of information on a lack of coordination by NATO allies, as well as cloudy weather over Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, NATO was preparing to bomb Serbian TV, which has been more accurate and quicker with information about the war than NATO itself.

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