Accuracy in Media

Since NATO?s war on Yugoslavia ended, there has been a reevaluation of many of the numbers that were thrown around by NATO and U.S. spokesmen concerning the number of Albanians displaced and killed in Kosovo and the destruction of homes and other property. In a recent commentary, we discussed a report of NBC?s Andrea Mitchell in which she said that the number of Albanians killed in Kosovo during the war appeared to be in the three to six thousand range, not 100,000 as Secretary of Defense William Cohen and others were predicting.

Several teams of forensics experts from different NATO countries have gone to Kosovo to investigate reports of mass graves of Albanians murdered by the Serbs. The FBI sent a team over to investigate two of the seven sites listed in the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes, one where the indictment said six persons were murdered and the other 20. The team included 65 persons and including graphic artists and demolition experts. They took 107,000 pounds of equipment, but we have seen no reports that they discovered any new mass graves in the few weeks that they spent there.

Although there have been reports that a hundred or more other sites have been reported, the FBI team came home on July 1. This suggests that there was not as much demand for their services as the news stories suggest. An AP story on June 18 said that at least 10,000 Albanians were killed in more than 100 massacres, but as yet very few mass graves in addition to those listed in the Milosevic indictment have been have been identified in news stories. A Reuters story on July 2 said peacekeepers have catalogued more than 100 sites where Albanians “are thought to have been massacred and buried.”

So far one additional mass grave that is believed to contain more than 100 bodies has been found near the village of Celina. A Washington Post story on July 18, said Celina is called “ground zero in the U.N. war crimes tribunal?s effort to build a case…” It is, according to the article, “the epicenter of what is proving to be the heaviest concentration of mass graves in Kosovo.” Yet they have found little more than 50 bodies, and expect to find only 50 more in this village. It adds that U.N. officials suspect (quote) “thousands more will be found.”

John Kifner, writing in the New York Times on the same day, said: “At least 10,000 people were slaughtered by Serbian forces during their three month campaign to drive the Albanians from Kosovo.” He cited war crimes investigators, NATO peacekeeping troops and aid agencies as his sources. The headline calls it an estimate, the lead sentence did not.

To reach 10,000 bodies, they will have to find 100 mass graves with an average of 100 bodies in each one. In the seven cases in the Milosevic indictment, only one was said to involve over 100 bodies. The average for all seven was 50. The 10,000 estimate appears to be one more wild exaggeration of the horrors of Kosovo.

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