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August 24, 2006

NY TimesWatch: Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

Gateway Pundit piles on to the NY Times article we took great exception to last week:

Last week the New York Times wrote that "the insurgency in Iraq has gotten worse by almost all measures":
Bombs Aimed at G.I.’s in Iraq Are Increasing

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 — ..."The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels," said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

But, Back Talk took at a look at 7 month trends and found a very different picture of Iraq.

Funny how that works, isn't it? Looking at all the data instead of cherry-picking monthly statistics to argue a predetermined political point often yields interesting results. Last week we noted several flaws in the Times' rather novel analysis, among them the deliberate choice of January's wounded numbers as a comparison point (you had to go clear back to February of 2004 to find a lower monthly total) and the shift to the number of bombs planted as a measure of violence (we noted this was fairly worthless without a corresponding measure of effectiveness, as the point of planting bombs is generally to kill or wound the enemy).

Alert readers will recall the Times quoted one of its vast stable of DOD experts, who invariably speak "only on condition of anonymity" because they are "not authorized to speak for attribution". Roughly translated, this means they are talking out of school. This is how readers of the Times know we are dealing with a Reliable Source.

After all, they have violated the terms of their employment contract to speak with a reporter, and anyone so willing to go back on their word obviously demonstrates the flexible urban sensibilities for which the Times is justly famed. But should any further verification be needed, never fear: the Times provides ample backup for its anonymous sourcing:

A separate, classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, dated Aug. 3, details worsening security conditions inside the country and describes how Iraq risks sliding toward civil war, according to several officials who have read the document or who have received a briefing on its contents.

Of course there is one slight problem. We can't actually see this report, so the Times has "verified" an Anonymous Source we're not sure we can trust by citing an Anonymous Report we can't see. Because it's classified, you see. Come to think of it, we're not really sure why any of the Times' other Anonymous Sources are talking about this report either. Aren't there laws about leaking defense documents? Not to worry, we've obviously forgetten about that blanket First Amendment exception which allows members of the media to selectively declassify national security information at will. Our bad.

Like FauxNews, the half vast editorial staff here at VC try to be fair and balanced. We don't pretend that everything in Baghdad is hunky dory, or that the insurgents are throwing roses at the Coalition forces as they drive through the streets. We know, for instance, that attacks on ordinary Iraqis are increasing, and this alarms us greatly. But the implications of this startling fact are something the Times never quite seem to examine either.

In war, one attacks the enemy. What does it say that the insurgency is, to a large extent, focusing the brunt of its fury, not on coalition forces, but on the Iraqi people themselves? It says that they recognize that the greatest danger to the insurgency is not US forces, nor the IA/IP, but ordinary Iraqis. They are the Enemy. They are what must be defeated if the insurgency is to prevail.

And it also goes without saying (though we can't quite restrain ourselves from saying it anyway) that if attacks on those who are trying to protect the Iraqis are decreasing, it can't really be said that things are getting worse in Iraq by almost all measures, can it? Especially if you believe the NYT and the insurgency is, in fact, concentrating 70% of their effort on US troops and IED attacks are, in fact the deadliest of all attacks.

All of these things can't be true at the same time. It just doesn't make sense. Unless of course you're the New York Times, and you insist on quoting anonymous Pentagon sources who cite selected statistics from classified documents we can't see and can't check. It certainly makes it difficult to sort out fact from fiction.

Posted by Cassandra at August 24, 2006 06:14 AM


Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics?

Coincidentally, I used that very same quote at ScrappleFace [←URL] the previous day.
(Second comment...)

Posted by: camojack at August 25, 2006 05:16 AM

Aside from falling subscriptions/revenues, layoffs and jumbled attempts by the family to buy back shares, is anyone aware of other metrics employed by the media that would suggest an actual lessening of the NYT's influence? For example, the MSM's historic reliance on the Times for its daily news cycle.

Posted by: gsm at August 26, 2006 11:59 AM

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