The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Rendall,,Tel: 212-633-6700 x13

CBS Revises Iraq Death Toll

New tally still lower than other estimates


After a FAIR Action Alert (12/2/11), the CBS Evening News has changed its count of civilian deaths--citing a new figure that is roughly twice their original count.

On December 1 the CBS Evening News reported:

It is estimated that more than 50,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the war.

As FAIR pointed out, this was totally inadequate--even the source for the network's claim ( warned that this was not a comprehensive count.

On December 12, CBS anchor Scott Pelley closed a segment about "how life has changed inside Iraq" with this:

We looked into the human toll of the Iraq war again today. The Brookings Institution estimates that about 115,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since 2003.

That new figure is closer to the actual death toll in Iraq. But as FAIR pointed out in the original alert, estimates of civilian deaths based on household surveys are much higher. While it is commendable that CBS Evening News revisited this issue, the program could easily convey that range of casualty estimates, as it has done so in the past. Four years ago, the show told viewers that "there is one estimate that puts Iraqi civilian casualties at more than 650,000" (7/9/07) and that "estimates of the dead range from 30,000 to as high as 600,000" (3/19/07).

What's more, CBS chose an unusual way of informing viewers of a correction of this magnitude. Pelley's comment--"We looked into the human toll of the Iraq War again today"--gives viewers no hint that this is actually a correction. Given that CBS is telling viewers that the war was at least twice as deadly as they had reported two weeks ago, it deserved more in the way of explanation.

FAIR thanks the activists who wrote to CBS about this incident.

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.