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Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

iPads, Flying Pets and Other Things More Newsworthy Than Deadly Drone Strikes

People who watch the evening newscasts regularly often note that the shows follow the lead of the New York Times in selecting news stories. If a story is on the front page of the Newspaper of Record, it's probably going to wind up on the newscasts.

But not always.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both released reports on civilian deaths from US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

The reports made the front page of the New York Times (10/21/13). As the Times reported:

At least 19 civilians in the surrounding area of North Waziristan had been killed in just two of the drone attacks since January 2012–a time when the Obama administration has held that strikes have been increasingly accurate and free of mistakes.


Last October, it says, American missiles killed a 68-year-old woman named Mamana Bibi as she picked vegetables in a field close to her grandchildren. In July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Afghan border.

The new investigations were also reported by the Washington Post (10/21/13), which told readers that the groups

say they have freshly documented dozens of civilian deaths in US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, contradicting assertions by the Obama administration that such casualties are rare.

The Human Rights Watch investigation of several strikes in Yemen "concluded that at least 57 of the 82 people killed were civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children who perished in a September 2012 attack."

But the reports were absent from the network evening newscasts. With millions of viewers every night, these are still the news outlets with perhaps the widest reach in the country.

The broadcasts covered some newsworthy issues, of course–the new jobs report, and some additional details about a recent school shooting in Nevada.

But they also covered stories of seemingly less importance than the civilians killed in secretive US bombing campaigns. NBC Nightly News, for instance, reported that it would be slightly colder along the East Coast than it's been. They had long reports about police forces using defibrillators and small family farms that operate as tourist attractions.  NBC also reported on construction at the Capitol building in Washington and on some new products unveiled by Apple.

CBS Evening News had a long report about tensions within the Republican party, and an excerpt from a Charlie Rose interview with Warren Buffett. They also told viewers about the new iPad–but also about other tablet computers, too. And that construction project at the Capitol was covered.

ABC World News led with gas prices falling. They also did reports about unsafe dog treats, those new Apple products, a study of sibling rivalries, a possible UFO sighting in Iceland and popular baby names, and closed with a rather long report about a class that helps prepare dogs to fly in airplanes.

There were some major outlets that did evidently think the reports were newsworthy. CNN's The Lead With Jake Tapper (10/21/13) interviewed Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri, who also appeared on the PBS NewsHour in a debate with a retired US general.

But on the nightly newscasts this was the kind of news that evidently wasn't news–at least not as newsworthy as a new iPad or a school that helps prepare pets for air travel.

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the Communications Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. Previously at the media watchdog group FAIR, Hart is also the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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