Getting It Wrong on the Dead and the Dying

While her husband deals with the revolving Supreme Court and the loose lips of his closest political strategist in Washington D.C., Laura Bush is strutting her first lady stuff in Africa. Yesterday she and Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, remembered those killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Which is when we learned that the Associated Press can’t decide how many people died in that genocide.

Yesterday morning the AP informed us, “A 100-day slaughter in 1994 by Hutu militias killed nearly half a million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.” (Emphasis ours.)

Then later on in the afternoon the number jumped by more than 300,000 as the genocide was described by the wire service as “100 days in 1994 when Hutu militias shot and hacked to death some 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.” (Emphasis added.)

No one knows for sure how many people were murdered, but the reality certainly lies closer to the 800,000 figure.

As for AP, while the latter piece gets closer to the reality in Rwanda, it grossly underestimates — by a factor of 10 — the number of people that have perished in the Darfur region of Sudan. The AP article states, “More than two years of conflict in Darfur have left tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million displaced.”

In truth, current estimates of those who have perished is 180,000 to 400,000, depending on the source, as is cited in a March article by AP itself.

But at least the AP brings Sudan into the discussion. With the first lady and the prime minister’s wife in Africa lamenting the Rwandan genocide, it only seems fit that they at least acknowledge the current carnage unfolding in the northeastern part of the continent. And if they don’t, it’s the press’ responsibility to point that out. This article by Reuters fails to do so.

Earlier this week, David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition wrote in a letter to Romenesko that the press had let the Bush administration get away with providing a statement of grief on the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre without questioning what the administration is doing to stop similar atrocities in Sudan.

At the time we were busy complimenting the press for hammering away at White House press secretary Scott McClellan in an attempt to get comment on Karl Rove’s involvement in the Plame leak. Our opinion hasn’t changed; it was an impressive performance. But Rubenstein is right. Perhaps there were other questions that needed to be asked.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.