Meta Progress on Darfur

Last time CJR Daily checked in on the ongoing genocide in Sudan we tackled a Reuters article for underreporting the loss of life. As we noted in that post, the press often reports that “tens of thousands” or “70,000” Sudanese have perished in that conflict.

There are two problems with reporting that number. First, it comes from a United Nations report that only records deaths from disease and hunger among those Sudanese who managed to make it into refugee camps. Second, the number often remains static for months, unchanged until the UN releases an updated report.

So far, the press has been reluctant to indicate that the number it is using is an estimate of only a portion of the death toll.

But in an article last week, the Associated Press, a repeat purveyor of the 70,000 number, changed course, highlighting the figure’s shortcomings. The article asserted, “Although the commonly cited estimates of the death toll in Darfur refer to fatalities from disease and hunger, analysis of a recent U.S.-commissioned survey strongly suggests that many thousands — at a minimum — have been killed in violence as well.”

Since then two AP articles written by different authors — Tom Maliti and Rodrique Ngowi — have included an identical passage that more accurately explains the statistic: “Hardships including disease and malnutrition are believed to have killed more than 70,000 of the displaced within Darfur since last March. Many more have been killed in nearly two years of fighting, although no firm estimate of the direct toll of the war yet exists.” While this explanation still leaves the reader wondering “How many more?” it’s a step in the right direction.

AP apparently first used this phrase in a November 5 article by Daniel Balint-Kurti which included an almost identical passage. Two and a half months later the wording has re-emerged; hopefully this time it will stick.

If AP and other outlets are on their way to a clearer explanation of the death toll in Sudan, that’s a small step for the good. But a larger step is to go beyond totaling up the deceased and tell the stories of the living, or in this case, the survivors. Which is exactly what the New York Times does today in a graphic A3 story that was also prominently featured on

After reading it and taking in the accompanying photos, one is left with no doubt that “many thousands — at a minimum — have been killed in violence as well.”

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.