Accuracy In Media
Letter to Washington Post on secret Kosovo report

By Reed Irvine

May 11, 2000

To the Editor:

The May 15 issue of Newsweek has an important article about a suppressed report that exposed the Pentagon's exaggeration of the effectiveness of NATO's bombing of Serb mobile military targets in Kosovo during the air war. This was based on a thorough ground search for the destroyed targets. The Pentagon held a news conference on May 8 to debunk Newsweek's story. The Post carried an AP story about this news conference. The headline and the lead focused on the low number of kills reported by Newsweek without crediting the source. Most of the story was devoted to the Pentagon's effort to show that those figures were wrong.

Secretary Cohen had claimed that the bombing had destroyed over half of the Serb artillery and a third of their armored vehicles, but the NATO report obtained by Newsweek said that the ground search found that the targets verifiably destroyed were only 3 percent of the Serb armored vehicles and 2 percent of their artillery. It said this so shocked General Wesley Clark that he ordered a new report. The Air Force produced one that claimed many more targets were destroyed than those found by the ground search. Its numbers were sent to Congress in a report last January, together with this caveat: "The assessment provides no data on what proportion of total mobile targets were hit or the level of damage inflicted." Newsweek quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying that this meant, "Here's the Air Force chart. We don't think it means anything."

Why did the Post run a shallow wire service story about a Pentagon news conference held to discredit Newsweek and ignore the well-sourced story by Newsweek that caused the news conference to be held?

Reed Irvine, Chairman

Original article