The Magazine

The Prof Who Can't Count Straight

And the journalists who cite him.

Aug 26, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 47 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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Although stymied, I have looked into the episode enough to feel certain that these other stories, if they exist, will add no new information. There were, in sum, essentially four versions of civilian casualties at Chowkar-Karez. The Taliban's initial claim was 52 dead, which was upped by Al Jazeera to 93. Human Rights Watch put it between 25 and 35. Then there was the Pentagon, which claimed that Chowkar-Karez had been "positively identified as a Taliban encampment including al Qaeda collaborators." (This was the description that Herold paraphrased as "civilians [who] sympathized with the Taliban.")

From these four versions, Herold concluded that the toll was 52 to 93, in other words, the Taliban version and up. Indeed, this is the "method" for all his research. Notwithstanding reports from Afghan journalists after the Taliban's ouster that under its rule they were forced to doctor reports of civilian casualties ("We could not tell the truth," one told AP), Herold's "dossier" contains a graph whose civilian casualty count, for every week of the war, exceeds Taliban claims.

The White House is reportedly considering setting up a new communications agency. It might begin by offering classes to Europeans (and Selig Harrison) on the elementary canons of journalism and scholarship. And someone might tell the state of New Hampshire how its name is being used and how its children are being taught.

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism" (Encounter).