The AP says Obama thinks genocide is no biggie

Why reporters should be very careful how they parse the words of candidates.


July 20, 2007 6:59PM (UTC)

Philip Elliott and the headline writers at the Associated Press have done a real job on Barack Obama with this story, headlined "Obama: Don't Stay in Iraq Over Genocide." The article claims that Obama says that genocide isn't a "good enough reason," when in fact he simply makes the observation that we don't make military decisions on that basis or we would currently be in the Congo, Sudan and Darfur. Not quite the same thing.

But the truly puzzling assertion in the article is this one: "Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, said it's likely there would be increased bloodshed if U.S. forces left Iraq." That would not be a particularly shocking assessment unless it had been preceded by the inaccurate headline and lead that imply Obama doesn't give a damn about genocidal bloodshed. But it's just plain misleading when you see what Obama actually said:

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"Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis," Obama said between stops on the first of two days scheduled on the New Hampshire campaign trail.

"There's no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there."

The greater risk is staying in Iraq, Obama said.

"It is my assessment that those risks are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions," he said.

He didn't say that we shouldn't care about the risk of bloodshed if we leave; he said he's more worried about the risk of even more bloodshed if we stay. (It's a testament to the horrible array of options we have before us in Iraq that the question of which genocide scenario is preferable is an issue in the presidential campaign.)

A headline like that should be carefully considered before it's published. Obama is not an uncaring person who doesn't care if massive numbers of Iraqis die, and his words simply do not match the assertions in that article. It's terribly unfair to be sloppy or cute with loaded terms like genocide and the AP should be more careful.

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