Monday, July 02, 2007

If This Is Supposed To Be Hopeful News, We Must Really Be Screwed

by Tom Bozzo

A wire service news-in-brief item in the Wisconsin State Journal tells me that U.S. and Iraqi officials are claiming a decline in Iraqi civilian casualties for June. U.S. military spokesperson Lt. Col. Christopher Garver says "a slight decrease in the month of June" represents the start of "a potential downward trend."

You might think that extrapolating a trend from one observation which, by whatever measurement standards have survived the administration's attempts to make the accurate recording of civilian deaths difficult (lest the last few the dead-enders supporting the war who might be affected by such things get too down), is part of a not publicly released series that is nevertheless characterized as not so great (see "slight decrease") represents some sort of grasping at straws for good news. I say, it's a sure sign that the administration now is totally off its P.R. game. [*]

If they had a public relations statistician on call worth his or her hourly consulting rate, they'd have been told that even a slight increase in the civilian death toll potentially could represent the start of a "downward trend" — only with a lower probability of representing an actual turning point than the seemingly peskier "facts." If they won't deploy every tool of statistical reasoning, how can they be expected to win. [**]

[*] To a considerable extent, the Bushies' reputation for good message control was little more than an artifact of the fecklessness of Democratic "strategists" and/or the supineness of the bulk of the Beltway cocktail-circuit press. What, after all, could have been in I. Lewis Libby's body cavities that the commutation of his prison sentence couldn't have waited for the Friday news graveyard. (For reaction to the Libby story, see Madison Guy, Digby, a roundup including major Democrats' statements from John Aravosis, TBogg, Hilzoy, Mark Thoma, and The Editors.)

[**] The Onion, National Treasure, Priceless: "Bush: Maybe U.S. Military 'Just Not Very Good.'"

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I was also completely surprised the Libby move wasn't done on a Friday, esp. since it could have been done last Friday. Maybe the day before a national holiday is more of a news swoon than I realized.
I suppose the move might have been calculated to be premature before the appeals court weighed in. However, the appellate ruling in a sense undermines the commutation in that it implies the appeal was unlikely to succeed.

Anyway, a holiday week probably isn't the worst place to dump the news, but it hasn't exactly played well before anyone not bought-and-paid-for.
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