The New York Times puzzles and puzzles until its puzzler is sore, but it still can't figure out the deep, deep mystery addressed by this recent story: "Libya Counts More Martyrs Than Bodies."
The Paper of Record -- primus inter pares of the national press, shaper and sifter of the zeitgeist itself -- struggles for 27 whole paragraphs in its Sept. 16 story, trying to account somehow for the vast discrepancy between the "martyr count" claimed by Libya's NATO-nudged rebels and the actual number of bodies found so far in the wake of the conflict.
Rebel leaders claim that the dastardly minions of Moamar Gadafy killed well nigh 50,000 innocent people in the dictator's paroxysm of berserkery to preserve his brutal rule. But, the Times notes, "in the country's morgues, the war dead registered from both sides in each area are mostly in the hundreds, not the thousands. And those who ware still missing total as few as 1,000, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross."
The Times doesn't bother to add up the various regional body counts it throws around in the story, but a very rough estimate from this rigorous and detailed reporting would put the overall death total somewhere around 5,000 or so. Yet over and over, NATO's new nabobs in Libya declare that tens of thousands of people were killed by government forces in the conflict.
(We know, of course, that not a single innocent person was killed by NATO bombs and missiles in the relentless barrage of humanitarian ordnance the Western alliance heaped on Libya during the many months of fighting. NATO bombs are programmed with super-secret computer chips that can detect a person's ideological aroma and will kill only those isolated individuals who stink of evil, while enveloping all innocent bystanders with a protective foam that keeps them safe, shines their shoes and moisturizes their skin at the same time.)
But still, despite bringing all the professional firepower of higher journalism to bear on the question, the Times can simply find "no explanation" for the gap between the new nabob's numbers and the actual death count.
Poor little newspaper. Poor little fond, foolish pollyanna. Oh, how it rends the heart to shatter such sweet, trusting, adorable innocence. But what can one do? The cosseted little lamb must learn the sad truth sometime. And so, in sorrow, we beckon the Times to toddle toward us, so we can whisper, gently, in its delicate ear:
"The rebels are lying, sweetheart. They're using false, inflated numbers because it makes them look better and their enemies look worse. Oh, please don't cry. That's just the way it is in the wicked world of grown-ups. Leaders lie -- constantly, continually, incessantly, obsessively -- to serve their own purposes."
Now, you know and I know that the Times knows that the rebel leaders are lying about the death count. But you know and I know that the Times also knows that it cannot come out and state this plain fact in a plain fashion. The rebel leaders are still under the aegis of imperial favor; thus their credibility cannot yet be directly contradicted by our court scribes and chroniclers. If and when the rebels lose this favor -- if their Islamist faction comes too publicly to the fore, say, or, even worse, if the oil deals with their "Western partners" aren't sweet enough -- why then, we will hear in no uncertain terms what a great pack of rotten liars they all are, and always have been.
But until that time, the Unshakeable Somnolence of America will not be disturbed by any such plain truths.