How long did it take the BBC to acknowledge that things were getting better in Iraq? Certainly a lot more than two months. Six at least, probably more. But after just two months of increased Iraqi deaths the Beeb has no hesitation in declaring an upward 'trend'.
Under the headline 'Iraqi death toll climbs sharply' it reports:
The monthly figure of people killed in Iraq rose by 50% in March compared with the previous month, according to official government counts.
A total of 1,082 Iraqis, including 925 non-combatant civilians, were killed, up from 721 in February.
The journalists who put this story together (there's no byline – it's one of those BBC staples: figures culled from wire reports with a smattering of unattributed 'analysis') must have been counting down the hours until the end of March like a kid waiting for Santa Claus so they could let loose with this.
In the fourth sentence the report actually provides an explanation for most, if not all, of the increase in March deaths over the February figure:
March also saw an increase in bombings and intense fighting between Shia militiamen and government forces.
That's right. And the violence in Basra and elsewhere was isolated, not typical of recent developments in Iraq, and it was quickly contained, with Moqtada Sadr backing down again. But no matter:
The number of deaths last month seems to confirm a trend of rising deaths due to violence.
A trend? Two months' worth of statistics is a trend?
The madness continues in the very next paragraph, where the BBC, without the merest suggestion of irony, reports on an actual trend:
More than 1,800 people were killed in August 2007. This declined to 540 in January 2008…
Yes! That trend there! Six months of figures! That's a trend! Guys! Guys…
Nope, they're not listening.
…but the figure has risen steadily since.
Rising steadily? Rising @$%*ing steadily?! Let's count those months again shall we…
Er, that's it. But anyway, here comes the analysis, ready or not…
Correspondents say the figures will be a blow to the Baghdad government and the US, which had claimed overall levels of violence had been reduced by last year's US troop surge.
For one thing, no-one has 'claimed' that violence has been reduced by the surge. It has been.
But do you really believe that someone in the newsroom said "Hey, I know! Let's ring round our correspondents and ask them what they think the implications of this are for the Baghdad government and the US!"
Of course they didn't. The editors just dropped that line in because it, or a variation on it, is the BBC's stock comment whenever they perceive that things are going badly for the US and/or its allies.
Not that anyone had to bother typing the sentence of course – they use it so often that it's one of the keyboard shortcuts set up for the BBC's word-processing software:
Hit Shift+F1 for 'Correspondents say the figures will be a blow to the Baghdad government and the US.'
Hit Shift+F2 for 'Correspondents say the airstrike will damage relations between Afghanistan and the US.'
Hit Shift+F3 for 'Correspondents say the news is a severe blow to the Bush administration.'
And so on.
Anyway, let's see how this 'trend' develops shall we? I'm not claiming that Iraqi deaths definitely won't go up again next month. Maybe they will. There could be one or two huge bombings. There could be another flare-up with the Shias.
I have no doubt that progress in Iraq will continue to be slow painful; I also have no doubt that progress will continue to be made.
But the BBC has played its hand. You might almost say it was staking its reputation as a trusted news provider on its 'trend' prediction, if it had a reputation to stake.
If casualties don't increase again in April, will the BBC report that its 'trend' has been bucked?
Watch this space.