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Recent high-profile reporting by the New York Times and other media organizations involving U.S. military combat operations has elevated public awareness related to Department of Defense targeting and accountability practices. While scandal generated by media coverage forms the basis for demands for reform of DoD practice from civil society groups and select members of Congress, the narratives developed in the investigative reporting have thus far not been exposed to comprehensive scrutiny. This article conducts a critical analysis of recent New York Times reporting involving U.S. military combat operations to assess the legitimacy of the narratives developed therein. After considering various ways in which the reporting is used to shape public opinion, three case studies of media coverage are selected as the basis of the critical analysis: reporting involving the Kabul drone strike in August 2021 that punctuated the end of the presence of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan; airstrikes in Baghuz, Syria in 2019; and attacks on and around Taqba Dam in Syria in 2017. Part I of the inquiry evaluates some of the central narratives presented in media reporting involving each case study, while Part II conducts an analysis of each incident by drawing on sources of doctrinal law and policy that apply to actual targeting operations in practice. Part III then expands beyond these three case studies to consider New York Times and other high-profile media reporting in the broader context of public discourse and the current perceptions of select members of Congress. Finally, the concluding reflections section presents suggestions for pursuing true “accountability” for individuals and groups that have thus far remained largely unaccountable: media companies, civil society organizations, and select members of Congress.

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Mass media and war, New York Times, Congressional overreach