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I’ve Got a One-Word Verdict on This Article and Its Research: BULLSH!T

I posted earlier about the New York Times complete hit piece smear of our returning OEF and OIF veterans. And I noted that the military blog community was in full gear ripping this obvious smear piece to shreds. Today, I have read a lot more excellent pieces all across the military blogs as well as anti-idiotarian blogs. The two best, in my opinion, come from Phillip Carter at Intel Dump and John Hinderaker at Power Line Blog.

NYT misfires on veterans story

Sunday’s New York Times features a lengthy front-page article titled “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles” — what it bills as Part I of a “series of articles and multimedia about veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings, or been charged with them, after coming home.”

Right….. Because we all know that all veterans are coming home crazy, shell-shocked, and ready to kill their friends and loved ones.

[ … ]

So, basically, the reporters went trolling on Lexis-Nexis and other databases to find “murder” within the same paragraph as “veteran” or “soldier,” and built a front-page story around that research. They compared the pre-war numbers to the post-war numbers and found that, voila!, there’s a difference. And then it looks like they cherry-picked the best anecdotes out of that research (including the ones where they could get interviews and photos) to craft a narrative which fit the data.

The article makes no attempt to produce a statistically valid comparison of homicide rates among vets to rates among the general population. Nor does it rely at all on Pentagon data about post-deployment incidents of violence among veterans. It basically just generalizes from this small sample (121 out of 1.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan vets, not including civilians and contractors) to conclude that today’s generation of veterans are coming home full of rage and ready to kill.

I’ve got a one-word verdict on this article and its research: bullshit.

Crazed Veterans Spark Nationwide Crime Wave

I’m pretty sure your first question will be: “How does the murder rate among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan compare to the murder rate for young American men generally?” Remarkably, this is a question the New York Times did not think to ask. Or, if the Times asked the question and figured out the answer, the paper preferred not to report it.

As of 2005, the homicide rate for Americans aged 18-24, the cohort into which most soldiers fall, was around 27 per 100,000. (The rate for men in that age range would be much higher, of course, since men commit around 88% of homicides. But since most soldiers are also men, I gave civilians the benefit of the doubt and considered gender a wash.)

Next we need to know how many servicemen have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. A definitive number is no doubt available, but the only hard figure I’ve seen is that as of last October, more than 500,000 U.S. Army personnel had served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Other sources peg the total number of personnel from all branches of the military who have served in the two theaters much higher, e.g. 750,000, 650,000 as of February 2007, or 1,280,000. For the sake of argument, let’s say that 700,000 soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors have returned to the U.S. from service in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Do the math: the 121 alleged instances of homicide identified by the Times, out of a population of 700,000, works out to a rate of 17 per 100,000 — quite a bit lower than the overall national rate of around 27.

But wait! The national rate of 27 homicides per 100,000 is an annual rate, whereas the Times’ 121 alleged crimes were committed over a period of six years. Which means that, as far as the Times’ research shows, the rate of homicides committed by military personnel who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan is only a fraction of the homicide rate for other Americans aged 18 to 24. Somehow, the Times managed to publish nine pages of anecdotes about the violence wreaked by returning servicemen without ever mentioning this salient fact.

I’ve got a suggestion for the editors of the Times: next time, why don’t they undertake a research project to identify all murders and other forms of homicide committed (or allegedly committed — no finding of guilt necessary!) by people who are, or recently have been, employed by newspaper companies? They could write a long article in which selected crimes allegedly committed by reporters, editors and typesetters are recounted in detail, accompanied by speculation about whether newspaper employment was a contributing factor in each case. No need to wonder whether reporters, editors and typesetters commit homicide at a rate any different from the rest of the population — a single murder is too many!

Here’s another idea: the Times’ story on veterans’ crimes repeatedly focused on the role of alcoholism, which the paper associated with the stresses of military service. How about a survey that compares alcoholism rates among reporters and soldiers? Just on a hunch, I’ll wager a dollar that the alcoholism rate for reporters is higher.

It’s bad enough that the New York Times smears our military personnel when they are serving overseas. Can’t they at least leave them alone once they return home?

Matt Burden at Blackfive also has a good compilation piece with this added e-mail from a reader who highlights why this smear piece by the New York Times is a big deal that has an effect on our returning soldiers:

…Last night, my momma and I were at the Sacramento Airport to help greet a number of returning Soldiers, including SPC Michael Hamilton, whose story was written up by the Bee in December; and other members of the 3/61, Captain Andrew White and SPC Abrams. We also were there when many members of an Air Force Medical wing deployed from Travis Air Base returned from Afghanistan. Present were family, Patriot Guard, and many other supporters who had gotten the call to welcome these men and women home.

I bring this up because one of the Patriot Guard riders at the airport spoke to my momma and me about coming home from Vietnam and almost being thrown in jail after some punk called him a baby killer…Our Vietnam Vets have been instrumental in making sure that now, our returning Soldier, Airmen, Marines and Sailors are not greeted with such disrespect and insult.

That was all I could think about this morning as I stood in line at the grocery store with that Bee headline screaming at every checkout line. Our men and women came home last night to a happy, welcoming crowd, who were more than pleased to see them and thank them for their service to our beloved country. And this morning, those same men and women will see a local paper with a prominent headline implying they are murdering criminals let loose in our society. This meme is a little too close to what the Vietnam Veteran experienced 30 years ago, and I thought you should know…

Don’t ANYONE tell me that the mass media is not using their power to push their agenda and their bias on an ignorant, apathetic American public. It is plainly obvious.

And it is utterly despicable.

Curt at Flopping Aces also has links to many more military bloggers and anti-idiotarian bloggers who are expressing their outrage on this issue.

Scott Johnson also passes along a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times by Tom Lipscomb:

[ … ] Apparently violent veterans are streaming home “across America” from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. So far, out of hundreds of thousands of service personnel who have served there, The New York Times has decided to devote more than 6,000 words beginning with three columns out of five and a color montage above the fold of its Sunday front page to “At least 121” veterans, who happen to be, at best, a fraction of 1% of those who have served.

And the Times piece shows the same carefree contempt for statistical validity Soros’s Johns Hopkins hirelings just got nailed with. The Times claims their sample of “At least 121” veterans makes it possible to “paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.” It’s a “patchwork” all right. A Pentagon spokesperson tried to point out to the reporters that a sample: “lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide” makes it rather hard to draw intelligent conclusions.

Which is probably why there are none in the piece. Instead we get hand-wringing extrapolations like this: “… these killings provide a kind of echo sounding for the profound depths to which some veterans have fallen, whether at the bottom of a downward spiral or in a sudden burst of violence.” “A kind of echo sounding?” “Some veterans?” And the article is full of useful hedge words like “some,” “appear,” “most likely” more common to a gypsy fortune teller than an investigative reporter. Now assuming “some” is more than one and less than 121, that isn’t very helpful, is it? And none of it is statistically relevant enough to reawaken the stigma that veterans of the Vietnam War remember well.

I spent some wonderful years associated with the largest job program in the country specifically working with Vietnam veterans. There were hundreds of thousands of them in the New York metro area. They were over 80% black and Hispanic and more than 60% of those unemployed had red flags like drug or alcohol abuse and a lot of them had various brushes with law enforcement. The New York Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program was largely staffed by Vietnam veterans who helped thousands of them find themselves and get back to work at jobs averaging $22,000 a year.

Our single largest problem? Overcoming the constant fixation news media had for stories headlined “Crazed Vietnam Veteran… .” You can fill in the blank. Everyone alive then remembers the stories.

But when current Virginia Senator, and Vietnam veteran, Jim Webb was appointed to the Pentagon by President Reagan, he asked a lot of questions about the whether any of the many charges about disproportionate problems with Vietnam veterans were true. They weren’t. It was a theme John Kerry played to with his promotion of the phony war crimes stories of his despicable Vietnam Veterans Against the War. And as we saw at the VVLP, it sure took the wind out of a veteran who had worked hard to get ready for his first job interview to know his potential employers were constantly exposed to this kind of stereotype.

If you think this front page featuring sloppy reporting of a statistically irrelevant sample of our veterans is helpful in any way, many of us would appreciate your telling us why.

Thomas H. Lipscomb
Senior Fellow
The Heartland Institute

The pro-troops group Move America Forward also takes apart this smear piece:  BREAKING NEWS: MAF Exposes New York Times for Erroneous ‘Killer Vet’ Report

[ … ]  The Times made the false conclusion that:  “Taken together, they paint the patchwork of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.”

The Times documentation of 121 potential killings out of more than 1.5 million veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), divided by 6 years of conflict results in a murder rate of just 1.34 incidents per 100,000 veterans per year.***

That murder rate is far lower than the murder rate for the general population, demonstrating that the experiences of military service – including having served in Iraq and Afghanistan – actually made it less likely for returning veterans to commit murder once they returned home, than the general population.

Given a census-estimated population of the United States of 300,000,000 persons in this country as of October 2006, and FBI-compiled statistics of 17,399 homicide offenders for 2006, the murder rate of the general population was 5.80 offenders per 100,000 on average – and a rate of approximately 7.67 per 100,000 for men.

Since all but one of the veterans cited by the Times who committed a killing in the U.S. was male, the comparable rate is approximately 7.67 incidents of murder per 100,000 people among the general male population, compared to just 1.34 incidents per 100,000 returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (of both genders).

“It’s obvious that the New York Times has an agenda of undermining the missions of our troops in the War on Terror, so much so that they are willing to resort to demonstrably false statistics to support their anti-troop bias,” said Melanie Morgan, Chairman of Move America Forward.

“The slander of our troops and veterans by the New York Times is unfortunately all too familiar.  We heard this kind of nonsense about our returning veterans from Vietnam.  It’s the same insult, different war. [ … ]

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January 14, 2008 , 10:26PM - Posted by | Anti-War Groups, Bush Derangement Syndrome, Media Bias, Military, Move America Forward, New York Times, Operation Enduring Freedom, The Long War, War Effort in Iraq

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