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Why does anyone believe The New York Times about anything, ever?

January 21st, 2008 - 5:54 am

I am glad that our former paper of record is getting some small portion of the obloquy it deserves for “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” the front-page story it ran on January 13 inaugurating a series about the supposed violent tendencies of American soldiers who had returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were, the Times moaned, “121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war.” Oh-my-god, has BushHitler transformed the U.S. Military into a bunch of homicidal maniacs?

Not quite, Virginia (actually, the authors were Deb and Liz: Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez–remember those names and avoid them). As my colleague Bob Owens at PJ Media reported a few days ago, the ink was barely dry on tomorrow’s fish-wrapper before Sontag’s and Alvarez’s patchwork of innuendo, statistical “creativity,” and ideological twisting of facts came to light. In the first place, the “121″ homicides that the Times cites would actually represents a far lower murder rate than among the general civilian population. Sontag and Alvarez never get around to mentioning that little tidbit.

Even worse, however, is the link that Sontag and Alvarez imply, but by no means demonstrate, between military service and homicidal behavior. As Owens notes,

Of those 121 summaries, 40 do not show direct ties between the stresses of deploying to combat zones and the homicides for which these veterans were charged, and of those, 14 were of highly dubious nature.

  • The appropriately named Travis D. Beer, an Army reservist deployed to Iraq, pleaded no contest to motor vehicle homicide, and had two prior arrests for driving under the influence. The Times does not note if those prior arrests occurred before he deployed to Iraq.
  • Jonathan Braham, a Marine veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, shot a man whom he thought had sexually abused his stepson. According to the Times’ own reporting, he was adamant that his service in Iraq did not play a role in his decision to shoot the alleged abuser.
  • Brian Epting was sentenced to six years for vehicular homicide when he lost control of his car while drag racing in 2005 and killed Robert Duffy, a World War II veteran. Is the Times seriously implying that his deployment to Iraq in 2003 is to blame for a drag racing death?
  • Michael Gwinn Jr. has a history of domestic violence.
  • Robert G. Jackson was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, as was Johnny Williams Jr., which cannot readily be tied to military deployments. Likewise, James Pitts has psychiatric problems predating his deployment to Iraq.
  • Michael Antonio Jordan had a juvenile criminal record and was involved in gang activity.
  • Christian Mariano was acquitted for acting in self-defense, and yet the Times still included him on this list.
  • Jason R. Smith, a National Guard veteran and Atlanta narcotics officer, shot elderly Kathryn Johnston in an infamous no-knock raid, and is currently being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, but his attorney cannot say what the proximate cause of his PTSD may have been.
  • Aaron Stanley’s sideline occupation as an alleged methamphetamine and marijuana dealer may have had more to do with his homicides than his deployment to Iraq. Vernon Walker killed two fellow soldiers while dealing drugs.
  • Larry Jaimall West was a member of the Crips street gang.
  • Jared Terrasas had a conviction for misdemeanor spousal abuse prior to his deployment to Iraq
  • Jessie L. Ullom had already been charged with abusing his infant son before he saw combat.

Owens also provides this helpful historical reminder:

[T]he bizarre emphasis of the New York Times upon veteran violence without the provision of context can be understood by remembering that Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the Times, once said during the Vietnam War that if a North Vietnamese soldier ran into an American soldier, he’d rather see the American soldier shot.

What if someone were to apply the sort of statistical reasoning to the Times that the Times applies to the men and women that make life cosy in and around the newsrooms of our former paper of record? As it happens, someone has. In an inspired piece of investigative journalism, the weblog Iowahawk reveals the seamy truth in a sensation, Pulitzer-Prize-winning bid called “Bylines of Brutality” (“As Casualties Mount, Some Question The Emotional Stability of Media Vets”). The sad, sad story begins:

A Denver newspaper columnist is arrested for stalking a story subject. In Cincinnati, a television reporter is arrested on charges of child molestation. A North Carolina newspaper reporter is arrested for harassing a local woman. A drunken Chicago Sun-Times columnist and editorial board member is arrested for wife beating. A Baltimore newspaper editor is arrested for threatening neighbors with a shotgun. In Florida, one TV reporter is arrested for DUI, while another is charged with carrying a gun into a high school. A Philadelphia news anchorwoman goes on a violent drunken rampage, assaulting a police officer. In England, a newspaper columnist is arrested for killing her elderly aunt.

Unrelated incidents, or mounting evidence of that America’s newsrooms have become a breeding ground for murderous, drunk, gun-wielding child molesters? Answers are elusive, but the ever-increasing toll of violent crimes committed by journalists has led some experts to warn that without programs for intensive mental health care, the nation faces a potential bloodbath at the hands of psychopathic media vets.

“These people could snap at any minute,” says James Treacher of the Treacher Institute for Journalist Studies. “We need to get them the help and medication they need before it’s too late.”

Statistics of Shame

Accounts of media psychopathy, while widespread, have until now been largely anecdotal. In order to provide a more focused and systematic study of the crisis, Iowahawk researchers set out to identify and tabulate criminal arrests and convictions of current and former journalists. While by no means comprehensive, this 10-minute project yielded a grim picture of a once-proud profession now in the grips of tragic, drunk, violent, child-raping rage.

The stories cited in the opening paragraph, while instructive, are by no means isolated. Google searches return hundreds of crimes attributable to workers in America’s media industry, and millions of pages containing the terms “journalist” and “murder.” They are as shocking in their detail as they are in their number.

While some journalists’ alleged offenses are limited to propery crimes and theft — such as Redwood City (CA) radio reporter Joe McConnell and Former Detroit TV Reporter Suzanne Wangler — often they take a darker turn, resulting in public endangerment. Current and former journalists seem particularly enthusiastic about driving the nation’s highways and streets in drug and alcohol fueled stupors. Among the journalists arrested or charged with DUI offenses since 2000 include Salon and Guardian columnist Sidney Blumenthal, Chicago TV news anchor Walter Jacobson, Kansas City TV reporter Steve Shaw, Nashville newspaper columnist Brad Schmitt, Albuquerque Journal reporter Chris Vogel, Rocky Mountain News editor Holger Jesen, New York Post Columnist Richard Johnson, Idaho State Journal columnist Brady Slater, Tampa Tribune editor Janet Weaver, St. Petersburg Times reporter Eric Robert Gershman, and Lexington (KY) TV reporter Angelica St. John.

How many unsuspecting American motorists and pedestrians remain at risk from alcoholic media professionals is still a matter of scientific conjecture, but one thing is certain: journalists can be even more deadly outside their cars. Often the journalistic gateway to violent behavior begins with stalking and trespassing — such as has been alleged of People magazine reporters Jeffrey Neal Weiss, and, in an unrelated incident, Don Sider. But sometimes, as in the case of MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, serial stalking behavior goes unpunished and the perpetrators go on to seek more serious thrill-crimes. Journalists recently charged with violent offenses include New York Times reporter and alleged batterer Michael Katz, British reporter Ben Stubbings, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Margaret Gillerman, charged with striking a police officer.

It is an inspired . . . I was going to say “parody,” but really it is far too close to the original to be called a parody. Perhaps it would be more accurate to compare it to the play Hamlet stages to “catch the conscience of the King,” a dramatic re-enactment of the very crime Claudius had committed but had yet to acknowledge. It worked for Hamlet; will Iowahawk’s performance work for the rest of us? It is too early to tell. But read the whole thing here. It is more truthful, and far more amusing, than anything you’ll read in the Times.

Update: And here are some posters relating to The Media Violence Project!.

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