The New York Times Hits Veterans Yet Again

The media is at it again, using questionable statistics and broad strokes to paint the U.S. military as a band of unstable brutes. Case in point: the January 13 New York Times story "Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles," which collates deaths at the hands of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A total of nine Times reporters were involved in the one-page story, co-authored by Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez, which is the first in a series of articles encapsulated under the title "War Torn: 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."

The Times found, "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."

Bruce Kesler of the Democracy Project was among the first to note that despite finding the time to pen 6,253 words in this first article of the series, "the New York Times could not find words to put the 121 cases of physical violence by vets in full perspective," by providing the context of how these deaths measure up against the number of deaths attributed to similar civilian demographics.

In an article in the Weekly Standard, John J. DiIulio Jr. offered the much-needed context that the Times failed to provide.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and other veterans' advocacy groups are absolutely correct that not merely "many" but the vast majority of veterans not only remain completely law-abiding but go on to lead stable and productive personal, professional, and civic lives. Assuming 121 homicide cases in relation to 749,932 total discharges through 2007, 99.98 percent of all discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have not committed or been charged with homicide.

And assuming 121 cases and 749,932 total discharges, the homicide offending rate for the discharged veterans would be 16.1 per 100,000. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has demographic data aplenty on homicide offending rates. For instance, in 2005, for white males aged 18-24, the rate was about 20 per 100,000. The Times opined that 121 was the "minimum" number, even as it counted veterans charged but not convicted with veterans tried and found guilty. Doubling the number to 242 would double the rate to 32.2 per 100,000.

Far from being an indictment against veterans, the actual homicide rate among civilians is higher in similar demographic groups.

Writing at Winds of Change and admittedly using back-of-the-envelope math, Marc Danziger comes up with an estimate of the 121 homicides mentioned in the Times as representing a 7.1/100,000 homicide rate by veterans, while citing Department of Justice statistics that show a US offender rate for homicide in the 18-24-year-old range of 26.5/100,000; for 25-34, it's 13.5/100,000.

A pro-military advocacy group Move America Forward put the veteran homicide rate even lower.

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.

Regardless of the actual figure, all of these accounts show a rate of civilian homicides significantly higher than a comparable rate attributed to veterans.

But are even the 121 deaths attributed to veterans by the Times meaningful in any significant way? Can many or most of these homicides be directly ascribed to the resulting stresses of deploying in a combat zone, as the Times implies?

In a sidebar accompanying the main article, the Times published "The Cases: The New York Times found 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." In the slideshow, the 121 veterans that are the statistics in the main story have their crimes briefly mentioned in summaries of three to five sentences.

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.

Veterans, especially wartime veterans, face significant stresses that should not be minimized and are only just being widely recognized, much less treated.

That understood, it is irresponsible of the New York Times to write an extensive post in effect indicting all veterans, while refusing to even attempt to provide context for their story, and while unfairly including every possible connection of veterans to homicides in such a cavalier manner - even those deaths that were justified, unrelated, unsupported, or had more proximate causes than being a war veteran.

But the 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.

He may yet achieve his goal - only using the pen instead of the sword.

Bob Owens blogs at Confederate Yankee.