Anger Spreads Over NYT's Sleazy Story on Killer Veterans

The blogosphere continues to boil with outrage over the Times's front-page story from Sunday on veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and committing murders, a story immediately discredited by cursory research as journalistically and statistically worthless. The paper's main finding, that 121 veterans either committed a killing in this country or are charged with one, was useless without context, which the Times either couldn't or didn't provide.The story failed basic journalism, with the Times making no attempt to compare murder rates of veterans to that of the general population. Can one imagine the Times spouting out a raw number of murders committed by, say, illegal immigrants? Without context, the Times' big finding was useless, a single data point floating in space. Armed Liberal tackled the story on that very point the day it appeared:

"I keep asking the simple question -- well, what does it mean? How do these 121 murderers compare with the base rate of murderers in the population? And the answer appears to be damn well."

Thursday's New York Post ran a scathing editorial on the Times's "Killer Vet Lie" and called on Public Editor Clark Hoyt to respond:

"Indeed, it's impossible to take issue with the statistics cited by reporters Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez -- because their article doesn't have any. "For most editors, that would be a red flag. Not at the Times, not in a piece that appealed to the editors' dearest prejudices." ..."Is the number of killings by combat vets dramatically higher than the rate involving people of the same age who've never served in the military? "It's a good question -- in fact, it's the key question. But the Times never asked it. Or, if it did, it never reported the answer. "Perhaps for good reason -- because the statistics tell a far different tale than that appearing in the Times."

Indeed, those who've run the numbers on various sets of crime statistics finds that one is significantly safer around veterans than around non-veterans of similar age. The Post's military correspondent Ralph Peters did some crunching:

"...to match the homicide rate of their [nonmilitary] peers, our troops would've had to come home and commit about 150 murders a year, for a total of 700 to 750 murders between 2003 and the end of 2007" -- six times the number the Times cited."

Bob Owens has a comprehensive piece at Pajamas Media, where he dug in further into the individual cases and found that

"...of those 121 summaries [in a sidebar story], 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 Weekly Standard has a useful roundup of the most cogent criticism of the story, which doesn't seem to be getting much in the way of defense from the left wing of the blogosphere (except for the dead-enders at the Huffington Post, naturally).(See previous NewsBusters coverage by Warner Todd Huston)

Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center . Read more: http://archive.newsbusters.org/bios/clay-waters.html#ixzz3CdgxLFgQ