Military Recruiting: Fool WaPo Twice, Shame on Them

Last year, the Washington Post let itself be so badly misled by a "study" on military recruiting from a far-left think tank that WaPo ombudsman Deborah Powell felt obliged to write a lengthy column about the matter, diplomatically taking her paper to task for failing to "tell the full story."

So when the same think tank came out with another recruiting study this year, surely WaPo would take it with a large grain of salt, right? Think again.

The organization in question is the National Priorities Project. To get a feel for just how leftward NPP leans, have a look at its Board of Directors, which includes a member of the radical ACORN group and an assortment of others with impeccable lefty credentials. Among the staff members, my favorite bio is of the Outreach Coordinator, who "first became politically engaged during the IMF/World Bank protests of 2000." Care for a shard of broken glass with your Latte Venti?

NPP is funded by an amalgam of benefactors of left-wing causes, including the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust and the Tides Foundation.

NPP recently published a study claiming that "in 2007, for the third year in a row, the Army did not meet its benchmark for the level of educational attainment of recruits." In an article of January 23, 2008, WaPo dutifully reported that and other assertions from the study.

Bill Carr, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Policy, in an appearance last evening on rightANGLE, the TV show hosted by this NewsBuster, and in subsequent comments, challenged a number of the assertions contained in the NPP study and propagated in the WaPo article, as follows:

  • The Washington Post lamented Army's intake of high school diploma graduates (79% of recruits). The journalist notes correctly that DoD seeks to achieve 90%, but does not inform readers that the Army achievement of 79% last year surpasses the average achievement of American youth, who suffer a 30% drop out rate. Nor does the Post report that Army recruits are 100% high school graduates (when alternate credentials such as GEDs are considered). So the Army's "failure" compares favorably with mainstream American youth ... but the readers are not told that.
  • Instead, WaPo quotes NPP Executive Director Greg Specter, who inexplicably concludes that "once again, we're staring at the painful story of young people with fewer options bearing the greatest burden." Nonsense. Today's average military recruit is far above average both in education and aptitude and has rich options.
  • For two decades, at least two-thirds of the military (DoD total) recruits have been drawn from the top half of American youth in math/verbal aptitude percentiles, nationally normed. The military is far above the national average in that attribute, which we consider especially influential in military performance.
  • Our work with the National Academy of Sciences has proven the strong correlation between higher math/verbal aptitude scores on the one hand, and performance (e.g., more truck and radio faults identified and fixed correctly) on the other. We prize it above most other recruit attributes, and continue to over-achieve in that very valuable (and difficult-to-recruit) commodity. We do it because we know it exerts a powerful influence on military performance, particularly amidst uncertaint or changing tasks.
  • Finally, contrary to the research cited by (and seemingly accepted by) the Post, more recruits are coming from middle and upper-income families than lower-income families -- facts that we correctly infer by crosswalking the zip code of new recruits to commercial sources (e.g., Claritas) that reveal average incomes by zip code. The Heritage Foundation found the same thing.
  • It is indeed surprising that this respected newspaper last year developed an article around faulty research published by National Priorities Project,then had to be led to better journalism by their own Ombudsman. Yet the Post swallowed NPP's assertions -- seemingly without challenge or corroboration -- again this year.

So . . was WaPo again misled by a think tank with a strong anti-war bent . . . or was the newspaper a knowing participant in propagating a misleading story? Fool you twice . . .

Note: Listen to Hugh Hewitt's brilliant dissection [podcast of Jan. 24 with Morrissey, Lileks] of a similar Tinkers-to-Evans-to-Chance MSM propagation of the Center for Public Integrity's "study" of the 935 "lies" told by the Bush administration that led us into the Iraq war.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.