Entry from November 24, 2008

The New York Times is at it again. You’d think that with the election over, the departure of American forces from Iraq successfully negotiated with the Iraqi government and the anti-war left so busy being enraptured by Barack Obama and the earthly paradise that his administration will doubtless be creating in short order, the need or desire for over-demonstrating the wickedness of George Bush’s war would have dissipated a bit. Nope. Yesterday’s Times returned to the theme of a series of articles that the paper ran last January (see here, here and here) purporting to show that American soldiers returning from Iraq and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been brutalized by the war there and turned into criminals.

This was an example of “the wacko-vet myth” that, as John DiIulio pointed out in the on-line edition of The Weekly Standard at the time, was seriously lacking in empirical and statistical justification. “The right question to ask,” he wrote, but the one that the Times did not bother to ask,

is whether the veterans, other things being equal (controlling for age, race, gender, education, income, prior criminal history, and other variables), offend at rates that are significantly different from otherwise comparable groups (including groups that have an extreme PTSD incidence). Without doing the relevant statistical (multiple- regression) analyses with all the requisite empirical data, it is impossible to say.

As Professor DiIulio notes, no one has done such a rigorous study, but the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics did do one in 2007 which showed

that veterans were half as likely as non-veterans to be in prison, but that was explained mainly by the fact that two-thirds of male veterans in the population at large were aged 55 or older (older people are less likely to be found behind bars). The incarcerated veterans were somewhat more likely than incarcerated non- veterans to have committed violent crimes, and far more likely to have committed violent crimes against females or minors. There is, however, no evidence at all that ex-military personnel, including veterans who served in combat theatres and saw action, figure significantly or disproportionately in murder, rape, robbery, burglary, or property crimes.

Now, as if seizing on the one aspect of these findings that will support its “wacko-vet” hypothesis, the Times reports, or rather implies, that the returning veterans are disproportionately guilty of crimes of domestic violence, though the paper has at most only one instance of the same to share with us. Ostensibly about “the serious gaps in the way the Army handles domestic violence cases and the way it treats victims, despite promises to take such crimes more seriously,” the story is really another iteration of the “wacko-vet” myth with a feminist slant. And it is entirely based on the account of one person.

This is Mrs Adriana Renteria, now divorced from her alleged abuser, Sgt Carlos Renteria, who is again deployed in Iraq. For this reason, the Army has not made the sergeant available to assist with the inquiries of the local prosecutor in Texas who is pursuing his ex-wife’s complaint against him. Though an Army spokesman told the Times that it takes charges of domestic abuse very seriously, he declined to comment on this particular case for reasons of privacy. But the Times story simply assumes that the Army’s unwillingness to comment or immediately to turn Sgt Renteria over to the prosecutor is evidence of its willingness to protect domestic abusers — as well, of course, as being a further example of a wife-beating wacko-vet.

Sgt Renteria may well be guilty of the two incidents of domestic violence described by his ex-wife, but it isn’t responsible journalism to report her unsupported account as fact, still less to make it an excuse for harping once again on the wacko-vet string. In another of its attacks on the administration’s conduct of the war from earlier in the year — an investigation of the military analysts provided by the Pentagon to explain to the media the technicalities of military operations — led the paper to the shocking discovery of “a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.” Now if only they could turn their bloodhounds loose on The New York Times itself to discover the information “apparatus” that has so obviously been designed to generate unfavorable news coverage of the administration’s and the armed forces’ wartime performance.


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