Editor & Publisher Blames Suicides on Iraq War

December 4th, 2007 2:39 PM

Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell is hot on the trail with a year long E&P tribute to local newspapers that are covering "the shocking number of suicides among U.S. troops in Iraq or after they return home". At first I figured this was a strange tribute to be making, especially considering that Mitchell didn't bother to present any facts when implying that the war is to blame for such tragic deaths. Instead Mitchell follows it up with an AP story about the apparent suicide of Army veteran Tyler Curtis and presents this incident as further proof to bolster the claim.

NEW YORK For the past year, E&P has paid tribute to local newspapers, sometimes quite small ones, that have covered extremely sensitive and revealing stories that previously gained little attention: the shocking number of suicides among U.S. troops in Iraq or after they return home. Recent studies suggest the figure, once in the hundreds, is now in the thousands.

The tragic circumstances surrounding a suicide, whether it be in the military or in civilian life is one that must be discussed carefully and within context. Especially if that death is to be used to further a thesis or to infer that suicides among combat veterans is proportionally greater than that of the U.S. national average for civilians in the same age and gender group. Yet Editor & Publisher does anything but present the death of Tyler Ray Curtis outside the context of their predisposed notion, completely without supporting facts, anecdotal evidence or even the slightest amount of data that would support the claim. As such it appears that E&P is merely using the death of Mr. Curtis as an opportunistic political prop to fan the flames of anti-war emotions.

Even if Editor and Publisher were to publish numbers that showed an increase in the number of suicides among combat veterans it would lack one key statistic; causality. The liberal media loves to find blame that fits neatly into their predisposed and heavily jaundiced bias. Unfortunately that blame is all too often cast without any basis in fact other than the anecdotal musings of like minded interlopers. They want to believe their perspective so much that they haven't even bothered to look at themselves for any culpability in attempting to demoralize the troops. Does Mitchell believe that his constant barrage of anti-war publications is some sort or morale booster? When pondering why a soldier might be depressed did Mitchell or any of his compatriots in the press think that perhaps they might have had something to do with that state of mind? Not likely.

Never has the mainstream media, the democrats in Congress or the liberal party base been able to convince the troops that they were appreciated for putting their lives on the line. They have been slandered with fabrications, attacked with lies and undermined with out of context anecdotes for years on end. Despite all of that Greg Mitchell and friends have now discovered an urgent need to tie the war to an increased level of suicide. After all, "it's for the troops". Spare me.

This narrative has been playing out in the press for a while now. Case in point is the recently published CBS News Investigation titled "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans".

(CBS) They are the casualties of wars you don’t often hear about - soldiers who die of self-inflicted wounds. Little is known about the true scope of suicides among those who have served in the military.

But a five-month CBS News investigation discovered data that shows a startling rate of suicide, what some call a hidden epidemic, Chief Investigative Reporter Armen Keteyian reports exclusively.

It took 5 months for CBS to compile and interpret the statistics that told the story from a predetermined perspective. Yet it took less than one day for others to point out that CBS misrepresented the numbers by using erroneous comparisons. (H/T Wired.com)

Danger Room links to a CBS story on an allegedly disproportional number of suicides by veterans. Supporting an anecdotal piece on veterans of the current war, CBS pulls up statistics showing that veterans committed suicide at twice the rate of the average population.

Shock! Horror!


In the US, male veterans outnumber female veterans 13:1. Since four times as many males as women commit suicide in the general population, you'd expect the rate among veterans to be close to the rate among males - 17.6/100,000 per year in 2002 - and indeed it is, if the CBS raw numbers are correct.

CBS also makes an issue of the fact that suicide rates among younger veterans exceed that of the general population by an even bigger margin - but again, that's what you'd expect, because in that age group, the male-to-female imbalance in suicide rates is greatest, almost six to one.

Suicide is tragedy. What it does not seem to be, among veterans, is an epidemic. - Bill Sweetman, Aviation Week Blog

A writer at Red State decimated the CBS report further. The article is very detailed and makes analytical sense.

It would seem, that once the suicide rate is adjusted to reflect the demographics of the veterans population that the sucide rate among 20-24 year olds is statistically indistinguishable from that of the general population.

The story could end there but singular data points are rarely useful in analysis. One could argue that as suicides among 20-24 year olds in 2004 only totaled 2,607 then an "epidemic" of suicides among veterans in that age group could easily have skewed the data for males and white males making the veterans suicide rate look the same as the non-veteran rate of the same population.

If I am correct, then the suicide rate among the 20-24 year old male cohort, which I am using as a proxy for veterans, should remain similar over time. If CBS is correct, there should be a rise in that rate in 2004. If we go back about 30 years this is what we see:

1979 -- 26.5

1980 -- 26.8

1981 -- 25.7

1982 -- 25.2

1983 -- 24.0

Going forward ten years:

1993 -- 26.5

1994 -- 28.0

1995 -- 27.0

And since the Long War began:

2002 -- 20.8

2003 -- 20.2

2004 -- 20.8

Statistically, the suicide rate for this age cohort has remained unchanged since at least 1999.

But facts don't seem to matter to the Greg Mitchell's of the media world. They are continuing to plod along on their merry narrative even though the conclusions that they are continuing to peddle have been seriously questioned.

Rather than prey on the emotions of family members at a time of unimaginable grief perhaps these vampires in the press could start criticizing their own. Start with Franklin Foer's false Baghdad Diarist series at The New Republic and work your way backward until you get to a point where you can make amends by adding objectivity to your stories. Better yet, do everyone a favor and take yourselves out of the picture completely. You can start by publishing the works of people who aren't looking to find fault in everything the U.S. military is accomplishing such as Michael Yon and Jeff Emanuel.

When the mainstream media starts to actually cover both sides of the war I will become a convert in believing that the ship has righted itself. But that won't happen, especially with an election on the horizon.

Every death is a tragedy. Losing those who fought so bravely to protect others is something that can not be brushed aside. But attempting to capitalize on these deaths for political points is beyond the pale; the lowest of all lows. These people never cared enough to help boost morale or honor their service when they were alive and it is wrong to pretend to care now that they are dead. Where is the shame?

Terry Trippany is the Editor at Webloggin