Saturday, April 17, 2004

New York City?!

Sorry to disappoint my imaginary readers by not posting for the last few days. I am down in New York visiting my sister and her family. My parents have also come up to visit, and so I have been able to spend some time with them as well, which is wonderful.

Being cut off from broadband, it's been hard to keep up with the news down here. But I saw a headline on one of the papers down here talking about terrible retention rates of US soldiers. It's in all the papers and all over the web. I just wrote about the terrific retention rates of US soldiers, though. And that story is also all over the place. Huh.

Let's get to the bottom of this. The numbers don't seem to directly contradict each other, so it must be that the two stories are choosing to emphasize different numbers from the same reports. The Big News about Terrible Retention seems to be that the US Army is on track to get 96% of their retention goal this fiscal year, in contrast to last year when they hit 106% of their goal. Wow. So, halfway through the year, one of the four service branches looks like it might be a thousand soldiers short. If you only look at retention.

Of course, retention is only half the picture. The other half is recruitment, which as it turns out, is ahead of goal.:

The Army is at 100.1 percent of its "active duty mission," said spokesman Douglas Smith, reviewing numbers current as of March 29. Smith said 34,593 soldiers had been enlisted for the active Army and 8,331 for the Reserves. The Army has been ahead of its goal every year since 2000 and every month this year, Smith said.

So, if the next six months play out like the last six months, then the US Army might retain 4% fewer soldiers than they would like. But they will more than make up for that loss with new recruits. Okay, how would you spin this story? "Despite war, US military has no trouble finding soldiers," or "Disastrous quagmire may cause tiny shortfall in US Army's retention goals."

The second headline is intellectually dishonest, and anyone who takes ten minutes to do some outside reading is going to find that out. But most people don't do that. They just trust that the reporters are honestly trying to report the news. It is a long-standing American tradition to be suspicious of government, wary of propaganda. That's good. That's healthy for democracy. Traditionally, though, Americans have been much less skeptical about the media. Maybe it's time to reevaluate. Certainly there are plenty of mainstream media sources that have lost my trust.

"Says here this news was made in... New York City!"

"New York City??"

"Get a rope..."


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