What's Wrong with the Times' Sunday Magazine?
What's with the Times' Sunday magazine section?
Earlier this year, a pro-abortion story from El Salvador backfired when one ofits main scary anecdotes about the harsh anti-abortion laws in that country turned out to be absolutely false. Now, a portion of the March 18 cover story, "The Women's War," on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the alleged sexual abuse offemale soldiers in Iraq, has also been revealed to be dead wrong.
Here's the Times' editor's note from Sunday regarding "The Women's War"by contributing writer Sara Corbett, involving the story told by Amorita Randall, one of several female soldiers Corbett interviewed for her piece.
"The cover article in The Times Magazine on March 18 reported on women who served in Iraq, the sexual abuse that some of them endured and the struggle for all of them to reclaim their prewar lives. One of the servicewomen, Amorita Randall, a former naval construction worker, told The Times that she was in combat in Iraq in 2004 and that in one incident an explosive device blew up a Humvee she was riding in, killing the driver and leaving her with a brain injury. She also said she was raped twice while she was in the Navy.
"On March 6, three days before the article went to press, a Times researcher contacted the Navy to confirm Ms. Randall's account. There was preliminary back and forth but no detailed reply until hours before the deadline. At that time, a Navy spokesman confirmed to the researcher that Ms. Randall had won a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal with Marine Corps insignia, which was designated for those who served in a combat area, including Iraq, or in direct support of troops deployed in one. But the spokesman said there was no report of the Humvee incident or a record of Ms. Randall's having suffered an injury in Iraq. The spokesman also said that Ms. Randall's commander, who served in Iraq, remembered her but said that her unit was never involved in combat while it was in Iraq. Both of these statements from the Navy were included in the article. The article also reported that the Navy had no record of a sexual-assault report involving Ms. Randall.
"After The Times researcher spoke with the Navy, the reporter called Ms. Randall to ask about the discrepancies. She stood by her account.
"On March 12, three days after the article had gone to press, the Navy called The Times to say that it had found that Ms. Randall had never received imminent-danger pay or a combat-zone tax exemption, indicating that she was never in Iraq. Only part of her unit was sent there; Ms. Randall served with another part of it in Guam. The Navy also said that Ms. Randall was given the medal with the insignia because of a clerical error.
"Based on the information that came to light after the article was printed, it is now clear that Ms. Randall did not serve in Iraq, but may have become convinced she did. Since the article appeared, Ms. Randall herself has questioned another member of her unit, who told Ms. Randall that she was not deployed to Iraq. If The Times had learned these facts before publication, it would not have included Ms. Randall in the article."
Though the actual article didn'tappear in the magazine for six more days (March 18), theTimes didn't pulp the magazine or even run a correction the same day as the article, but waiteda full week before issuing itsEditor's Note the following Sunday.
"The Navy, while expressing sympathy to a woman it believes is suffering from stress, is annoyed that the Times did so little to check the woman's story. A Times fact checker contacted Navy headquarters only three days before the magazine's deadline. That, said Capt. Tom Van Leunen, deputy chief of information for the Navy, did not provide enough time to confirm Randall's account of service in Iraq. Nonetheless, Van Leunen said, by deadline the Navy had provided enough information to the Times "to seriously question whether she'd been in Iraq."
"Aaron Rectica, who runs the magazine's research desk, disputes that. He said that by deadline, the Navy had not given the Times any reason to disbelieve Randall's claim of service in Iraq. Rectica said the Navy only told the paper that Randall's commanders believed she'd been in Iraq but that no one in the unit had been in combat."
"But what do interviews of women diagnosed with PTSD tell us about the much broader population of women who have served in the military? Not much, I suspect. Corbett's method reminds me of a study done in the late 1960s on the effects of marijuana use. It found that 100% of college students who smoked marijuana suffered from some kind of psychological problem. At the time, the study was widely reported. Its conclusion seemed obviously false to me, and I couldn't figure out how the study could be so far off the mark until I got to the last line of the news article: the study was based on a review of files in college psychiatric services. Sure enough, if the data set you start with is psychiatric files, you will find that 100% of marijuana smokers have some kind of psychological problem. Of course, you could say the same for any other demographic group: blue-eyed people, midgets, whatever.
"While Corbett's article doesn't purport to be a scientific study, the same phenomenon appears to be at work. If the only people you talk to are ones who are being treated for PTSD, you will get the impression that military service is awfully traumatic. Of course, you would get the same impression if you interviewed male veterans who were being treated for PTSD. And you would get similarly sad stories from civilians who are being treated for similar disorders."