June 2, 2008

Nice graphics, but...

We sometimes pick up a copy of USA Today while traveling; otherwise, we seldom read it because most of its stories lack the depth necessary to gain an understanding of the topics covered. That’s okay if they're reporting on the misadventures of Paris Hilton – but a disaster when covering suicides in the military (USA Today, 5/30-6/1, 2008).

Even Pentagon consultants appear to provide data that supports the headline, "Army tallies record number of suicides among soldiers."

Near the end of Gregg Zoroya’s story lie the naked facts that “one in four of the victims had never deployed overseas” and that less than one-third of the 115 Army suicides in 2007 were personnel stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) cites the statistics as “a tragic reminder that repeated deployments …are taking a heavy toll.”

Contrast that statement with the fact – also buried near the end of the article – that the Army suicide rate is lower than among civilians, “when adjusted for age and gender similar to military demographics.”

Loss of life is a very sad event. Suicides are more so. It is unfortunate that the USA Today format doesn’t allow for greater depth on covering such sobering subjects. This story suggests conclusions that on closer scrutiny appear misguided, and it raises even more questions – questions not likely to be addressed any time soon by USA Today.

Have military suicides tracked civilian suicides? What are the longer term trends? How do we reconcile “multiple combat deployments” as a key factor, when the highest percentage of victims have never deployed overseas?

USA Today is an economic success story, with circulation second to none. Perhaps that’s because its glitzy graphics and superficial stories satisfy a citizenry seeking entertainment and superficiality rather then substance. On-the-move citizens apparently find the publication meets their needs. Some of us, however, believe that USA Today nurtures only our shortened attention spans and desire for colorful graphics. It’s like overdosing on sweets and snack foods.

Perhaps it’s time to order a full healthy meal and renew our subscriptions to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Gaining an understanding of complex issues is important, if we are to seriously address the issues facing our country.

No comments: