Study: News portrayal of veterans less bleak than feared
Many American military veterans’ advocacy groups believe that the media portray veterans as mentally unstable or violent.
However, a new study finds that while media often do perpetuate negative stereotypes of veterans, it is rare that they portray veterans as mentally unstable.
“Many veterans advocacy groups are spending time and money fighting negative stigmas that simply don’t persist in the media,” says Douglas Wilbur, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
I'd have to actually read the study, which I haven't had a chance yet, but the abstract sets the tone:
Employing inductive framing analysis and Entman’s theory of framing, this project examines how the U.S. mainstream media defined Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans and their problems. This study used inductive framing analysis with a sample of 180 articles from seven major newspapers and two wire services. The findings revealed five dominant frames: broken veteran, disoriented veteran, fighting the bureaucratic enemy, overwhelmed family, and the financial hardship frames. Two counter-frames that attempted to challenge the dominant frames were identified: moral obligation to help and the healing counter-frames. The finding of this research indicates that while news frames of Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans skew negative, these news frames are not as negative as one might suspect. Thus, veterans’ groups, government agencies, and interested political actors need to sponsor counter-frames that emphasize the stability and employability of these veterans.
This hinges on what "one might suspect."
My issue with the media is the apparent neccessity to mention military service every time a veteran behaves badly. Take for instance Wade M. Page, the lunatic racist who shot up the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. Media was breathless to inform everyone that he was a veteran. For example, the BBC reported:
US officials said Page was a former US Army member who was discharged for "patterns of misconduct" after being reduced in rank from sergeant to specialist. He was declared ineligible to re-enlist.
He was reportedly disciplined in June 1998 for being drunk on duty.
A former psychological operations specialist and a Hawk Missile System repairman, he served in the US Army between April 1992 and October 1998, ending his career at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
But how germane was his military service to what he did? The Army decided that this guy was a lunatic, and barred him from reenlistment. Far more pertinent to his crime was being a white supremacist, not his former service repairing Hawk Missile Systems.
Or Christopher Dorner, the guy who killed a bunch of Law Enforcement officers in California in 2013. Story after story talked about his veterans status:
He joined the navy in 2002, serving in Nevada and San Diego and Bahrain, where he was awarded the Iraqi Campaign Medal and National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and other medals for marksmanship.
Clint Grimes, a former navy comrade, told reporters that Dorner was excited to join the LAPD, calling it a dream job. He appeared to like military protocol. "I would say, 'Call me Clint,' and he would say, 'Yes sir.'"
But was his service in the military what percipitated the attack? Presumably not:
The dream job [with the LAPD] swiftly soured however. He accused a female training partner of kicking a mentally ill homeless man during a routine stop. She denied it, witnesses appeared to back her, and Dorner was fired in 2008 for making false accusations. A tribunal upheld the decision in 2009.
Now, I'm not saying the media shouldn't reference the military service as a part of the biography, but breathlessly reporting that these guys were veterans isn't particularly germane.
veterans are not afforded similar restraint when we talk about the intersection between mental health, violent crime and personal backgrounds. On Sept. 16, Aaron Alexis opened fired in the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 and wounding three before a police officer shot and killed him.
The Washington Post fueled early hysteria: “Navy Yard gunman said to be troubled veteran” led a report shortly after the incident. The Colorado Gazette blared “Gunman was in Navy Reserve; arrested in 2004.” The Fresno (Calif.) Bee went further with a sub-headline that read “Former navy reservist arrested in 2004 Seattle shooting; suffered anger-fueled ‘blackout.’”
Alexis, a Navy reservist, never saw combat and maintained electrical instruments during his service. He was honorably discharged despite the Navy’s pursuit of a general discharge following a stream of bad conduct. Yet headlines that mentioned his service carried an unsettling subtext—his military training helped in the crime, and since he was a veteran, he had been struggled with post-traumatic stress.
Veteran advocates immediately protested the media’s portrayal, calling it inaccurate, damaging and untrue. The latest (and most prominent) comes from CNN’s Peter Bergen:
It’s a deadly combination: men who have military backgrounds — together with personal grievances, political agendas or mental problems — and who also have easy access to weapons and are trained to use them.