Nicholson: Media Botched Story on Troop Numbers Proposal

Defense Policy Journal Editor Alexander Nicholson says that many media outlets inaccurately characterized  the proposal outlined yesterday by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to reduce the number of Army service members to less than 450,000. Outlets including CNN, Fox, and The Hill all said that Hagel’s proposal would reduce the Army’s numbers “to pre-WWII levels.” That claim is, in fact, wrong.

The distinction lost on many reporters, said Nicholson, was small but vital.

“Where many reporters, editors, and bloggers are making their mistake is in their assumption that a drawdown to the lowest numbers since the pre-WWII numbers equates to a drawdown to the pre-WWII level,” he wrote on the DPJ’s website.

He goes on to explain that before WWII, the Army was 267,000 soldiers strong. A headline such as the one on Fox News’ website – “Hagel calls for shrinking Army to pre-WWII size” – insinuates that Hagel wants the Army to revert back to 267,000 soldiers. His actual proposal is for an Army at least 65% larger than that -somewhere between 440,000 and 450,000 troops. True, that is less than the 480,000 troops that were in the Army right after WWII, but the reduction is not nearly as dramatic as the headline makes it seem.

So which news orgs got the story right?

Politico nailed it,” Nicholson writes. “As did the Washington Post and the Associated Press, which takes the prize for the best context on the numbers, given that it was the only major piece I could find that simultaneously disclosed what the actual pre-WWII numbers were for comparison.”

You can read Nicholson’s whole article here.