Press bias is an ugly thing. It really makes no difference if that bias is unintentional or even unconscious.

Take the bias of the American elite -- academic, financial and social -- against the American military. Nowhere is that bias more obvious than the establishment press's choosing to identify criminals and other antisocial misfits by their former association with the U.S. Marine Corps, as in: "Ex-Marine terrorizes shopping center." Have you ever seen a story that began: "Ex-draft-dodger convicted of bilking widows and orphans out of their life savings?"

This summer, when, in Bristol, Conn., a 32-year-old drifter "with a history of mental problems" used a church candlestick to murder a Catholic priest who had told him he could not sleep in the church, how did the New York Times describe him? That's right: "a former Marine."

And when Lee Williams, a 23-year-old student at Wayne State University in Michigan, sued a tattoo parlor for embarrassment and the cost of plastic surgery needed to cover up "villian" -- instead of "villain" -- on his arm, what did the Associated Press tell us about Williams (who had consented to the misspelling)? Of course: He was a "former Marine."

And now that the University of Texas has reopened its 307-foot-high clock tower, which was closed in 1975 after a series of suicides, we are reminded that Charles Whitman, the psychopath who shot 14 people dead and left 31 wounded there in 1966, was "a former Marine."

Bias is not simply ugly; it is stupid as well. Elitists never notice that the U.S. military imposes far higher standards of conduct and duty upon its officers than does either civilian life or the vaunted private sector on its members. Lying or adultery or sexual harassment can instantaneously end a military officer's career. The same cannot be said for a CEO or for the highest civilian federal official.

These are not easy times for military recruiters. Even with $6,000 signing bonuses and generous college tuition benefits to offer, the Army, Air Force and Navy have not been able to meet their enlistment quotas. This country's long economic boom and the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the all-volunteer service have made the military recruiter's task a tough one.

Yet for 51 consecutive months, the Marine Corps, alone of the services, has met and surpassed its recruitment quota. And to meet that quota, the Marines have not -- as other branches have done -- lowered their academic or intelligence standards. In fact, they have raised them higher than the Pentagon requirements.

Unlike their sister services, which woo recruits with tangible promises of travel, compensation, tuition and retirement packages, the Marines offer intangibles: the opportunity to belong to something bigger than the individual; a grueling challenge; the test of being held to a higher standard; sacrifice and self-reliance. As Capt. Jeff Sammons, a 20-year Marine and former enlisted man, explains, "We want you to join the Marine Corps for one reason and for only one reason -- because you want to be a Marine."

What Marine service does for those fortunate enough to experience it is important. From the first day of boot camp, a Marine recruit learns that Marines never leave their dead or their wounded -- their own -- behind. Liberals especially ought to stand in grateful awe of this Marine Corps ethic, which contradicts the unbridled individualism that elevates personal well-being, comfort and profit above any obligation one might owe to his community or to his country.

American liberals may have led the good fight for civil rights, but the greatest civil rights victories have been won by the American military, including the Marines. Why is the American military the most integrated sector of American life today? Charles Moskos, the wonderful military scholar from Northwestern University, offers two reasons: no racial discrimination and no racial preference.

Up to now, the 2000 campaign has been conspicuously silent and sterile on the subject of what we Americans owe to each other and to America. What are our duties as Americans that our would-be leaders ask of us? What sacrifices are we as Americans willing to make?

I don't know. But the Marines know.

Creators Syndicate Inc.