Accuracy in Media

Doing the job of the media, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR) broke a significant scoop. Donnelly had obtained information, including official briefing documents, indicating that the Pentagon is moving to force female soldiers into new land combat brigades. If this is because of shortages of male combat soldiers, then the Pentagon is not telling us the truth that the Army has enough troops to win the war in Iraq.

The documents indicate that the Third Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia was ignoring a Department of Defense rule exempting female soldiers from support units that “collocate” or mix with land combat troops.

The division is scheduled to deploy to Iraq soon. Donnelly pointed out that the move also violated a law requiring prior notice to Congress over a period of 30 legislative days when both Houses are in session. In addition, CMR emphasized the 2002 Defense Authorization Act also requires an analysis of potential impact of such changes.

Donnelly sounded the alarm because she also saw the potential for the Third Infantry action to affect all land combat units. “Female soldiers should not be forced to participate in deliberate offensive or defensive actions on land, under conditions where they do not have an ‘equal opportunity’ to survive, or help fellow soldiers survive,” said Donnelly.

It was a big story, so where were the media? National Review covered the CMR scoop on December 9, followed by a detailed piece in the Washington Times on December 13. The latter story stated that the Army’s own documents labeled “draft close hold,” state the arrangement, “could be perceived as subterfuge to avoid reporting requirements” to Congress.  The Times also found, three weeks after the November 3 briefing, the Army created an internal presentation on why the ban on collocation should be lifted.

Mackubin Thomas Owens, writing in National Review, called it a “radical change,” adding, “[T]he Army has surreptitiously begun to violate these regulations without advising Congress.”

Given the scope of the proposed change, one would think the mainstream media would be eager to cover such an issue as well. After all, when government officials appear to be attempting to circumvent law, the media are usually drawn like moths to a porch light.

While the Washington Times did cover the issue in a detailed fashion, there was far more that could have been written about and followed up on. Donnelly has written to congressional leaders, and is hoping the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will get involved. Is he aware of what is being done?

A natural follow-up would be for mainstream media to push for statements from administration officials and top Army staff. Television news segments could put the developments in historic context and cite previous reports of the Washington Post and Detroit News of female soldiers whose experiences indicated their physical stature put them at a distinct disadvantage.

CMR points out that one female soldier who came under ambush was too short to see out of the turret in order to shoot a machine gun effectively. Another 5’2″ female soldier died when an armored personnel carrier she was driving flipped over. It was found she had removed her seat back and used it to prop herself up high enough to see out. Drivers are normally required to be 5’5″.  Putting women into combat could jeopardize the lives of more soldiers?both women and men. If there’s a shortage of male soldiers, the Army should say so.

Mainstream media coverage was limited to the conservative outlets, in addition to Cal Thomas’ syndicated column on the subject. That appeared in many newspapers, including Tulsa World, the Myrtle Beach Sun News, Miami Herald, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Cordele Dispatch, Charlotte Observer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Baltimore Sun.

The disinterest of mainstream media in reporting or editorializing on the subject suggests that they support the policy of putting women in combat. It’s time for “new media” to assert themselves. The lives of our soldiers are on the line.

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