There's a media fracas that's gained steam in recent days, and it promises to become a full-blown donnybrook before everything is said and done. On one side, there's a Navy public affairs officer, Commander Jeffrey Gordon. On the other, reporter Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald.
Commander Gordon serves as the Pentagon's chief spokesman for issues pertaining to the western hemisphere, including the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Ms. Rosenberg has been the Herald's reporter on the Gitmo beat for several years, and she has frequently clashed with Commander Gordon.
But "clashed" is probably a bit mild in describing encounters between the Navy PAO and the Herald reporter. In a letter to the paper's executive editor (dated 29 July), Commander Gordon accused Ms. Rosenberg of sexual harassment and unprofessional conduct. directed toward himself, other public affairs representatives and even other members of the media pool.
In his complaint to Herald executive editor Anders Gyllenhall, Gordon calls for an investigation to "end" Rosenberg's "appalling behavior," that includes alleged comments about his sexual orientation. Fishbowl D.C. obtained a copy of Commander Gordon's letter; excerpts were re-printed by TV Newser.
To me, in front of another journalist with reference to why 9/11 co-defendant Mustafa Al Hawsawi was seated on a pillow in court:
"Have you ever had a red hot poker shoved up your a**? Have you ever had a broomstick shoved up your a**? Have you ever had anything in your a**? How would you know how it feels if it never happened to you?
Admit it, you liked it? No wonder why you like to stay in South Beach on your Miami visits."
Rosenberg, to CNN's Jamie McIntyre in front of roughly 15 journalists in the Guantanamo Commission's press center:
To Jamie - "Aren't you in the BOQ (Bachelor Officers Quarters)? I didn't think you were in tent city because these people (military public affairs escorts) are so far up your ass that I figured you must be in the BOQ."
To Me [Gordon] - "Why isn't he in the BOQ? You're kissing his ass so much that I can't believe that you're letting him stay with the rest of us. Do you love him?"
And for good measure, Ms. Rosenberg told a group of enlisted troops that [seeing] Gordon without his shirt on in the tent city was "the most repulsive thing I've ever seen."
By any standard, Rosenberg's comments are clearly beyond the boundaries of professional conduct and good taste, particularly in these politically correct times. But the Herald isn't rushing to suspend the reporter, or even offer a public complaint on the matter. As of today, Ms. Rosenberg is still on the Gitmo story, despite Commander Gordon's allegations.
The irony of these events cannot be understated. Consider, for a moment, if similar complaints had been lodged against the Navy PAO. Not only would Commander Gordon be out of a job, he would also be facing the end of his Navy career. And rightly so; comments about an individual's sexual orientation (or items inserted in someone's hindquarters) have no place in professional conversation.
Still, no one in the media appears willing to criticize Ms. Rosenberg. Contacted by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, other veterans of the Gitmo story described the Herald reporter as "exceptionally aggressive," someone who likes to "push the envelope" in obtaining information.
Call us old-fashioned, but there's a clear difference between "aggressiveness" and "nastiness." For years, Mike Wallace was the prototype aggressive reporter; from his days on Nightbeat to his long career on 60 Minutes, Mr. Wallace made more than a few of his subjects sweat. But I can't think of a single example of Wallace utilizing tactics similar to those of Ms. Rosenberg.
During my own days as a journalist, I had my share of dust-ups with corporate spokesmen and public affairs officers. I can remember making--and taking--apologetic phone calls, when one of us felt we had overstepped the lines of professional conduct. But neither I (nor the PAOs I dealt with) had to make amends for comments like those of Ms. Rosenberg.
As we read the complaint against the Herald reporter, we were reminded of another group of military correspondents. During World War II, a public affairs officer dubbed them the "Wrighting 69th," reporters who were accredited to cover the 8th Air Force and its bomber missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. The late Walter Cronkite was a member of that group; so was Andy Rooney.
Back in those days, war reporters had a slightly different take on covering the military and our adversaries. On one mission, Cronkite took the place of an injured B-17 gunner and helped defend the bomber against enemy fighters. There is no record of Cronkite--or any other war correspondent--referring to public affairs officers (or other members of the military) as "Nazis," "lazy," or "incompetent."
Had they used such terms, the line to "punch out" the war correspondent would have stretched around the block, and the offending journalist would have been searching for another line of work. A single telegram from Ira Eaker or Jimmy Doolittle, and the reporter would have been on the next boat back to the states, hoping for a new gig with Grit.
These days, boorish behavior by the press corps is accepted--even encouraged--and there is no attempt to discourage it, or demand better by members of the fourth estate. The refusal of other reporters to criticize Rosenberg speaks volumes about the state of today's news media.
We're also disappointed that Mr. Kurtz omitted a salient question in asking other reporters about Carol Rosenberg's behavior. The real issue isn't her aggressiveness, but whether such methods should be tolerated and excused. Readers will note that Howard Kurtz failed to ask the reporters if their own employers would allow such conduct. Sadly, we're guessing that the answer to that question is not a uniform "no."
ADDENDUM: We're also wondering what happened to Commander Gordon's "top cover." In his current position, Gordon works for some very powerful (and influential) military officers and DoD civilians. Yet, not one of them has stepped forward to defend their PAO, or suggest that Ms. Rosenberg's behavior has been unprofessional. In fact, most of those officials seem to be hiding in the tall grass, letting Gordon battle the churlish reporter on his own, and hoping the whole thing is resolved before their careers are impacted. No wonder Commander Gordon has put in his retirement papers.