Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dust-Up in the Media Pool

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.


tfhr said...

The money quote:

"The refusal of other reporters to criticize Rosenberg speaks volumes about the state of today's news media".

Well said.

Unknown said...

From Commander Gordon: "I've been abused worse than the detainees have been abused." This guy wears a uniform? Since when did the military get so thin-skinned?

tfhr said...


Let's talk about your standards for professional behavior. If you send someone out to gather information or a product and they insult the source of the same, how effective will that person be at delivering the information or product that you sought?

Now if you ran a business, would you encourage your employees to act professionally or not? Would you want to know if they failed to meet your standards?

Further, if you are directed by law to adhere to codes designed to protect people from sexual harassment, would you encourage or discourage your employees from sexually harassing customers, clients, fellow employees, competitors, federal officials, etc.?

There is some poetic justice here to have a media personality accused of abuse by a service member at Guantanamo, but if the Karma thing is too much, just settle on the irony of it all.

LonestarWhacko said...

Honestly, it sounds like he needs to grow a set and fight back some other know.....check her out carefully, slip something in her luggage, let her deal with one has ever stooped that low, have they? If you want to get someone off your ass, make their own life interesting, and then they won't have so much time for you. As for disparaging remarks, haven't you heard of a digital voice recorder? Wonderful piece of gear, that. Sony makes an excellent one for about 100.00 or so. It's a world changing bit of gear. Exact voice print, you, considering Gitmo and sexual preferences, I reckon that if you ain't tough, then you probably need to "seek life elsewhere". Insofar as fighting it out with a wizened battleaxe who will print anything, you have to make her personal life interesting. Don't get in a fight with a pig, you'll get filthy, and the pig loves it. So, why don't you stay out side the pen and finish it off?

tfhr said...


Recording a conversation without the other person's consent can create some pretty serious legal complications, particularly when the person doing the collection is military and the recorded voice belongs to a civilian, even more so that she is (embarrassingly) an American.

Grow a set? You should consider that the PAO was probably being set up to provoke an incident but did not take the bait. It took a real set to NOT just stomp a mud hole in her ass. He did, however, put the offending and unprofessional "journalist" on the record and in doing so has started the process by which she can more easily denied access to Guantanamo and any and all other DoD facilities.

If the DoD decides to pursue the issue this will put her employers in a bind because her conduct will have made it difficult for her to work on defense related stories. Keep in mind that the DoD takes its orders from higher, so challenging the media is unlikely.

In a perfect world the PAO could've thrown her to the inmates but he did the professional thing when faced with her abusive and unprofessional behavior.

LonestarWhacko said...

Well said, tfhr. I wasn't considering the political aspects. How could he retaliate? On reflection, there doesn't seem to be any other way. It's hard to shame the shameless.

tfhr said...


"It's hard to shame the shameless".

That pretty much sums it up from my perspective and for reasons I cannot fathom so many in the MSM fail to appreciate why the courts rarely if ever find against "free speech". Instead of serving the electorate they waste their Constitutionally protected powers and squander the opportunity to inform the public.

The DoD is tasked with fighting and winning this country's wars but so often it seems that we get either no help or active opposition from our own agenda driven "Fourth Estate". I'm seriously running out of reasons to take a newspaper if it were not for the the chance that I might run across a "journalist" like Carol Rosenberg someday and will need a rolled up newspaper to swat them.