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From San Diego Union-Tribune
Writer James W. Crawley
"In The Navy Blues , a disappointing Frontline documentary on KPBS tonight, correspondent Peter Boyer portrays Tailhook and the collection of Navy woes for the past five years as a gender war between male-oriented traditions vs. the equal opportunities afforded women in the '90s.
It's a war that the Navy's traditionalists have lost.
With sex, scandal, politics, suicide and Tom Cruise (making a cameo appearance in a Top Gun film clip), The Navy Blues should be fast and hard-hitting.
But, unlike most Frontline documentaries, Navy Blues stalls."
"....Correspondent Boyer provides viewers with a video version of his recent New Yorker article about the Tailhook aftermath. In one hour, the show threads viewers throughout the loops and knots of the scandal and the Navy's subsequent gender battles. It's an informative summation that ties together the events of the past five years.
But it lacks what TV can bring to a story--visual impact, concise story lines and drama. And, unlike many Frontline pieces, Navy Blues brings nothing new to the Tailhook story. Navy Blues stalls because the presentation is stale.
And, to the trained eye, the show's visuals are often near misses. During a segment telling about Stumpf's flights against Iraqi targets and anti-aircraft fire, the film clip depicts U.S. missile launchers firing a barrage against Iraqi ground troops.
The one bright hope at the top of the hour turns out to be a disingenuous effort to attract interest by introducing the suicide last May of Chief of Naval Operations Jeremy M. "Mike" Boorda as the last act of the Navy's Greek tragedy.
But an hour later, the viewer knows little more about the admiral's death than could be read in the San Diego Union-Tribune . And, Boyer's suggestion that Boorda 'chose a warrior's death' seems a stretch. Frontline viewers deserve better."
From Chicago Tribune
Writer Steve Jehnson
"In a vivid video companion to his superb recent New Yorker magazine piece, correspondent Peter Boyer examines the culture clash and crises that have hit the U.S. Navy since the Tailhook scandal in 1991. It is a problem that, Boyer contends, was more at the root of the suicide last May of Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, the former enlisted man who became chief of naval operations, than was the specific request by Newsweek to interview Boorda about the combat medals he had wrongly worn. Producer Michael Kirk and Boyer demonstrate how the furor over the behavior at Tailhook fed into the controversy over integrating women into the armed services and into the clash between the new, more bureaucratic, more 'politically correct' Navy led by Boorda and the old, 'warrior culture' Navy blamed for some of the Tailhook grotesqueries. Told with the participation of most of the principals, including a female pilot candidate whose complaints about being washed out drew the attention of a senator and cost a respected war hero a promotion, this compelling story demonstrates that in a culture going through a painful transition in public bad decisions get made and some good men and women pay for it."
From St. Petersburg Times
"In less than two years, two deaths blasted the U.S. Navy like a pair of torpedoes: the October 1994 crash of Lt. Kara Hultgreen, one of its first female fighter pilots, and the May 1996 suicide of Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, its top uniformed officer.
Different as these tragedies were, producer Mike Kirk and reporter Peter Boyer link them-- provacatively, if not always convincingly-- in the latest edition of PBS' Frontline .
In The Navy Blues tonight, Boyer calls Boorda 'the latest casualty of the (Navy's) culture war--a war, ultimately, between men and women.' He and Kirk connect Boorda's apparently fatal shame over a planned Newsweek expose--a story charging that he wore combat medals he never earned--to the crumbling of the Navy's 'sacred warrior culture,' a culture which also influenced the brief career of the 29-year-old Hultgreen."
"....The facts are inconclusive; official reports on Hultgreen's death cite equipment failure but notes that piloting mistakes also contributed to the crash. But Boyer and Kirk make it clear that Hultgreen, who'd been polished by the military establishment as a shining image of the New Navy, ended up as one more symbol of discord and division. Boorda's suicide, of course, became the ultimate symbol of the Navy's morale disaster. Here, though, it's much less clear that the admiral--who, by all accounts, was honestly concerned about the problems of women under his command--was a victim of the 'culture war...between men and women.'
True, Boorda was tossed about by the waves that Tailhook made, and by the congressional battle over the repeal of the ban against women in combat. But it's almost certain he was haunted by other, more personal ghosts. The reasons for Boorda's suicide remain uncertain, and The Navy Blues , in its hasty treatment of the tragedy, doesn't add much to what we already know.
Boyer and Kirk are more successful in demonstrating that the Navy itself has never recovered from Tailhook. They remind us briefly of the sickening details, but they don't dwell on them. Instead, they suggest that the entrenched attitudes that permitted a Tailhook to happen--the ugly side of the warrior culture--survive within the naval establishment and prevent it from moving on.
The unmistakable implication of this suggestion, and others like it that Boyer elicits during interviews, is that it's best to let boys be boys, even if their 'idea of a great time' is to enact mock rape-and-pillage rituals on female officers. Where a would-be woman warrior like Lt. Hultgreen fit into such a world, or an apparently principled man like Adm. Boorda, is impossible to discern."
From The Wall Street Journal
Writer Dorothy Rabinowitz
"The Navy Blues -- an outstanding film....describes Adm. Boorda as the latest casualty of the culture war and the political intrigue wracking the Navy--a claim for which the film's creators (producer Michael Kirk, correspondent Peter Boyer) make a highly credible argument. More to the point, they have assembled here a work of lacerating power--cold-eyed, rigorously reported, assured--based on Mr. Boyer's remarkable story in the September 16 New Yorker titled "Admiral Boorda's War."
The producers have reason for confidence, as will be clear at once to anyone sitting down to watch this saga of a U.S. Navy brought to its knees trying to satisfy the requirements of a new political order. It was a new Navy in which women were assiduously recruited and assured equal opportunity. All well and good. Still, political activists led by such as Rep. Pat Schroeder remained certain that women were not receiving equal treatment. There was some truth to this charge, if not the sort Ms. Schroeder had in mind. The lack of equal treatment was certainly clear (a fact the film doesn't take up) during the Tailhook inquiries, in which no Navy women were charged despite their obvious ample involvement in the convention's wilder revels."
"........There is a scene in this film likely to linger--or more precisely, fester--in the minds of viewers for some time to come. It is that of the former trainee confidently gibbering on about her meetings with the secretary of the Navy, with Adm. Boorda--and, not least, with Adm. Arthur. Just because this man was, she complains, a high ranking and respected figure--'just the fact that he has 11 Distinguished Flying Crosses'--people chose to listen to him, rather than to her. Of the admiral's failure to win the Pacific Command post, and his departure, Ms. Hansen declares: 'If he can't deal with the facts, maybe it's time to move on and maybe we're better off not having him in charge of a very heated area.' Yes indeed. How could an admiral who failed to appreciate the labyrinthine depths of the plots and harassment campaigns against her be trusted to deal with Korea?
Quite a spectacle to contemplate, this. To appease Ms. Hansen and her obsessed Senate staff supporters, the Navy sacrificed one of its most distinguished servants--Adm. Arthur--just as the Senate Armed Services Committee's Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Dan Coates, Sam Nunn and other of our moral guardians pursuing the permanent Tailhook investigation ended the career of Cmdr. Stumpf. Contemplate this we can in this richly assaultive Frontline production.
From The New York Times
Writer Walter Goodman
"This aptly titled edition of Frontline reports on how the Tailhook episode (a few pictures catch the grossness of some of the festivities) led to a Congressional shake-up, fueled by female members of both houses. Focused on here are the fates of the highly respected Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Stanley R. Arthur, and of a hero of the Gulf War, Comdr. Robert E. Stumpf, both of whom found their careers suddenly blocked. And it is also suggested that the post-Tailhook spirit may have contributed to the suicide this year of Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations.
Peter Boyer, reporting, takes a close look at the case of Lieut. (j.g.) Rebecca Hansen, a trainee helicopter pilot, who attributed her failing grades to retaliation against her for bringing charges of sexual harassment against a flight instructor.
She carried her complaints to David Durenberger, then a Senator from Minnesota. When Admiral Arthur ruled against her as "an accident waiting to happen," Senator Durenberger blocked his appointment as Commander of the Navy in the Pacific, the biggest operational command the Navy offers.
Commander Stumpf resigned this year after being denied an expected promotion because he had been at the Tailhook convention and did nothing to control the junior officers. And Admiral Boorda is reported to have lost the confidence of the Navy establishment by his seemingly weak handling of the Hansen affair.
It's a tangled matter, involving personalities, reputations, traditions, the play of power in Washington and what Mr. Boyer calls 'the culture war between men and women.' A check on Ms. Hansen finds that she has shown a combative streak since girlhood, accusing others of abusing her in one way or another. But the program also calls attention to foot dragging by the naval brass in coming to terms with women's recent sailing into an all-male bastion.
The Navy Blues does not settle the question of whether the Senate's actions in this case were a needed rebuke to military insensitivity or an intrusion into the reasonable judgments of military authority. But it does provide a glimpse into the enduring tension among several sets of American values."
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