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FRONTLINE Show #1502
Air Date: October 15, 1996
[The following program contains sexually explicit material. Viewer discretion is advised.]
The Navy Blues
PETER J. BOYER: Last May in Norfolk, Virginia, the U.S. Navy stood at attention. It was a memorial to a fellow sailor who had risen to the highest rank possible, chief of Naval operations, Admiral Jeremy "Mike" Boorda. His death seemed unfathomable: suicide. This was the lowest moment in a Navy wracked by scandal and political intrigue. In a clash between the forces of tradition and the new order, Admiral Boorda was the latest casualty of the culture war, a war, ultimately, between men and women.
For all of Naval history, it's been the men who left and the women who stayed behind, a ritual of leave-taking.
Capt. MIKE MALONE, U.S.S. Enterprise: It's very difficult. It's very hard to leave. But on the other hand, it's very exciting to think about going, so it's exciting. The only rules are I can't whistle while I pack. I can't look like I'm really, really happy.
PETER J. BOYER: This is what Captain Malone gets to command, the U.S.S. Enterprise, the forward thrust of our naval strategy, 90,000 tons of steel, 8 nuclear reactors, 5,400 sailors. And he gets to drive.
Capt. MIKE MALONE: Send 600 to the beach.
PETER J. BOYER: It's a determinedly male world that's had to face its oldest taboo and let women aboard. It hasn't been easy and nowhere moreso than on a carrier, where everyone is focused on one purpose: to support the elite of the elite, the final, all-male preserve, the Naval aviator. For women this is the toughest challenge, to break into the knighthood of Navy fliers, the best and most gifted pilots.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: There's a certain amount of bravado that goes with being a fighter pilot. There's a certain kind of personality that wants to take a 30-ton piece of metal and slam it on and off an aircraft carrier at sea.
TOM CRUISE: ["Top Gun"] I'm going for missile lock. Let's scare this guy out of here.
PETER J. BOYER: The Navy encouraged images like Top Gun_ fighter pilots as the rock-and-roll stars of the sky_ cocky, arrogant, the top of the Navy's food chain. The movie even drew its inspiration from an actual incident over Libya and a Navy pilot.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF, "Ripper": Top Gun was actually fairly accurate, as far as the flying goes. As a matter of fact, the combat stuff was probably based on something that we were doing off of Libya. It was a very similar situation. But I'm not Tom Cruise.
PETER J. BOYER: Commander Bob Stumpf is the real thing_ squadron commander, hero of the Gulf war. From the first night of Desert Storm he led a squadron of attack pilots into the very heart of Baghdad.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: It's the ultimate flying job, to be a squadron commander. They're your airplanes. They're your troopers. You tell people when they're going to fly, where they're going to fly, and you lead them. You're responsible for all those people and all that equipment.
The most challenging, terrifying flight that I had during Desert Storm was at night_ just the amount of anti-aircraft fire. It's a pretty unnerving experience. When I saw those missiles coming up and realized that they were killing people and could very easily be meant for me, that's when I felt real fear, real gut fear, for the first time in my life and I started thinking about dying then.
But from that point on, it became part of the routine. I mean, you_ I'm going to be scared and, you know, you have to deal with it, put it away until you're finished, and then have some water because your mouth is so dry that you can't swallow.
But the hardest thing was getting that thing aboard that night, maybe because we were pretty rattled when we got back to the ship, but at night you have no visual perspective. You have a black abyss and a tiny set of lights, so it's very difficult to keep your inner balance in your ear. It's just a very, very trying experience.
PETER J. BOYER: Commander Stumpf flew right through to the end of the war and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. His squadron was named the best attack force in the sky. To receive the honor, he was sent to the annual aviators' convention known as Tailhook.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: For me, it was just something we had to do_ you know, pick up the award and come back here. And, you know, it just fit right into the calendar.
PETER J. BOYER: For 20 years Naval aviators have gathered to swap sea stories, check out the latest in flight technology, get up close and personal with the Navy brass and act like sailors on shore leave.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: After the official functions are over, there's always been a lot of partying that goes on and you can imagine a lot of young, hot blood, the warriors coming back from the war, and it was a very lively occasion.
THERESA MOSCA, Claims Adjuster, Las Vegas, NV: It was just a giant fraternity party. That's what it looked like, just a bunch of guys having fun. They had just gotten back from the Gulf war. Some of them actually saw battle time. Some of them were just happy to be alive. They were on leave. They were just there to have a good time. It was apparently a three-day-long party that never stopped.
TRACI SUSTELLO, Nurse, Las Vegas, NV: It's was just lots and lots of people having a good time, lots of drinking. The most outrageous thing I saw was one guy was drinking rum and could take a big swig of it and then blow it out as fire. Very entertaining, you know, if you've had a couple of drinks, you know?
PETER J. BOYER: They staged their own unique amusements, including female leg-shaving as spectator sport.
Adm. THOMAS MOORER (Ret.): I can tell you one thing. If you think that a young kid that's been in battles_ his idea of a great time is to sit in a soft chair and listen to Mozart, you're mistaken. That's not what they're going to do and you're never going to be able to change human nature.
JAMES WEBB, former Secretary of Navy: People who have been in that pressure cooker get together. A certain amount of partying_ I don't think there's anybody in America who can sit down and say that these guys should have been sitting around, drinking lemonade.
PETER J. BOYER: Down the hall, in suite 308, the "Rhino room," Marine pilots offered a drink made of rum, Kahlua and cream dispensed from an obscene delivery system.
TRACI SUSTELLO: I think there were some working people of the female persuasion. Quite certain there were!
PETER J. BOYER: In one corner of the hotel the fun degenerated, becoming aggressively lewd and then inexcusably criminal.
The Tailhookers returned to duty_
DAN RATHER, CBS News: ["CBS Evening News"] The U.S. Navy is now investigating charges of sexual harassment_
PETER J. BOYER: _but Tailhook '91 was a convention they would not soon forget.
FORREST SAWYER, ABC News: ["World News Tonight"] _Navy aviators molested dozens of women.
1st REPORTER: _were groped and disrobed by navy Navy fliers.
2nd REPORTER: _investigation of the rowdy pilots' convention_
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: Most of us didn't even know about it until afterwards, when it came out in the media. I was amazed that that could have happened.
3rd REPORTER: _hotel hallway gauntlet of drunken officers_
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: In fact, we thought it was a particularly good Tailhook because there was so much coming together and there was a great sense of camaraderie.
4th REPORTER: _debauchery with public sex_
1st WOMAN POLITICIAN: _must be assured that sexual abuse will no longer be given lip service_
2nd WOMAN POLITICIAN: Men must accept women as human beings and not sex objects. That is the issue.
PETER J. BOYER: Over the last five years thousands of hours of court testimony, hundreds of pages of Congressional debate, months of our own research measure the ongoing fall-out from Tailhook. Lord knows the worst behavior was unpardonable, but it all might have blown over except for the accident of its historic timing. That fall the nation was transfixed by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. Just as sexual harassment was on all our minds, a 29-year-old admiral's aide, Lieutenant Paula Coughlin, blew the whistle on Tailhook.
Lt. PAULA COUGHLIN: I got attacked by a bunch of men. They tried to pull my clothes off and they wouldn't let me out of the hallway. I bit somebody! He had his hands down my blouse, in my bra, and they were trying to pull my underwear off from between my legs. If I didn't make it off the floor, I was going to be gang raped.
Sen. JOHN McCAIN, (R), AZ: I can't tell you the distaste that I have, as a former Naval aviator. There is no time in the history of this country that something like this is more inappropriate and we cannot allow it. It's unconscionable. And we in the military, we in the military who pride ourselves on the equal opportunity that is extended to everyone in the military, should be ashamed and embarrassed. Ashamed and embarrassed!
PETER J. BOYER: Tailhook provided the opponents of the macho Navy culture a perfect opportunity.
1st CONGRESSWOMAN: This was not just an incident of "boys will be boys." This was barbarism.
2nd CONGRESSWOMAN: This is the decade of the woman, not the Dark Ages.
3rd CONGRESSWOMAN: This Congress will not tolerate harassment in any form.
2nd CONGRESSWOMAN: It's time to sink the ship of sexual harassment.
Rep. PATRICIA SCHROEDER, (D), CO: The whole Pentagon, on the other side of the river, is moving and shaking, saying, "Oh, my goodness. What happened?" There's been a sea change!
PETER J. BOYER: Across the river it was a change they had been resisting. Who gets to climb into the cockpit of a combat fighter? Like Kara Hultgreen, who was already flying for the Navy.
SALLY SPEARS, Mother, K. Hultgreen: It might make a better sound bite to say that Kara was trying to fight for some cause for all womankind. That is not the case. Kara wanted to fly_ something pointy with an afterburner. And she wasn't going to be able to do that unless something changed, so she was very active in trying to get the law changed.
Lt. KARA HULTGREEN, "Incredible Hulk": I don't think that the Navy owes women a career path. I think the point is that they should want the best person for the job. If I_ [unintelligible] over 50 percent of your population and not allowing them to compete, it's ridiculous. Women certainly have the desire, the patriotism and the skill, so why on earth shouldn't we? This is so pretty.
PETER J. BOYER: They called her "the incredible Hulk." Six feet tall and all pilot, she wanted a place in the club. She'd even taken her fight to the Navy brass convened at Tailhook.
SALLY SPEARS: She went to talk to the admirals' panel, where the Naval officers are allowed to ask them any questions that they want to, and she wanted to ask what the Navy was going to do about changing its policy. But you know, she knew about Tailhook. She'd heard stories. But Friday night she went up to these cocktail parties to try to find her friends and she got caught by_ I guess they nicknamed him "the Australian butt-biter." She was standing there, all dressed up. She looked great_ you know, high heels and the_ got a mini-skirt and a blazer. And this man came up and bit her on the rear end and she just took her elbow and just went_ slammed it, you know, down into him as hard as she could. And he just sort of crumbled on the floor and called out the door and she_ she resumed her conversation. Kara could take care of herself.
PETER J. BOYER: Within that club that Hultgreen wanted to join, Bob Stumpf had been given a new honor: command of the Navy's elite show team, the Blue Angels. They are the Navy's best pilots.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: It's very difficult flying. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of concentration. We need to fly very close to the other airplanes at high speed. We swapped paint a couple of times, but we never had an accident and we never hurt anybody and never really hurt the machines.
PETER J. BOYER: And then one day something brought Bob Stumpf back to earth: Tailhook.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: We were on our way to an air show when he called and said "You're grounded." The Blue Angel season was halted immediately. It was devastating. It was devastating for_ I mean, that's the ultimate disgrace for a Naval officer, is to be relieved of command, which effectively is what happened to me.
PETER J. BOYER: Navy investigators looking into Tailhook discovered that the evening after receiving his award, Stumpf attended a party in a private room at the Hilton Hotel organized by his men to celebrate their "wetting down," Navy talk for a promotion. While the truly raucous behavior at Tailhook was taking place elsewhere in the hotel, for entertainment Stumpf's men had hired a pair of exotic dancers.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: Having exotic dancers at a gathering of Naval officers was not unusual prior to 1991. That had occurred in officers' clubs throughout the world. I had seen, in the same room with exotic dancers performing, previous secretaries of the Navy, previous chiefs of Naval operations, countless flag officers. And it just_ it didn't occur to me that that was_ that behavior was not acceptable.
PETER J. BOYER: But Stumpf's men bought more than just a strip show that night. They paid one of the dancers to perform a lewd act with one of them.
[interviewing] Did you see the public sex?
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: No.
PETER J. BOYER: Did you try to stop the exotic dancers?
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: No. No, that would have_ that would have been bad form and certainly not in the spirit of the Tailhook that had been established by tradition over the decades preceding. That was just not even_ it wasn't even a possibility.
PETER J. BOYER: What do you mean?
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: It would_ it would not have_ it just didn't even occur to me or any of the other senior officers who were there.
PETER J. BOYER: In fact, mingling among those in attendance at Tailhook were the secretary of the Navy, the chief of Naval operations and dozens of senior officers. But the Navy's first investigation of Tailhook somehow managed to ignore the participation of the senior brass. It placed all blame on a few junior officers. To Congress it had the odor of cover-up.
Sen. JOHN McCAIN: The initial investigation was a manifestation of the old "circle the wagons" syndrome. It was terribly mishandled. It was_ it was bungled to an alarming degree. There was_ it just was a disaster.
PETER J. BOYER: For the Navy's adversaries_ fresh opportunity.
Rep. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Mr. Speaker, the Defense Department long has had an attitude of seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil if it's a high enough ranking official of one of the uniformed services. I think you can never hold other people accountable until you hold those at the top accountable and I don't think_
PETER J. BOYER: So Congress demanded a house-cleaning and got it. The secretary of the Navy, Lawrence Garrett III, denied any wrongdoing and then he was gone. Admiral Frank Kelso, the CNO_
Adm. FRANK KELSO: It won't go away. The lightning keeps striking all the time. So I think it's best for the Navy to give it another leader.
PETER J. BOYER: The controversy provided a political opportunity. Congresswoman Schroeder had authored a bill repealing the ban on women in combat. Now it easily passed. Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen could finally fly combat jets.
SALLY SPEARS: She was always fearless. I think she must have some sort of a gene that the rest of us don't have, but she loves the adrenaline rush of speed. Basically, she was very strong. In fact, every morning she would get up and do 50 push-ups. And she figured that nobody could say "You were too weak to fly a jet airplane."
Lt. KARA HULTGREEN: It takes so much muscle to fly this airplane [unintelligible]
PETER J. BOYER: Lieutenant Hultgreen had a reputation as an able pilot. Once she had to bring in a crippled A-6.
SALLY SPEARS: The right wheel was stuck. They flew around, trying to unstick it, and it just wasn't going to come down. I mean, it was a very, very difficult thing to do and it demanded a lot of skill and_ she was kidding her [unintelligible] She said, "You know, Ron"_ as they were coming down, she said, "I hate to tell you this," she said, "but I think I'm ovulating." And she said, "But don't worry because I'm just days away from PMS." And so Ron is kind of laughing and then she said, "You know, if I don't make this landing, you know, they'll probably take away my wings." And Ron said, "Well, blank your wings. Just get me out of this alive."
PETER J. BOYER: So Kara Hultgreen made it into the club, which was as much a triumph for the Navy as it was for her. The Navy sent its public relations prize to the air station at Miramar.
SALLY SPEARS: And when she went there, of course, the Navy was dying to showcase its new female pilot. You know, they changed the policy. They'd now put this first woman ever to fly an F-14. So the Navy wanted to do some publicity. You know, they said, "Okay, we'd like for you to do some interviews" and Kara was good at interviews.
Lt. KARA HULTGREEN: Now I'm ready to don the helmet.
SALLY SPEARS: Kara loved the spotlight and she basked in it. She glowed.
PETER J. BOYER: The Navy aggressively recruited women, even taking out "help wanted" ads looking for female pilots.
REBECCA HANSEN, Minneapolis, MN: I saw an ad in the newspaper and that caught my eye. I was working for Continental Airlines as a flight attendant, but it was just a job. And after a lot of thought and prayer, I really felt that it was the right thing to do to go into the Navy.
PETER J. BOYER: Between careers and intrigued by the Navy's advertisement, Rebecca Hansen answered the call. Her first taste of the military: basic training.
REBECCA HANSEN: There were people constantly yelling at you and the hazing, but in some ways, it wasn't as difficult as I had anticipated.
PETER J. BOYER: But there were problems. She failed two important classes and within her training group she felt she suffered because she was a woman.
REBECCA HANSEN: There was a time a candidate officer whispered things in my ear that were so disgusting and I was the only one in my class not allowed to wear shorts because I would be trying to turn on sexually my classmates.
PETER J. BOYER: She saw harassment, but filed no complaint. The Navy gave her more study time and a chance to re-take the tests she had failed. This time she passed and she was sent off to flight school. Once again there were problems. According to her records, her flying progress was uneven and there were new difficulties with a male superior, one of her flight instructors.
REBECCA HANSEN: It started out being friendly, being flirtatious, being annoying, obnoxious, dirty jokes, questioning, things about my body or my undergarments. And when we were up in the plane, he was very inappropriate, very gross and disgusting, telling me that I should dye my hair and what color bikinis he would like to see me in and jokes and sexual comments.
PETER J. BOYER: Then later, in the hangar, Hansen says, it got worse.
REBECCA HANSEN: He came from behind and grabbed my head by the hair and pulled my head down to his crotch and addressed the students that were in the hangar and saying, "This is the way I like to control my women," laughing and moving my head around in a way where I was not able to stand up until he let go of me.
PETER J. BOYER: Hansen formally charged Lieutenant Larry Meyer with sexual harassment. The Navy found him guilty of inappropriate remarks. The matter became a blot on his record and he left the Navy a year later.
She'd had a rocky start, but the Navy moved her up to the next plateau: helicopter training.
It was supposed to be a new Navy and it was decided that it was time for new leadership. President Clinton chose as his chief of Naval operations Admiral Mike Boorda. He had no precedent. He was not a Naval Academy man, as all before him had been. He was a seaman who rose through the ranks to the Navy's top job.
But he was not part of the warrior culture. He was the essential bureaucrat, a former chief of Naval personnel. He was exactly the symbol of change the Navy's critics had called for.
Rep. PAT SCHROEDER: I came to respect him very much. I mean, he ended up convincing me he was really a person who cared very much about his troops, but also cared very much that women remain there and be treated with respect.
PETER J. BOYER: He was politically correct, but he said "P.C." stands for "people care" and he was determined to make it the Navy's slogan for the '90s.
Adm. JEREMY "MIKE" BOORDA, Chief of Naval Operations: We still have some unthinking people who don't have the word, either don't have the word about their own behavior or don't have the word about what they're supposed to do when somebody is behaving improperly.
PETER J. BOYER: The Navy started sensitivity training and re-educated the fleet with programs like this.
NARRATOR: [training film] The Navy classifies behavior in three zones. Red means, "Stop. Don't do it." Yellow means, "Use caution. Prepare for red." Green light means, "Go. It's all right." Green-light behavior includes polite compliments, friendly conversation and touching that can't be reasonably perceived as sexual or threatening.
PETER J. BOYER: In Mike Boorda's Navy, the old order of the warrior culture was yielded no favor, particularly the men of Tailhook '91. Commander Bob Stumpf had been absolved of all wrongdoing by a full court of inquiry, but in order to get back in the air he needed a thumbs-up from the Navy's number two admiral, Stanley Arthur.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR, "Bear": I told him, I said, "You're going to be in leadership positions for a long time to come and as you walk into this new era that we're dealing with, you understand that the rules have, in fact, changed."
PETER J. BOYER: Stanley Arthur was no bureaucrat. He was an esteemed war fighter, the Navy's most senior aviator.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: Of course, he was a great hero to all of us_ 500 missions in Vietnam and very gregarious and a wonderful, great Tailhooker, and we all admired him very much.
PETER J. BOYER: In Vietnam he won 11 Distinguished Flying Crosses. In the Gulf war he commanded the largest American armada since World War II. He was made the final arbiter on the Tailhook cases.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: Commander Stumpf is a victim of Tailhook, pure and simple, certainly. I mean, he would not have been there if he hadn't been going to accept an award for having lead the best squadron in the Navy.
PETER J. BOYER: Arthur lectured Stumpf and sent him back to work.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: I have every confidence in our Naval leadership and I'm glad this Tailhook thing is behind us. I'm ready to go to work.
PETER J. BOYER: Stumpf was cleared to re-join the Blue Angels and climb back into his F-18. But Stanley Arthur's judgment wasn't enough for Congress. Pressed by women in both houses, the Senate Armed Services Committee took a drastic, unprecedented step. It insisted that any officer who had been at Tailhook _ even those whose subordinates had been at Tailhook _ be separated out for special scrutiny when put forward for a promotion. It was called "flagging." Never before had Congress penetrated so deeply into the military promotion process. The leadership of the Navy acquiesced and began to keep a secret list of the officers bearing the Tailhook taint.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: I'll tell you, if there was ever a guy that had a black cloud hanging over his head that he didn't know he had it hanging over his head, it was Bob Stumpf.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: I was selected for captain and the promotion was forwarded and it was approved by the secretary of defense and the president made the nomination to the Senate and it was confirmed by the Senate and was the manifestation of all those 26 years of getting ready to do it, to be an airwing commander. And that's kind of the ultimate goal.
PETER J. BOYER: But it wouldn't happen. Because of the flagging process, the Senate Armed Services Committee killed his promotion. Commander Stumpf's Navy career was cast into limbo.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: They brought me through a whole career of getting ready to be an airwing commander, found me most qualified to be one and then canceled the promotion. I was at a loss. It's kind of a lonely feeling.
PETER J. BOYER: Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen was busy at her dream job, flying an F-14 off the decks of a carrier. And then one afternoon off the coast of Southern California something went wrong.
1st RADIO VOICE: [unintelligible] Hultgreen.
2nd RADIO VOICE: [unintelligible]
1st RADIO VOICE: Wave off.
2nd RADIO VOICE: Wave off. Wave off! Wave off power! Raise your gear. Raise your gear. Power. Eject! Eject!
SALLY SPEARS: The worst part about it, you know, if they had ejected maybe just a fraction of a second earlier, to give her enough time to separate from the seat, because she wasn't killed on impact. I mean, they just said maybe a combination of blunt-force injuries and drowning. There was nothing really wrong with_ her internal organs were all right. I mean, she_ her spine wasn't fractured and her_ she had_ her left leg was broken pretty badly, but I would take that, you know?
PETER J. BOYER: It took all of four seconds. A puff of smoke indicates the left engine has stalled. It is unlikely Hultgreen knew this. The first flash is her co-pilot ejecting. He survived. A fifth of a second later, Hultgreen ejects. She is propelled head first into the sea.
Word of the Hultgreen crash echoed through the Navy and its implications were plain. This personal tragedy could become a public relations disaster for the new Mike Boorda Navy. Already there were grumblings among aviators that Hultgreen had been rushed to the head of the line, that perhaps she wasn't ready to take the stick of an F-14. And in fact, there was some evidence that pilot error may have caused the crash.
The Navy chose a different spin. It took the unusual step of dredging up Hultgreen's aircraft to determine if she was at fault. Its public report on the accident emphasized equipment failure and its public posture toward Hultgreen was firmly exculpatory. She was given a hero's farewell.
SALLY SPEARS: We just wanted to have it very simple and say good-bye to her in a dignified way. But then I talked to this casualty officer in Washington and he said, "She's entitled to the full military service." He said she could have a caisson and I went, "The caisson? You mean like President Kennedy had?" And he said, "Yes." And I said, "You mean with horses and"_ and he said, "Yes." And I said, "Hmm. Kara really liked horses." And she had_ she had a horse and_ so we decided that we would do that.
PETER J. BOYER: Her funeral was an event attracting network news cameras and the presence of the secretary of the Navy and Admiral Stanley Arthur.
SALLY SPEARS: I like Stan Arthur. He was very nice. He said_ he said, "Those of us who fly on and off carriers accept the fact that not everyone who takes off from the carrier will land." And he said, "We embrace this risk with enthusiasm" and he said "Kara was one of us. She embraced that risk with enthusiasm." And then he said, "Permission to fly solo."
PETER J. BOYER: Recruiting and training women remained a Navy priority. Rebecca Hansen was learning to fly a helicopter. Again, her progress was uneven. Her instructors observed that she overcame mistakes during the course of a flight, but repeated the mistakes the next time up. They noted her enthusiasm, but they rated her only a marginal student. Finally she flew with the chief instructor. It did not go well. She was "attrited"_ washed out.
REBECCA HANSEN: That flight, it was a bad flight, but I was_ I was set up.
PETER J. BOYER: Hansen's scenario is this: Her difficulties in flight training really reflected a campaign of retribution instigated by that early flight instructor back in Corpus Christi.
REBECCA HANSEN: He made threats at the officers' club, saying that I was going to get what I had coming to me, that he had buddies waiting to fly with me in Whiting Field, where I was to go on for helicopter training, and that what I failed to realize is that white men run the Navy.
PETER J. BOYER: Hansen decided to fight back. She was supported by her fiercest ally, her mother, Kay Hansen.
KAY HANSEN, Minneapolis, MN: I think the Navy continually underestimated her. What you see is what you get. If she says she's going to do something, she will do it, whatever it takes, however ostracized she is, whatever reprisals she encounters. She's like a bulldog. If she gets started, she will continue.
PETER J. BOYER: As the Navy was about to find out, Rebecca Hansen was a fighter, had been all her life.
REBECCA HANSEN: I suppose I was a bit of a problem in a small town where I didn't accept the status quo and where my parents didn't, either.
PETER J. BOYER: Rebecca was controversial in her home town high school. "Notorious" is how she put it. One time at Homecoming she got into a fight.
REBECCA HANSEN: There were five girls that I can distinctly remember having their hands on me and pulling me down a dark hallway. And I was suspended and this was not right, so we fought it.
PETER J. BOYER: Her parents sued the school district and the parents of the other girls. The tensions in the small town got so bad Rebecca was escorted to the Homecoming game by a police officer.
KAY HANSEN: She has always done what she thought was right, not for any other purpose but that it was the right thing to do.
PETER J. BOYER: Through the course of her young life there ran a series of perceived injustices_ at another high school, in college, at her first job as a T.V. sportscaster.
REBECCA HANSEN: The sales guys wanted me to switch and to do news and it was purely a gender thing and I felt that I was hired to do one thing and I wasn't going to be shuttled off into doing something else when it didn't have to do with my performance. And so I left.
PETER J. BOYER: Now, in her battle with the Navy, Hansen was characteristically resolute. Her mother got the idea of contacting their United States Senator, David Durenberger.
Sen. DAVID DURENBERGER, (R), MN: I was dealing with as I would with any constituent service matter. The issue was simply how do you get the Navy at the top to be responsive.
PETER J. BOYER: Senator Durenberger and his staff demanded from the Navy detailed answers on the Hansen case.
Sen. DAVID DURENBERGER: The inspector general told me that his report had found that the instructor had acted properly. And I said, "Well, just show me the report." You know, "I'd like to take your word for it, but she's going to have to trust me. Show me the report." And he said, "I can't do that. You can get it from the Armed Services Committee" or something like that, but he wouldn't show me the report. So the next phase of it, I think, was Stanley Arthur.
REBECCA HANSEN: I said, "Who's that? What's that?" I didn't_ I didn't know what vice_ he said the vice chief of Naval operations and I said, "Who's that?" and he said, "Admiral Arthur," like, you know, I should have known this. But I don't think that the average ensign knows this.
PETER J. BOYER: Admiral Stanley Arthur volunteered to resolve the case.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: I said, "I will not make a decision on this case until I have an opportunity to interview her in person."
REBECCA HANSEN: He was likable, in a_ in a_ I guess, a meeting sort of way. Was he wanting to get down to facts and business? No. He had his mind made up. He was patronizing to me.
PETER J. BOYER: Admiral Arthur looked at these documents_ her failing grades, her marginal performance evaluations. He says what he saw frightened him.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: No, she was not going to be a Navy pilot and I knew this was an accident waiting to happen, that at some point in time there would be a failure and the failure could well be tragic.
REBECCA HANSEN: When you have someone of the_ that has the rank and the respect of Admiral Stanley Arthur declare that you're an unsafe pilot, it doesn't matter that he doesn't have anything to back it up with. Just the fact that he has 11 Distinguished Flying Crosses_ that's all anybody needs to_ he's a war hero and he's a known quantity and I'm_ nobody knows. I'm just some_ some junior officer and on top of that_ not just some junior officer. I'm a woman. I'm a woman who filed sexual harassment charges. I must be a bad pilot. Why else would I do such a thing?
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: If you had to explain it, you could take 10 years to try to explain it, but you get this feel. You've had the feeling before. I've watched people die when I had that feeling, saying, "Maybe this individual shouldn't have been here. Why were they here? This is an accident waiting to happen." And then the next thing you know, it's an accident that happened and you say, "Should I_ am I responsible because I didn't say anything?" You know. And I know today that that was the right call, in my mind.
Sen. DAVID DURENBERGER: My reaction was the same as it had been all the way through the process. "At some point, I'm going to have to be the only person that Rebecca's going to trust in this matter. I can't just take the word of somebody who represents an institution she already doesn't trust. So just show me the evidence and let me be the judge." I was going to have to end up being the one to make the decision, not them.
PETER J. BOYER: It was a remarkable turn, a United States Senator and his staff judging the Navy's assessment of the flight-worthiness of a pilot trainee. In the middle of all this, good news for Admiral Arthur, a career-capping promotion. Admiral Arthur is nominated by President Clinton to CINC-PAC, chief of all American forces in the Pacific, the largest operational military command in the world.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: I certainly felt qualified. It's an area that I was comfortable with. It's where I spent my whole operational life was out in the Pacific. I mean, it's a place I love. I love the people. I love the cultures. I thought this is_ I got a son and daughter who live out there, two grandsons who live in Hawaii. I said, "This is a_ I mean, this is really going to be quite a way to finish our your tour."
PETER J. BOYER: But there was still the case of Rebecca Hansen. Admiral Arthur's nomination presented dramatic opportunity for her champions on Senator Durenberger's staff.
RICK EVANS, Chief of Staff, Sen. Durenberger: Admiral Arthur was to be nominated for this position as the commander of the Navy in the Pacific _ "CINC-PAC" they call it _ and_ which is a very prestigious and important job and that it required some kind of Senate confirmation and that perhaps if we were to put a hold on his nomination that that would convince the Navy that we were serious about wanting these answers.
Sen. DAVID DURENBERGER: I thought you put a hold on it. You say, "Look, I'm serious. I want to put a timeline on it, okay? This has gone on so long already." The one way to put a timeline on something is to say, "Admiral Arthur doesn't get to command the Pacific until you get me the answers to the question.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: Well, I was_ I was_ you know, I was_ I was_ I was_ I was not_ I as_ I was surprised and yet I wasn't surprised. I mean, this_ this thing between his office and the Navy was a continuing_ "You haven't answered my questions" and we'd go back and we'd find out all_ we'd get all the papers out and we_ I'd have individuals go_ "You go look at all the letters. You go look at all the replies and tell me did we answer all these questions?" "Yes, sir. You did. You've answered all these questions." So I thought, "Well, this is just a momentary blip, one last gasp to make a statement."
PETER J. BOYER: In the midst of the stand-off, Hansen badly hurt her knee during a skiing vacation. She emerged from a military hospital with a new plan of attack.
REBECCA HANSEN: At that point, I thought that I was going to have to reach Secretary Dalton to get somewhere. I was holding out a lot of hope for him.
PETER J. BOYER: Secretary of the Navy John Dalton agreed to see her.
REBECCA HANSEN: The meeting with Secretary Dalton was not much to speak of. I spoke. He said that he had a couple of questions for me. I was encouraged that he was paying attention, but he didn't even put on an act of caring.
PETER J. BOYER: So why did he meet with you?
REBECCA HANSEN: Political reasons.
PETER J. BOYER: What do you mean?
REBECCA HANSEN: Admiral Arthur was on hold.
PETER J. BOYER: Then one night Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Boorda, met with Stan Arthur at the Pentagon.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: I said, "Look, I'm willing to fight it. I'm willing to stay here and fight this because I think that, in the long run, we will be successful."
PETER J. BOYER: But fighting for Stan Arthur posed the unwelcome prospect of Hansen's sexual harassment case becoming a protracted confirmation spectacle.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: There was a lot of concern about the time that Congress was saying it was going to take to get my nomination approved and I said, "If you're convinced that it is too excessive and that you can't wait for that process to come to completion, then I'll retire." And so I retired.
REBECCA HANSEN: I had no agenda to take him down, but if he can't deal with the facts, then maybe it is time for him to move on and maybe we're better off not having him in charge of a very heated area in North Korea if he is not able to deal with things in a balanced way.
PETER J. BOYER: The new Navy, forged in the heat of the culture wars, had finally thoroughly humbled the old Navy.
Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: My feelings on the_ on that are basically, one, this is_ this the price you pay for the form of government we have and so it's okay. It's_ civilian leadership of our military is an absolute prerequisite for the way our life in America has to be. We never want the military to have control of the state, so to speak. And so there's a price you pay for that because you say, "We serve at the pleasure of the president and the Congress."
PETER J. BOYER: Boorda's treatment of Stan Arthur outraged the Navy's old guard, that group of politically powerful retired officers.
Adm. THOMAS MOORER: Stan Arthur_ that was the biggest waste of all time. There's no one as well qualified as he was, and yet a Senator jumps up and wipes the guy out.
JAMES WEBB, former Secretary of Navy:
I was shocked to hear that his name had been pulled and the circumstances under which it had been pulled, which were absolutely ridiculous.
Adm. FRANK KELSO, former CNO: It was determined that she should not fly and yet his nomination gets held up over an issue like that? I mean, I think it's a travesty for both him and the country.
PETER J. BOYER: Among the old guard, the Arthur matter damaged Admiral Boorda's reputation. What he did next may have put it beyond repair. The day Arthur announced his retirement, Boorda met with Rebecca Hansen face to face.
REBECCA HANSEN: It was a very_ a truly bizarre meeting. He got angry with me, at one point, and called me a liar, but then later on he told me that he wanted me to come work for him. He told me he needed somebody to tell him the truth and tell him what was really going on and that he would want me to report directly to him. It would be very important that I wouldn't report to somebody else.
PETER J. BOYER: In the eyes of the old guard, Boorda had just sacrificed the Navy ideal for the perfect symbol of the Navy's post-Tailhook torment. Among the Navy traditionalists a seething resentment gathered force, voiced in April by former Navy secretary James Webb in a speech at Annapolis.
JAMES WEBB: Today I am sadly astounded to see our Navy struggling for its soul. Many whose very duty it was to defend the hallowed traditions and the unique culture of their profession declined to do so when their voices were most urgently needed. Some are guilty of the ultimate disloyalty. To save or advance their careers, they abandoned the very ideals of their profession in order to curry favor with politicians. They should fight back not with a memo, but by being willing to bet their careers_
PETER J. BOYER: If Boorda needed redemption, the old guard had just the case for him: Commander Bob Stumpf. Another Navy promotion board had decided Stumpf should be a captain. It was a chance for Mike Boorda to make a stand.
Cmdr. ROBERT STUMPF: Admiral Boorda was a strong supporter and he was very helpful. He said I should be promoted and that he would support it.
PETER J. BOYER: Pressed by Naval aviators, he pledged his support for Bob Stumpf. Admiral Boorda seemed determined to line up with the Navy's warriors, but then a revelation that promised new embarrassment for the Navy. For years Boorda had worn these two V's, tiny bronze pins signifying valor in combat. Wearing them is sacred to the warrior culture, but Boorda had not actually been awarded the medals. Then, on May 16th, Boorda's secret was threatened with exposure. Newsweek was planning a story. This was not just another political fight. Rather, it entailed a breech of honor of a sort keenly felt by a CNO who had never been fired on in battle. He canceled his next meeting at the Pentagon and went home.
The president has just received the news the chief of Naval operations has just taken his own life.
JOHN DALTON, Secretary of the Navy: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my sad duty to report to you that Admiral Mike Boorda, chief of Naval operations, is dead. He was pronounced dead this afternoon at 2:30 P.M. from a gunshot wound to the chest. The Washington, D.C., police and the Naval Criminal Investigating Service are investigating.
PETER J. BOYER: As chief of Naval operations, Admiral Mike Boorda had urged compromise upon the Navy, but when confronted by his own crisis he saw no compromise available. His last gesture was absolute and unambiguously clear. He chose a warrior's death.
So the men and women of the Navy moved on to whatever it is that comes after Mike Boorda. Rebecca Hansen never did go to work at the Pentagon. Her ski accident earned her a disability retirement. She plans to attend law school.
Commander Bob Stumpf never got his promotion and now he no longer flies for the Navy. He resigned earlier this month. In the Tailhook aftermath more than 300 other officers, including 14 admirals, have left the Navy.
The men and women in the fleet are doing what they have always done: working long shifts on inhospitable seas. That's what the U.S.S. Enterprise is doing right now, responding to the new tensions with Iraq. The last time the Navy confronted Saddam Hussein Bob Stumpf was leading attack squadrons over Baghdad and the fleet was under the command of Admiral Stanley Arthur.
ANNOUNCER: Visit FRONTLINE on the Web at WWW.PBS.ORG for more on the infamous Tailhook '91 convention and get acquainted with three people whose stories about it became bitter controversies. Examine the high-risk routines of Naval jet pilots. Read more of FRONTLINE's interviews, a chronology of women in the Navy and lots more. Then please give us your feedback at WWW.PBS.ORG.
And next time on FRONTLINE: America hates the press_
1st JOURNALIST: Issue one: Do liberals rule the press?
ANNOUNCER: _their arrogance_
2nd JOURNALIST: Sycophantic_
3rd JOURNALIST: _superficial, snarling and yapping and_
4th JOURNALIST: _millionaire journalists_
5th JOURNALIST: A real scandal, I think.
ANNOUNCER: And out of touch.
6th JOURNALIST: We pour garbage on people.
ANNOUNCER: And the press knows it.
7th JOURNALIST: I think we are really unpopular.
8th JOURNALIST: _so out of it_
9th JOURNALIST: It seems like a big game.
ANNOUNCER: Next time on FRONTLINE, the Washington press corps looks in the mirror.
10th JOURNALIST: Well, I have sinned myself in the past.
ANNOUNCER: Watch "Why America Hates the Press."
And now for your comments. Your response to last season's program, "The Gate of Heavenly Peace," was mainly positive, but a few viewers thought the film skirted some important issues.
John Perry, via the Internet, wrote that, "the film was strangely unsympathetic toward the students, showing infighting, coup attempts, confusion," and he said that, "not enough focus was placed on the true evil of 1989, the Chinese government."
This also through e-mail:
CLIFF SLOANE: [Seattle, Washington] Dear FRONTLINE: The film seemed to steer clear of any hard facts about killings, any accusations of numbers killed. The description of the emptying of the square in fact tends to confirm the government story. Was it a massacre? Or just a forceful imposition of martial law? Cliff Sloane, Seattle, Washington.
NING FAN: [Pittsburgh, PA] Dear FRONTLINE: Both my wife and I were in the square and the streets during those unforgettable days. The reason that we really liked the film, however, is that it did not merely provide an emotional recall of the event itself, but presented a serious reflection of the background and circumstance under which the event took place. This film brought a message that stimulates more thinking of why it happened in Beijing and why it proceeded that way. Ning Fan from Pittsburgh.
ANNOUNCER: Let us know what you think by fax [(617) 254-0243], by e-mail, [FRONTLINE@pbs.org], or write to this address: [Dear FRONTLINE, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, 02134]
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