Roundtable: Military School Abuse, False Terror ID

Monday's topics include sexual abuse in military schools and a family falsely identified by Fox News as terrorists. Guests: E.R. Shipp, columnist at the New York Daily News; Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post; and George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's Roundtable, a family is falsely identified as terrorist and a woman sues her doctor over comments about her weight. Joining us from our New York bureau, E.R. Shipp, columnist at the New York Daily News; she's joined there by Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post; and George Curry joins us. He is editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He joins us from Maryland.

All right, folks, I want to get right into a very interesting situation that happened on the Fox News show "Inside Scoop" with John Loftus. Mr. Loftus gave the address of a family that he said in fact were terrorists. They were allegedly linked to groups responsible for the July 7 bombing in London. We should note that Mr. Loftus, while hosting that show, is a former federal prosecutor. But here's the interesting rub there. While there had seemingly been people who lived there with ties to terrorism, they had since moved out at least three years ago, and now the family that lives currently in the home has been bombarded, as one might imagine, by threats and other situations that they face now. Obviously, this was a huge, huge blunder by Mr. Loftus, and Fox News has suggested that they are reprimanding him, but, George Curry, when you see this, does this speak, yet again, as we've discussed many times on this program, as to where journalism is today?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor In Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): I think most of it speaks to what hysteria is regarding to this whole war on terrorism. The information was wrong. The people had moved out three years ago, and, even so, they had not been committed--convicted of anything, so we don't know to the extent if any that they had ties to the mob. They believe they do but we're not sure about that itself. So it caused all kind of problem when the people are saying they got to call home every 30 minutes to see whether their kids are all right. It's just irresponsible and it's poorly, it's inexcusable, and it's all that, but I'm not so much as a--sure that it's a comment on journalism as much as it is on our whole euphoria about the war on terrorism.

Ms. E.R. SHIPP (New York Daily News): I think it does say something about journalism. Too readily do we go on air or into print with information that has not been vetted. That used to be a hallmark of journalism. That was our whole purpose is to gather information, sort through it, and then put in to the society's hearing and reading opportunities that which we figured was the best truth we could tell at the time. It's not enough for Loftus to say, quote, "mistakes happen," end of quote. That's definitely not good enough.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (New York Post): Yeah, I agree. And in full disclosure, I work for the New York Post, which is owned by the same company that owns Fox News. That said, I think it is--well, first of all, Loftus, as we--as you mentioned at the top, is a former prosecutor. He does not have a--he does not have a journalism background. It--I think it behooves Fox if they're going to have that gentleman on the show, he has to--there's a certain standard he has to meet in terms of giving out information. If I am--come on the show and give some information here, Ed has a certain amount of assurance that this is something that I know, and, if it turns out to be completely false, and it turns out to be embarrassing to him, I would imagine I wouldn't be invited back, and I think, frankly, that should be what Fox should do in this case.

Ms. SHIPP: Well, you know, that says something else. Nowadays there are so many outlets, particularly broadcast outlets, that need to fill their 24 hours. They're picking up just about anybody to be on air to be commentators or to even serve the role as, quote, unquote, "reporter," and they have no training, they don't follow any particular standards that we adhere to, and that says something, again, about where the business is going.

Mr. GEORGE: And how is it that Loftus never, like, notified the local authorities about this if he had this information, instead of just blurting it out on TV? It's just bizarre.

Mr. CURRY: And, Shipp, that's why I'm saying this has nothing to do with journalism. I don't consider these people journalists. This is the same kind of problem you had with--not the--exactly but the similar problem you had with Armstrong Williams. You do have these talking heads, they're not journalists. And this is not just in the course of news gathering in general. These people are not even involved in news gathering.

Ms. SHIPP: Right.

Mr. CURRY: Well, at the same time, if you can, make legitimate criticism about our industry.

Ms. SHIPP: Right. The public, though, doesn't always understand that distinction...

Mr. CURRY: Yeah, you're right.

Ms. SHIPP: ...between the person who is the journalist and the person who's on air as an Armstrong Williams or any other people we can think of who are serving many masters and journalism is not its foremost one.

GORDON: All right, we're going to continue to talk about issues and questions about journalism. With the flap that we're hearing out of Chicago, the Windy City--and this has to do with a favorite of the world's, that's Ms. Oprah Winfrey. And we should note that tomorrow we're going to have the man at the center of the storm on with us, who is often on the Roundtable. That's Roland Martin, who is editor of the Chicago Defender. He wrote a column criticizing Ms. Winfrey for not showing up at John Johnson's funeral. Johnson, of course, the trailblazing editor of, and creator of, Ebony and Jet magazines, and a stalwart in the African-American community, and a great patriot and American. That being said, Ms. Winfrey later, after reading the column, let Mr. Martin know specifically that she had sent Ms. Wright--or, I'm sorry, Ms. Johnson, and also his daughter, Linda Rice Johnson, notes of sorrow, of sympathy, etc., and had contacted the family. She just happened to be in, I believe, Hawaii, at the time, and was unable to get back to the funeral, according to Ms. Winfrey.

George Curry, when you have someone going after a noted person like Oprah Winfrey, is that fair game without finding out why, in fact, she had not attended? And isn't it Ms. Winfrey's prerogative, albeit someone who, obviously, deserves saluting, if you will, to attend or not attend?

Mr. CURRY: Well, let's, first of all, for the record, note that Roland said he had made six telephone calls, and I'm sure that's what he'll tell you tomorrow. That's what he said in his column. And so he concluded that, you know, he didn't get a return call. The information he had was, you know, that maybe she was there. It did turn out that she was in Hawaii. And, yeah, it's kind of an unfair standard in a way, but I think that grew out of a, I think, disappointment on the part of a lot of people that--the people that John H. Johnson had helped made--star--had helped make them become stars did not show up at the funeral. And so I think there's a frustration with that, a frustration with the amount of coverage that the white-owned press gave this, as well. And so I think that came out of that frustration. But, still, you need to be accurate and apparently Roland didn't know she was in Hawaii.

Ms. SHIPP: You know, I think that the biggest star that they had at Mr. Johnson's funeral was Diahann Carroll. There were many people who could have been there, and I would argue, should have been there, to honor his passing, and I agree with George, that a lot of the frustration was that John Johnson died and did not receive the kind of attention that a person who had contributed so much to this country should have received. So part of the frustration is with the mainstream media, which we sometimes call the white media. But then part of the frustration is that within the black community he was not remembered.

Mr. GEORGE: I would say that I think that's true. I will point out that your Post editorial page had an obituary editorial in Mr. Johnson's honor. I think that in the context of, obviously, Oprah Winfrey, having become the wealthiest black celebrity in the nation, in the journalism-broadcasting business, clearly, following Mr. Johnson's footsteps, I think--I'm assuming Roland felt that she, of all people, should be held to a particular higher standard, particularly if you think about the beginning of the summer, the Oprah Winfrey story was about her being dissed at Hermes and so forth. And she's talking about the fact that she wants to make that a big part of her show when she comes back. So I can certainly understand where Roland was coming from.

GORDON: Well, we'll hear from Roland Martin tomorrow. We should note, though, that Ms. Winfrey has already announced that she's going to give a tribute, as her new season starts, to John Johnson. We should also note the--lest we forget the Hermes flap that we talked about, or lest we forget the tribute that she gave to black women over the summer, that was highly covered, and we should also note that, among others, at the funeral, were Tom Joyner, President Clinton and many others. But I think the lack of celebrity, particularly considering that, as George pointed out, many were made by Ebony and Jet magazine. When I say `celebrity,' I mean entertainers.

Ms. SHIPP: And you kind of want to go--you've got to want to compare it to, say, Johnnie Cochran's funeral earlier, or Luther Vandross'...

Mr. GEORGE: Or Ossie Davis' funeral. Ossie Davis, you know...

Ms. SHIPP: ...funeral, Ossie Davis. People showed up and so...

Mr. CURRY: And I think compounding this was this was about the same time Peter Jennings died. And so they were able to contrast that coverage with Johnny Johnson's coverage.

Ms. SHIPP: Right.

GORDON: Well--and, certainly, the coverage, as we already suggested, in mainstream media, is something that I think we all could agree was not just for a man of Mr. Johnson's stature.

All right, we'll move on and take a look at information coming out of a Pentagon task force, and that is that we are still finding abuse in military schools. Some years ago, of course, there were a number of investigations going on at the Air Force Academy, and the Naval Academy, as well. One had hoped to, after this panel took a look, would see a different environment, but the suggestion is there is still a culture that devalues the role of women in uniforms within these venerable institutions. E.R. Shipp, is this of any surprise to you?

Ms. SHIPP: It's surprising in the numbers of incidents of harassment, sexually, and verbally, of women. But it's not shocking that men in that kind of environment will try to take advantage of women. Now remember that in these academies, there's always a certain amount of hazing and you have to drop through all kinds of hoops to prove your worthiness. I think it's likely that some of the males take advantage of that tradition and also take advantage of their own ignorance and abuse women so I think I read something like 50 percent of women in the academies have reported some form of abuse.

Mr. GEORGE: I think that's true, however, I would caution to say that it should be kind of the--with the--I would like to know exactly what they mean by harassment and what they mean by abuse because clearly what happened at the Air Force Academy was totally horrific in terms of the number of out and out sexual assaults and rape and so forth. That--those type of actions that--physical actions, you don't have that level at the Army and the Navy. Now is it the verbal stuff maybe going on and that's certainly inappropriate but I think it should--we should try and be clear as to exactly what we're talking about.

Mr. CURRY: Well, the Pentagon study, the 50 percent figure that E.R. talks about, it was all three academies, they said most of it was--they said verbally. It really should mean oral since verbal can be written or spoken, to be technical. But verbally...

Mr. GEORGE: Actually, I think verbal is probably better than saying oral, actually, George.

Mr. CURRY: Hold on. That's where your mind has gone. But basically they were saying that most of it was oral harassment but at the same time, you know, we're talking about here a culture that devalues women. And it's been a problem there, as it is in society, for a long time. And you have the small numbers, as well, with 15 percent only being female. And so the question that comes up, how do they implement these recommendations? They've had recommendations before, saying, you know, increase the number of instructors or close the door to hearings, protect the women's identities, these kinds of things, but we've had these kind of recommendations before and we haven't seen anything done.

Ms. SHIPP: It is not...

GORDON: George, you raise an interesting point there, and that's the question of society's view of all of this. We can look at this as a microcosm, if you will. Though we don't like to talk about it, there is still, among many, women included, the idea that the military is no place for women.

Ms. SHIPP: Oh, please.

Mr. CURRY: Well, you have this...

GORDON: Well, that's the truth, E.R. You don't have to agree with it but there is that...

Ms. SHIPP: I know, but I'm saying Iraq should prove that point to be false. Look at all the women who are serving in Iraq, who have died in Iraq. And even though they didn't go in necessarily to be front-line troops, they are serving the same role as those front-line troops.

Mr. GEORGE: But that still doesn't change the cultural sensibility...

Ms. SHIPP: Right.

Mr. GEORGE: ...and I think that's what Ed was speaking to, that there still is a cultural sensibility, even if you see women dying. In fact, even especially when you start seeing women dying, people start thinking that--well, women should not be on those front lines.

Ms. SHIPP: But nor should men be on those front lines.

GORDON: OK. But that's...

Mr. GEORGE: Well, but the thing--well, but the warrior mentality is part of man, unfortunately.

GORDON: But stay with the point, and that's exactly what I'm talking about, Robert George, the idea--and you can take this to police force, you can take this, quite frankly, to sports...

Ms. SHIPP: Yeah, fire departments.

GORDON: ...you can take this--absolutely. And there is still this societal thought, by many, E.R., not saying it's right or wrong, in that sense, but just that it is, in fact, here, that there are still, and I--and there is still an idea that women should not have these jobs, that many men who stand beside them don't feel quite as comfortable as if there were another man there, and we don't like to talk about this.

Mr. GEORGE: And it's not necessarily--it's not always the case that it's that they--that they hate women or they dislike women. Part of the concern that those who have always objected to this is often that the male instinct to want to protect the woman next to them actually is going to--it may actually cause a breakdown in just automatic esprit de corps. Whether that's fair or not, that's a thought.

Ms. SHIPP: I don't buy that one at all. I mean, what about the woman's need to protect her offspring? So she might have the same kind of feeling, need. It probably helps the esprit de corps if they're all looking after each other's back. George just...

Mr. CURRY: I think beyond just--you know, I think beyond that, what we're talking about is this whole peer larger thing that discourages reporting. You're not supposed to rat on somebody. And whether that's police department, or these military academies, that's a central problem, as well.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah, but, again, as I said, I would really like to--I would like to have seen a further breakdown, because, you know, once again, the level of physical assaults and rape that you had at the Air Force Academy has never...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. GEORGE: ...been reported at that level of the other two.

Ms. SHIPP: I agree with that.

GORDON: Well, we can be assured that we still do not have all of what we probably should know and further investigation is needed. There are a couple of issues that we promised you we didn't get to today. But we will certainly get to them as the week progresses.

E.R. Shipp, Robert George, George Curry, thanks very much; greatly appreciate it.

Mr. GEORGE: Thank you, Ed.

Ms. SHIPP: Thank you.

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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