The campaign to enable homosexuals to serve openly in the military has escalated beyond public relations into “perception management.” The fancy new buzz phrase, dramatized in the popular novel The Whole Truth, describes media-assisted deception on a global scale. David Baldacci, in an author’s note, summarized the tactics of unscrupulous perception managers: “PMs are not spin doctors because they don’t spin facts. They create facts and then sell them to the world as truth.”
Media reaction to a document recently released by the Michael D. Palm Center, a California-based homosexual activist group formerly known as the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM) presents a real-time example of “perception management.” The 16-page paper, trumpeted as a “study” by the Associated Press, claims that inclusion of professed homosexuals in the military would not undermine the basic characteristic of combat effectiveness, unit cohesion. The document actually presents opinion as fact, spins speculation as certainty, misuses respected names, and dresses up faux facts to resemble an impartial academic review.
AP reporter Anne Flaherty swallowed it whole. Rushing to press with only one token quote expressing dissent, she failed to mention that the sponsoring Palm Center is an activist group solely devoted to the cause of homosexuals in the military. CNN, Time, and most of the liberal media republished the AP story without question, advertising illusory “evidence” that repeal of the 1993 law regarding homosexuals in the military would not harm morale or readiness.
If the AP had asked my organization for a comment before Flaherty’s story was published, instead of afterwards, I would have pointed out typical flaws and distortions that an objective reporter should have noticed. The document claims, for example, that the four retired flag and general officers who conducted the project “devoted particular and extensive effort” to the study of published works submitted by named “Invited Experts” who disagree with the Palm Center’s views.
Sounds reasonable, but panel members apparently limited their range of study to only one side. There are no footnotes referring to opposing views that I and others recommended to the panel in response to a letter from Project Co-Coordinator Brant A. Shalikashvili, an activist for gays in the military whose father served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Several of us declined to meet with the panel for good reason. I suspected that good-faith cooperation would be rewarded with misquotes and misattribution of support for whatever product would result. That suspicion proved correct. The document, for example, attributes a misleading statement to Prof. Charles Moskos, who died of cancer on May 31. The respected military sociologist, a former draftee, patriot, and long-time friend, regularly contributed to my organization. He is nevertheless quoted posthumously in the Palm Center report as if he were an ally in their cause.
The media missed an astonishing bit of news in the report. “Finding Five” cites a 2006 Zogby Poll to suggest that if gays and lesbians had been allowed to serve openly in the military, 2% of potential recruits — about 4,000 presumably heterosexual military men and women — probably would have declined enlistment in the past 14 years. That number, they claim without support, would be “canceled out” by 4,000 gays and lesbians likely to enlist in their places.
It turns out, however, that the percentage of military people identified by Zogby in Survey Question #27 was not 2%; it was 10%, five times greater, with 13% undecided. Taking those percentages and estimates at face value, that means that 20,000 people would have declined to join the military since 1994, or 32,000 men and women if half of Zogby’s undecided group is factored in. This deception alone discredits the carefully managed perception of the Palm Center as a credible organization interested in military readiness.
If the study group had read my article for the Duke University Journal of Gender Law & Policy, they might have noticed another controversial revelation in the Zogby Poll, a survey commissioned and paid for by the Palm Center. The news release announcing poll results highlighted an innocuous question, “Are you comfortable interacting with gay people?” Of military people responding, 73% said they were. I would have answered “yes” myself.
But the most important issue, not mentioned in the news release, appeared in Survey Question #13: “Do you agree or disagree with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?” In response to that inquiry, 26% agreed, but 37% disagreed. The poll also found that 32% of respondents were “neutral,” and only 5% were “not sure.” The 26% favoring repeal were outnumbered by the combined 69% of people who were opposed or neutral. This was hardly a mandate for radical change, but perceptions were managed to suggest that it was.
Activists trying to impose a San Francisco agenda on the military are counting on four factors to win: unquestioning media, pending legislation in Congress, so-far unsuccessful litigation in the courts and, of course, the 2008 presidential and congressional elections. Their best asset is the perception that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a law.
The catch-phrase actually refers to an administrative policy, imposed on the military by former President Bill Clinton, which could and should have been dropped long ago. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is inconsistent with the 1993 law, which states that homosexuals are not eligible for military service. Contradictions between policy and law have caused problems that members of Congress predicted when they rejected “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The answer is not to repeal the 1993 law, but to improve understanding of what it actually says, and why.
Given the usual and new deceptions exposed in the latest Palm Center “study,” all arguments made by them and other doctrinaire activists should be called into question. As analyzed in my article for the Duke University article, these include non-credible claims that 65,000 homosexuals currently serve in the military, that disproportionate numbers are being discharged, the contradictory allegation that Defense Department officials do not enforce the law, and the notion that foreign militaries are suitable models for radical social change in the American military.
Fiction is usually harmless, but if used to justify harmful social policy changes in the military, fiction can be dangerous.