Defense Public Affairs
Electronic Lyceum


Proactive Media Communication:
Changing Public Affairs Response Doctrine
Patricia A. Lang
Jon N. Nylander
Rhonda K. Paige
Jef Reilly
William T. Wadsworth
11 December 1997
University of Oklahoma



This purpose of this paper is to propose an experimental design through which the effectiveness of military public affairs responses to disinformation campaigns can be tested. Using the 1997 controversy between the United States Air Force and 1st Lieutenant Kelly Flinn as a case study, the applications of classical, cultivation, and agenda-setting theory will be examined. The Air Force, by adhering to established standards and norms of responding to public affairs issues, was unable to adequately respond to an emotional and highly effective disinformation campaign waged by Flinn. As a result, the case was tried in the court of public opinion rather than the court of military justice. This study attempts to discover how the amount of information released by the military affects public opinion. The amount of information released – all, some or none -- will serve as the independent variable, while its effect on media coverage and public opinion will be measured as the dependent variable.


The controversy between the U.S. Air Force and 1st Lt.Kelly Flinn will be used as a case study from which military public affairs practitioners may glean insight into how to approach similar crises. The same tactics, which reflect cultivation and agenda-setting theories, that Flinn, attorney Frank Spinner, and hired public relations firm Duffey Communications used, will be recommended for military responses to misinformation campaigns. By putting these theoretical concepts into practice, public affairs officials may achieve more success in communicating their key messages. Currently, classical theory prevails in the military. This study proposes that the amount of information released by the military in a timely fashion can affect media coverage and public opinion.


Throughout 1997, the United States Air Force faced severe public questioning and disapproval for its handling of the Lt. Flinn investigation and proposed court-martial. The Air Force trained Flinn to be the first woman to pilot the B-52 "Stratofortress" Bomber (Focus, 1997), and she had been assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. In the summer of 1996, Flinn met Marc Zigo, the husband of an enlisted woman also assigned to Minot Air Force Base, and engaged in adultery. She thereby violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice which prohibits adultery in the military. Marc Zigo’s wife complained to her chain of command about the relationship between Flinn and her husband. Word of the affair reached Flinn's commanding officer and in November 1996, he ordered her to have no further relations with Zigo (CITE). By continuing the affair, Lt. Flinn disobeyed this direct order (Sconyers, 1997). When questioned by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Flinn lied about the relationship by signing a written statement stating she was not having an affair with Zigo. At the time, she knew this statement to be false.

When the affair continued, the Air Force charged Flinn with disobeying a direct order, making a false statement, conduct unbecoming an officer, fraternization, and adultery (LaMarca, 1997). The fraternization charge arouse out of Flinn's previous sexual relationship with an airman prior to meeting Zigo. Fraternization is defined by the Manual for Courts Martial (1984) as any unduly close or improper relationship between senior and subordinate. The Air Force held an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a Grand Jury hearing, to determine if there was enough evidence against Flinn to warrant a Court Martial. The hearing decided there was sufficient evidence to recommend a Court Martial and the Air Force released that fact to the press, along with the specific charges against Lt. Flinn (Sconyers, 1997). (See Timeline: Appendix A.)

Flinn responded by hiring an ex-military, media savvy attorney -- Frank Spinner, and a public relations firm, Duffey Communications, to handle her image. If Flinn and her supporters could garner enough public disapproval for the Air Force’s policies and actions, then perhaps she would not be held accountable for her misconduct (disobeying a direct order, disobeying a lawful regulation and making a false statement) after having committed adultery with the spouse of another Air Force member (LaMarca, 1997). The attorney’s strategy involved trying this case in the court of public opinion rather than in a military court, generate public support for the case to pressure the Air Force, and thus deflect public interest from the true nature of the case. To do this, Flinn, Spinner and the public relations firm generated a media campaign that maximized the principles of cultivation and agenda-setting theories (Wolffe, 1997).

Cultivation theory asserts that television influences our view of reality (Gerbner & Gross, 1973). Gross & Worth (1981) observed television to be so pervasive that it often blurs the line between illusion and reality. Thus, individuals frequently confuse media-constructed reality with actual reality (Gross & Worth, 1981). This theory attests to the power of media in influencing people’s perceptions of reality. Flinn’s lawyer and her public relations team believed they could influence people’s perceptions through the mass media, particularly through the imagery of television. If they could get the public to believe in a "media-constructed reality" rather than "actual reality," they could ostensibly influence the outcome of the charges against Flinn. An example of this belief can be illustrated by photographs of Lt. Flinn distributed by the Associated Press in May 1997. As Flinn walked away from the legal office at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, photographers and videographers captured an image of her clutching a bouquet of roses (Capaccio, 1997). As Capaccio (1997) noted, "The roses illustrate perfectly the way images often become the reality the public remembers."

Commenting on Gerbner's studies of cultivation theory, Infante, Rancer and Womack (1997) explained the effectiveness of such mass media visual images:


Television is highly effective in the cultivation process because many of us never personally experience some aspects of reality, but the pervasive presence of television – constantly available for relatively little expense—provides a steady stream of mediated reality. We may have limited opportunities to observe the internal workings of a real police station, hospital operating room, or municipal courtroom. Thus the media images become our standards for reality.


Realizing that most people have never "personally" experienced the necessity for adultery and fraternization regulations in the military, Spinner and Duffey Communications sought to provide the public with "a steady stream of mediated reality" as to why such policies are antiquated, selectively enforced, and useless in determining whether a B-52 pilot is fit for duty. Spinner and Flinn’s public relations firm took advantage of the public’s "limited opportunities" to "observe the internal workings" of the real Air Force (Duffey, 1997).

The Air Force, limited by laws, policies and the debate over interpretations thereof, hindered itself by not responding with specific details sought by the media, the very details which could contradict Flinn’s claims. The Privacy Act, Freedom of Information Act, and Department of Defense Public Affairs regulations and practices encourage a policy of not commenting on an investigation while it is ongoing. Thus, as many observed, Flinn was able to frame the controversy in her own terms (Capaccio, 1997) or to set the agenda.

If the media chooses to highlight certain issues of concern, then those issues become important to the public, regardless of the level of importance they placed on such issues before the media attention (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). Flinn’s personal plight of failed romance, rather than her disobedience of orders and lying under oath, became the focus of the media (Corelli, 1997) The Air Force position, which stemmed from a classical approach to communication, became relegated to the background. The issue was a conflict between two codes of conduct (Gibbs, 1997).

Since firsthand experiences are limited, people depend on the media to describe important events that people have not personally witnessed (McCombs, 1991). Thus the media, by choosing what information to present to the public, can set the agenda. Flinn, Spinner and Duffey Communications attempted to affect the public agenda by downplaying the issues of disobedience and lying and concentrated on portraying Flinn as "A Woman Wronged" by the Air Force as well as her lover (Vistica & Thomas, 1997). The team encouraged the public to consider that the military ought to respect sexual privacy by staying out of people’s bedrooms (Focus, 1997), and put these issues out in the press for people "to think about" (U.S. Veteran Dispatch, 1997). In that sense, and by minimizing the other charges such as lying and disobeying a direct order, Spinner and Duffey Communications framed the arguments for Flinn by manipulating the agenda. They deliberately created images to reflect that agenda by repeatedly stating on national television that the issue was adultery, and the Air Force had no right interfering in that area (Van Biema, 1997).

The military has generally followed a classical theorist approach (Giddens, 1979) in responding to disinformation, particularly in cases like Flinn’s where an individual who is part of the military establishment turns against the establishment itself (Sconyers, 1997). The classical approach is characterized by bureaucratic functions (Giddens, 1979; Poole, 1986), illustrated by the military’s chain of command where approval for releasing of information must often pass through organizational levels which have a vested interest in the matter. The classical approach can often hinder timeliness of information dissemination, because of concerns within the levels of bureaucracy, and information seems to become more limited as the level of concern increases (Putnam & Pacanowsky, 1983) This paper proposes a change to the classical approach for public affairs response to media scrutiny of military issues. Specifically, it outlines an experiment to discover whether the amount of information released by the military can influence public perceptions favorably. The rationale for such an experiment can be generated through a theoretical examination of the controversy between the U.S. Air Force and Lt. Flinn.


Legal Analysis


In analyzing the case of former Lieutenant Flinn as a model for changing public affairs responsiveness doctrine during investigations, legal issues which define the case must be examined. Specifically, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the Privacy Act, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and military public affairs policies, procedures and regulations have an impact on what public affairs may release to the public in certain situations.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice is similar but not identical to the United States Judicial System. The UCMJ categorizes offenses in terms of punitive and general articles. Punitive articles define offenses for which military members can be punished, including offenses such as murder, rape, armed robbery and many others (Superintendent of Documents, 1984). The General Article (Article 134) refers to all other disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline that are not provided for in the punitive articles (Superintendent of Documents, 1984). Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, military members may report an offense to any superior commanding officer, who in turn is required to forward the complaint to an officer exercising general court-martial jurisdiction over the officer against whom the complaint is made (Superintendent of Documents, 1984).

One of the General articles (Article 139) empowers a commanding officer to convene a board to investigate the complaint. The investigation is referred to as an Article 32 Investigation, and is similar to a Grand Jury Hearing. From the earliest days of the Flinn case until its conclusion, a court that is often stronger than the UCMJ, the court of public opinion, became an undeniable influence (Rupright, 1997). Clarifying and correcting disinformation reported by the media and believed by a large portion of the general public became critical issues for Air Force Public Affairs throughout the Flinn case (Gallup, 1997). Much of this disinformation can be attributed to a lack of public understanding of the military justice process.

In addition to the UCMJ process, two other closely related legal documents, the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act, factored into the Flinn case. Under provisions of the Privacy Act, the duty status of an accused person is releasable during the investigation and or during litigation. However, during a board's convening and subsequent decision on matters of discharge and or pending court-martial, the decision cannot be publicly released until the final approving authority of the board has rendered a decision (U.S. Code, 552a, 1974). This does not apply to facts or information about cases, although it is often perceived as a prohibition upon release of such information (Sconyers, 1997). The classical functioning of the Air Force hindered its ability to release vital information in a timely fashion that could contradict Flinn’s claims.

Closely related to the Privacy Act is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA is a disclosure law which provides public access to records in the possession or control of the Federal Government (U.S. Code, 552, 1966). Under the guidelines of FOIA, all information in the government's possession is releasable except for nine specific categories of information -- national security, including secret or confidential documents; internal agency rules, including personnel rules and practices of the agency; documents exempt by other statutes such as the Census Act; trade secrets provided to government by individuals or businesses; inter or intra-agency memoranda or letters; personnel and medical files; law enforcement issues whose release would jeopardize ongoing legal proceedings; bank reports; and oil and gas well data


(U.S.Code, 552, 1966).


Interpretations of the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act became key to the decision making process of the Air Force judge advocate and Public Affairs office in determining the appropriate release and dissemination of information pertaining to the Flinn case (Sconyers, 1997). Although the necessity of the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act is understood, both acts place significant limitations on public affairs ability to release information. In high visibility situations such as the Flinn case, in which the accused launches a personal media campaign, those actual or perceived limitations are often quite detrimental to the communication of a positive message defense by the military (LaMarca, 1997). A more important factor in the Air Force handling of a response to Flinn's media campaign is the long-established practice in the military of not commenting publicly on investigations or litigation, particularly criminal proceedings (Sconyers, 1997). In compliance with these regulations and perceived restrictions during the Flinn case, public affairs did not release evidence, findings, information on the specific individuals involved, nor the exact timeline of the events leading up to the alleged crime (Air Combat Command Public Affairs, 1997). However throughout the controversy, recurring media leaks occurred regarding specific evidence and information on the involved parties. These leaks assumed the status of media stories, often inaccurate and or sensationalized (Greenfield, 1997). Due to the legal and policy limitations placed on military public affairs, the door remained open for Flinn's media blitz. Out of that blitz and these perceived limitations on a defensive response strategy, public opinion was swayed negatively toward the military's handling of the case (U.S. Veterans Dispatch, 1997). Such policies continue to hamper the effectiveness of PAO to apply and provide timely and accurate defense strategies in crisis response situations.


Theoretical Analysis:


Scholars have long known that media have the potential for structuring issues for the public. The public responds not to actual events in the environment but to the pictures in their heads. (Bryant, 1989; Bryant, 1994). Images often become the reality the public remembers (Capaccio, 1997). Three germane theories, agenda setting, cultivation and classical management theory, relate directly to the impact of media coverage of the Lt. Flinn case.Considerable evidence has accumulated that editors and broadcasters play an important part in shaping our social reality as they go about their day-to-day task of choosing and displaying news (McCombs, 1991a). This impact of the mass media, the ability to effect cognitive change among individuals and thereby structure their thinking, is known as the agenda-setting function of mass communication (McCombs, 1991). The mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but as the Air Force learned in their case involving Lt. Flinn, the mass media is stunningly successful in telling us what to think about (Bryant, 1990). Although the power is not absolute, the media have great advantages in setting the ideological terms of debate (O’Beirne, 1997).

Cultivation theory also deals with the sociological outcomes of mass communication is cultivation analysis. This theory asserts that television is the great common experience of almost everyone and has the effect of providing a shared way of viewing the world; it is a centralized system of storytelling (Gerbner & Gross, 1973). Television drama, commercials, news, and other programs bring a relatively coherent world of common images and messages into almost every home. Television is believed to be a homogenizing agent in culture; the effect is known as cultivation (Severin & Tankard, 1992).

The dispute in which the Air Force charged Lt. Flinn with failure to obey a lawful order or regulation, disobedience of a direct order, making a false official statement, adultery and fraternization provided an interesting contrast in media manipulation. Using agenda-setting and cultivation theories, Flinn’s family rallied around her and initiated a strategy to "humanize" her public image through media relations (Capaccio, 1997). They hired the firm of Duffey communications to prepare Flinn for the barrage of press attention that her case would generate (Capaccio, 1997). "This was not the case of a shell-shocked family desperately seeking the advice of public relations professionals. Rather, it was one of an angry family savvy enough to know press interest would be piqued and how to use that interest to its own advantage (Capaccio, 1997)."

In stark contrast, perhaps because of its perceived limitations in releasing information, the Air Force shied away from the media spotlight. It executed somewhat of a classical approach and abided by the long-standing practice to not comment publicly on investigations or litigation, particularly criminal proceedings (Sconyers, 1997). The Air Force was also constrained by a peculiar military phenomenon known as "unlawful command influence." Unlawful command influence occurs when a senior commander attempts to coerce the action of a court-martial or subordinate commander as to what action, if any, the subordinate takes in regard to a case (Sconyers, 1997). In the Flinn case, Air Force officials knew that the facts of the case might aid public understanding of their position, but they did not comment with a high-level credible spokesperson in a timely fashion -- at great expense to the public’s perception of the Air Force (Sconyers, 1997).

The Flinn case began as a one-sided story, with an unbridled defense presenting their message to an eager media without comment from the Air Force (Vistica & Thomas, 1997). Culturally, the standoff became a battle of imagery, with her side casting her as "A Woman Wronged" and the Air Force remaining silent on many matters of contention (Vistica & Thomas, 1997). Long profiles in The Washington Post and The New York Times and two interviews on "60 Minutes," where Flinn admitted to all of the charges against her, made her a heroine, a victim of the loutish male establishment (Vistica &Thomas, 1997). Flinn’s exclusive appearances on "60 Minutes" paid handsomely in terms of winning public sympathy early on. They shaped the initial debate in her favor by focusing attention on the issue of adultery in the military, rather than the more serious issues of lying and disobeying orders (Sconyers, 1997). American television viewers seem unable to get enough of gossip packaged as news, and the Flinn debacle held true to that idea (Alter, 1997). Her saga became fodder for talk shows, led off TV news programs and made the front page of The New York Times five times in a 13-day period. All told, the mass-media campaign deployed by Flinn and her supporters generated intense interest from 105 media outlets from 27 agencies (LaMarca,, 1997). Flinn’s mother even thanked the media, whose coverage generated sympathy for her daughter among the public and Congressional leaders. Many Americans viewed Flinn as a naïve young woman who became involved with the wrong man and Air Force officials as out-of-touch in destroying what many perceived to be a promising career (Walsh, 1997).

Due to Lt. Flinn’s adroit use of the media and the Air Force’s limited response, much of the coverage reinforced the perception put forward by her family, attorney Frank Spinner and the rest of her public relations counsel, that the pilot’s crimes of the heart were hardly court-martial material (Buckley, 1997) The campaign was built around "message points" and the family’s belief that the press and public would see the Air Force case as "ridiculous" (Capaccio, 1997), which surveys revealed to be exactly what happened. Shortly after the "60 Minutes" interviews aired, telephone calls to Air Force Public Affairs registered seven to one that the Air Force was prosecuting Flinn unfairly and that they should leave her alone (Air Combat Command, 1997). Senate Majority leader Trent Lott joined the chorus sneering at the military code of loyalty, self-restraint, honest, and obedience (O’Beirne, 1997). The Atlanta Journal and Constitution’s military affairs reporter, Ron Martz, called Flinn’s deliberate media campaign "an artful job"(Capaccio, 1997). Air Force Under Secretary Rudy de Leon (1997) dubbed it "a very sophisticated media plan" noting that Flinn’s lawyer and public relation firm "were able to frame the story early on." Those who condemned antediluvian standards of conduct in the military had uncritically accepted the media’s account of the Flinn case as "a misogynist assault" on a lonely single woman who had innocently been seduced by a cad (O’Beirne, 1997). The key to the Flinn campaign, which put the Air Force on the defensive, was getting the big three -- the Post, the New York Times and "60 Minutes" -- to weigh in with coverage reflecting the Flinn’s viewpoints and perspectives. The Air Force, as it had done throughout most of the media tumult, respectfully declined to comment or even take part in the "60 Minutes" interviews (Focus, 1997).

Two significant events refocused public opinion more in favor of the Air Force and, not surprisingly, they involved the use of mass media (Sconyers, 1997). CNN obtained a copy of a letter the wife of Flinn's lover had sent to the Secretary of the Air Force. CNN reported it and posted it on its home page. Secondly, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Ronald Fogleman, lectured a congressional committee on the actual facts of the case; which C-Span television broadcast. Overnight, newspaper and television coverage turned ambivalent, pointing out that Flinn had disobeyed orders, a far worse crime in the military than adultery (Vistica & Thomas, 1997). Within a few days of the CNN and C-Span coverage, telephone calls to Air Force Public Affairs changed substantially; almost 2 to 1 in favor of prosecuting Flinn (Air Combat Command, 1997). Although public opinion had finally started to sway considerably in the Air Force’s favor, the service was never able to fully recover from Flinn’s public relations blitz, and dropped plans for her court martial (Sciolino, 1997).

The Air Force approach to the Flinn case can be characterized as a classical system response. System patterns create a social system and form practical structures, which are recognized as the members’ (in this case, the U.S. Air Force’s) norms, rules and resources. Members follow these norms when interacting with each other and especially in communicating with one another and the rest of the world (McPhee & Tompkins, 1985). The Air Force places a very high value on its core values of service above self, integrity and excellence in all endeavors, and thus refused to be drawn down to the level of Flinn's emotional campaign (Sconyers, 1997). In presenting their case to the public, the organizational structure of the Air Force determined the response and how it would be couched (Giddens, 1984). The central issues for the Air Force were serious officer misconduct, lying, and disobedience of orders and regulations. They were particularly about military leadership and officership, not the issue of adultery (Sconyers, 1997). While this approach was vindicated in the end, it was as much by Flinn's own letters to her lover and the letter by the wronged wife in the affair, as it was by the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff setting the record straight before a congressional committee (Sconyers, 1997). In the initial flurry of media coverage and excitement created by Flinn's cultivation and agenda setting tactics, the classical systems approach by the Air Force and its adherence to standards of honor, integrity and moral leadership did not catch the attention of the American public or mass media (Duffey, 1997).



Because of the quick and enormous impact of mass media in the 1990s, non-celebrities in trouble are well advised to try to become celebrities, as Lt. Flinn did with the help of her media savvy attorney, Frank Spinner, and public relations firm, Duffey Communications. Even "60 Minutes" is easier than a military tribunal (Alter, 1997). Live television coverage of continuing real-life dramas are the modern popular culture equivalent of town gossip, and are replacing television soap operas and courtroom dramas (Greenfield, 1997). The public relations effort of Flinn and her associates, and the pressure it brought to bear on the Air Force to settle for less than its most severe punishment, sent a clear message to news organizations and the Air Force that the tactics and techniques of mass media persuasion have settled deep into Middle America. In the court of public opinion, the military can not afford use a classical, "no comment" approach to subjects involving media attention. The Air Force now realizes the importance of having a coherent commander or spokesperson who can take advantage of media opportunities at the drop of a hat (Pribyla, 1997). In the Air Force Public Affairs After Action Report (1997) of the Flinn case, some new, key concepts and principles are stressed:


The above examples of agenda-setting and cultivation approaches to mass communication, now endorsed in the Air Force After Action Report, worked magnificently for Lt. Flinn. After learning the lessons of the inevitable media battle with Flinn, military public affairs practitioners should incorporate the above stated proactive elements and theories into their doctrine. The classical argument of the military that a public relations war would not reflect their core institutional values has been overtaken by mass media and the effect it has on the American public. The limited Air Force response to Flinn's disinformation campaign left a news vacuum that the Flinns were only too happy to fill, and the public too happy to consume. "Because the Air Force doesn’t understand the power of the press and ties one hand behind its back, that’s not my fault," observed Flinn’s attorney Frank Spinner (Capaccio, 1997).

With the Flinn controversy as a case study, military public affairs officials should learn the value of applying cultivation and agenda-setting theories to succeed in influencing public opinion. The proposed experiment is predicted to yield concrete evidence that releasing the most information in a timely fashion and counteracting disinformation will favorably influence the coverage of the media and opinions of the public.


This experimental proposal aims to discover whether the amount of information released by the military can influence public perceptions favorably. The independent variable to be manipulated is the amount of information: all, some, or none. This information will be distributed in a timely fashion. After one day, one week, one month, three months and six months, the public will be surveyed, in a manner similar to the Gallup Poll, as to their opinion of the military’s handling of a specific issue. To test this experiment, three bases would be chosen to receive a predetermined and manipulated amount of information, and then after the designated time periods, surrounding populations will be asked for their responses. To ascertain the character of media coverage, a content analysis evaluating and tabulating positive and negative messages about the military would be performed.

Using the Public Affairs Offices at three designated military bases in responding to a campaign similar to Lt. Flinn's, the fruits of cultivation and agenda-setting theory could be tested by providing one base public affairs shop with all the information relevant to the case and allowing the public affairs organization there to release it immediately; providing a second base public affairs shop with the salient facts of the case, but not all of them, and providing the third base public affairs shop with only a minimal outline of the facts. The independent variables would be the amount of information in the form of key messages presented to the public and media by each base, and the dependent variable would be whether the public believed the military version of the story, or that of the opposition, i.e. the effectiveness of the military's message to the public and media. If the theory holds that complete and timely release of information is the way to improve media responsiveness, then the base provided the most information released in a timely fashion would have the most impact on media and public opinion. The results could be tested by observing the trend or trends of opinion in the mass media and of the public through public opinion polls at designated intervals after the information was released.

Future studies might examine the importance of military source credibility in influencing favorable public opinion. The impact of timeliness and its effect on message credibility could also be studied.


By staying on the "moral high ground" (Sconyers, 1997) throughout the publicity during the Flinn case, the Air Force remained true to its principles and core values and avoided engaging in what it perceived could be an "unseemly" public relations campaign (Sconyers, 1997). Lt. Flinn, obviously not troubled by such lofty concepts, launched, with the assistance of her public relations firm and lawyer, a Machiavellian scheme of presenting only some of the facts in the case and deflecting public interest and scrutiny from the real issues of disobedience and lying under oath. The goal of her campaign was to achieve a victory by any means (Machiavelli, 1997). The goal of the Air Force was to present a balanced set of facts and maintain its honorable reputation for fair play (Sconyers, 1997).

The Air Force stuck to its traditional method of response and was outmaneuvered in public opinion by Flinn’s public relations campaign. Furthermore, the Air Force was slow in designating a credible spokesman to provide hard-hitting responses to Flinn's claims (LaMarca, 1997). This lack of information and lack of its receipt in a timely fashion gave validity to Flinn’s version of events (Newman, 1997). The Air Force commanders and their legal and public affairs advisory agencies could not agree on what should be done initially, and therefore accomplished little in the way of generating public support (Secretary of the Air Force for Public Affairs Media, 1997). While Flinn knew exactly what she hoped to accomplish, the Air Force gave the appearance of being aloof at best or befuddled, anachronistic and vindictive at worst, which was greatly to Flinn's advantage (U.S. Veteran Dispatch, 1997; Walsh, 1997; Vistica & Thomas, 1997). The media, receiving little from the Air Force and choosing to concentrate on the more titillating aspects of adultery, heartless cads, and misguided affections, played up Lt. Flinn's side of the story (Rupricht, 1997).

The Air Force realized it needed a competent, credible media liaison to respond immediately with facts, but did not provide it in a timely fashion. The Air Force After Action Report (1997), recommends establishing such a liaison up front in the future. Only after the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Ronald Fogleman, set the record straight in front of a Congressional committee did public opinion begin to shift (Walsh, 1997; Vistica & Thomas, 1997).

Expanding knowledge of cultivation and agenda-setting theories to the entire military public affairs organization would greatly improve responsiveness in controversial cases. It is essential Public Affairs officials have information available, and more important they be allowed to release it in a timely and effective manner. Since the military is constrained from launching a pre-emptive media campaign in cases where they think a controversy may arise, the public relations effort will always be in response to the actions of another party. In such cases, military public affairs practitioners may be at an initial disadvantage, but with a strong theoretical basis for a preferred course of action, they may be able to generate favorable public support or minimize image damage . A thorough understanding of the exact provisions of the various laws, regulations and statutes in relation to what is covered by practice, and therefore not specifically prohibited or mandated, will make reaching decisions about courses of action easier. The inherent bottlenecks in obtaining approval from higher authority before releasing any information or conducting any media counter-campaign can only be reduced by educating the upper echelons of the importance of timely, coherent and relevant responses. Public Affairs practitioners must convince their superiors to rely on them as experts in matters concerning the media and the public, just as those superiors would rely on a technician or a lawyer to explain technical or legal matters. Evidence generated from this experimental proposal will provide a basis for improving military responses to the media and the public during media controversies. The effectiveness of such a less constrained public affairs response policy could be tested in real life as a response to a crisis or disinformation campaign. Public understanding of the military is essential in a free society. It is the task of the public affairs practitioners to provide that information to the public. A realistic, flexible and timely response doctrine is invaluable if the military is to explain, not only what it does, but why, to the nation.



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  Appendix A: Timeline in the 1st Lt. Flinn Case


1994 U.S. Air Force announced 2nd Lt. Kelly Flinn would be assigned to fly B-52s

1996 Lt. Flinn assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, Minot, North Dakota.

1996 Lt. Flinn began an illicit affair with Mark Zigo, the civilian husband of an enlistedAir Force member.

1996, Nov. Lt. Flinn was counseled by her Commanding officer and told to end the relationship. Lt. Flinn disobeyed the order; continued to see Mr. Zigo

1996, Dec. Responding to questions, Lt. Flinn lied on an official statement about the affair.

1997, Jan 30/31, Article 32 hearing, held at Minot AFB, North Dakota. Case was referred to Court Martial. Lt. Flinn was charged with two specifications of a violation ofArticle 92, UCMJ, failing to obey a lawful order and/or regulation. One specification was failing to obey her commander’s direct written order. The other specification was violating AFI 36-2909, a general regulation prohibiting fraternization. Fraternization is defined by the Manual for Courts Martial (1984) as any unduly close personal relationship between senior and subordinate. This specification to the charge was the result of Flinn having had sex with Senior Airman Colin Thompson prior to her affair with Mr. Zigo. Flinn was alsocharged with violating Article 134, wrongfully having sexual intercourse with amarried man, not her husband (adultery); violating Article 133, UCMJ, wrongfully having sexual intercourse with a married man, not her husband, to the disgrace of the armed forces (conduct unbecoming an officer); violating Article 107, UCMJ, in that she did, with the intent to deceive, made an official statement to investigating officers, which was false and she knew to be false.

1997, Feb 26 Washington Post reporter Tamara Jones contacted Secretary of the Air Force/Public Affairs Manager(SAF/PAM) requesting information on the case. 1997, Mar 10 Jones granted an interview with Col. Reed of SAF/PAM, followed by a trip toMinot AFB, where she conducted research into the Flinn case.

1997, Mar 10 Air Force Times printed half page articles on the Flinn case

1997, Mar 24 CBS News magazine 60 Minutes producer Andy Wolffe contacted SAF/PAM, requested an interview with the Secretary of the Air Force. Denied.

1997, Apr 2 Interview conducted by Morley Safer with Col Reed. 60 Minutes also visited

Minot Air Force Base and Atlanta, Flinn's family home, to conduct research and interviews.

1997, Apr 6 New York Times reporter Elaine Sciolino contacted SAF/PAM requesting information on the Flinn case.

1997, Apr 11 New York Times published article. 60 Minutes aired its story that evening. Both articles were slanted against the Air Force and portrayed Lt. Flinn as being unfairly prosecuted.

Following the 60 Minutes and NY Times stories, most major news outlets across the country begin querying the Air Force and publishing stories about the case

1997, Apr 28/29 Washington Post printed articles on Flinn and her case

1997, May Flinn family hired the Atlanta based public relations firm, Duffey Communication to develop and manage a public information campaign.

1997, May 6, Duffey distributed the first of its news releases to 125 targeted media, including wire services and top daily newspapers. The news release focused on the Flinn family’s appeal to military authorities to reconsider the court-martial and succinctly outlined how her situation had been "mishandled from the beginning" During the following three weeks, Lt. Flinn, managed by Duffey Communications Practitioners and her attorney, Frank Spinner, told her story to dozens of media outlets including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, USA Today, the Associated Press, Good Morning America, The Today Show, NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC and Larry King Live .

Air Force prepared for the scheduled May 20th court-martial. The Air Force’s Air Combat Command, the higher headquarters of the unit to which Lt. Flinn was assigned, developed a public affairs plan with three objectives:

The public affairs plan (1997) also included themes and messages that the Air Force wanted to communicate: The overall purpose of military law is to promote justice, assist in maintaining good order and discipline in the armed forces, ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the military establishment and thereby strengthen the national security of the United States. The military legal process is generally equivalent to that of civilian federal courts in providing a forum to examine evidence and witnesses.

1997, May 17, Public affairs run media center activated at Minot AFB to handle to influx of news media.

1997, May 17, Lt. Flinn requested to resign her commission in the Air Force with the stipulation that she be granted a honorable discharge.

1997, May 18, 60 Minutes aired nationally using a taped interview with Lt. Flinn. The show generated numerous phone calls to the media center by concerned citizens both pro and con regarding the case.

1997, May 20, The Air Force released the following statement:

AIR FORCE STATEMENT - LT Flinn submitted a request to resign in lieu of court-martial (RILO), conditioned upon receipt of an honorable discharge. While a RILO is pending, a court-martial cannot proceed without permission from headquarters. LT Flinn's RILO is being forwarded through the chain of command to the Secretary of the Air Force for consideration.

1997, May 22, The Gallup Poll conducted a poll asking peoples’ opinions about the Flinn case. The poll results were based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 643 adults, conducted the evening of The poll had a confidence level of 95% with a plus or minus 4% margin of error. The poll asked three questions:

1. "Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way the Air Force has handled he situations involving Lt. Flinn?"

2. "Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Lt. Flinn has handled her situation with the Air Force?" 3. "Overall, do you think the Air Force has treated Lt. Flinn fairly or unfairly?" During the month of May, many citizens called he Air Force to voice their opinions about the Flinn case. The media center at Minot AFB reported receiving calls both for and against the Air Force’s prosecution of Lt. Flinn. On May 22nd, the Secretary of the Air Force denied Lt. Flinn's RILO with a honorable discharge Flinn was offered and accepted a general discharge under other than honorable conditions.

1997, Jun 10, The Gallup Poll conducted a second poll related to the Flinn case. Gallup asking the public’s opinion about adultery in general and as it related to the military. The poll results were based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 651 adults. The poll had a confidence level of 95% with a plus or minus 4% margin of error. The poll asked three questions:

"What is your opinion about a married person having sexual relations with someone other than their married partner - is it always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all ?"

"What is your opinion about a married person who is separated from his or her spouse having sexual relations with someone other than their marriage partner - do you think it is almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all ?" "Do you think the United States’ military should or should not have special rules prohibiting adultery? (If "yes" or not sure, asked.) Do you think the military should dismiss members of the military for adultery no matter when the adultrery occured, or do you think they should make exceptions for cases where the adultery occurred years ago?
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