Kelly Flinn
     The first case involves First Lt. Kelly Flinn, the Air Force’s first female B-52 pilot.   On January 28, 1997, Flinn was charged with adultery, fraternization, lying, disobeying an order and faced nine and a half years in prison if convicted (5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs News Release 97-02-20).
     Questioned at the end of November 1996, Flinn lied twice to investigators, saying her relationship with Marc Zigo, the husband of Senior Airman Gayla Zigo, was purely platonic (Vistica, 1997).  Flinn knew she was jeopardizing her career and told her commander about the affair.  Days later, military authorities read the pilot her rights and she received a direct order to stay at least 100 feet away from Zigo (Gibbs, 1997).  In response, she took Zigo to her home in Georgia to meet her parents.
     Flinn’s family hired Frank Spinner, a top defense lawyer skilled in handling military sex cases (Van Biema, 1997).  The family then developed a home page so the public could keep track of the case (Van Biema, 1997).  The Air Force responded with a press release detailing the charges against Flinn.  This came before her referral for court martial.
      In May, Gayla Zigo wrote a letter to then Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF) Sheila Widnall, portraying Flinn as an arrogant husband stealer (Gibbs, 1997).  The Air Force released the letter to the media.  Former Air Force Chief of Staff, General Ronald Fogleman, replied to claims from Capitol Hill that the Air Force was looking ridiculous. Fogleman said the stakes were far more serious than adultery, and added that the Air Force could not afford to have insubordinate liars flying planes full of nuclear weapons (Gibbs, 1997).
     Flinn asked the Air Force for an honorable discharge. It was denied. She then requested a general discharge, which the SECAF approved (Dickerson & Fedarko, 1997).
     At the onset of the case, Public Affairs immediately defined its gatekeeping role by making the following assumptions: (1) Local, regional and national media interest would be high; (2) 5th Bomb Wing Staff Judge Advocate would serve as spokesperson, give an overview of court-martial process, and provide background as necessary to the media; (3) Courtroom would be open to news media, but cameras, tape/video recorders will not be allowed.  Instead PA will reserve seven seats for the media and; (4) Live video and audio feeds will be available in media overflow site as an extension of the court room (Public Affairs Plan, 1997).
     Using the tactic of agenda setting, telling people what to think about, not what to think (McCombs & Shaw, 1972), PA developed themes and messages for use in response to media queries (as cited in Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997).  They included: (1) This case is about serious officer misconduct, including disobeying a direct written order and lying under oath; (2) Our people must have absolute trust in the officers who command them; (3) Unprofessional relationships area concern to the Air Force because they pose a risk to unit morale and discipline and; (4) The Air Force is not unfairly singling out women; justice is gender neutral (Public Affairs Plan, 1997).  These themes never mentioned adultery.  By setting the agenda, PA planned to focus on the character of the offense as one of mistrust, and not of a sexual nature.
       Minot’s PA also set up a 24-hour media center from May 18-23 to present a united front (Public Affairs Plan, 1997).  The original plan set forth seemed solid in its focus, but there was no provision to handle questions outside that central point.  The weak front eventually caused a breakdown in the Air Force’s message.
     The CBS television program  “60 Minutes” aired a taped interview with Flinn which generated numerous phone calls to the media center from concerned citizens regarding the case (Gibbs, 1997).  Media interest continued to focus on the resignation package submitted by Flinn May 19, to include the nature of the request, what the Air Force response might be, and how long it might take.  Public Affairs strayed from their agenda and failed to aim their response toward the initial plan when they provided this  prepared statement to the media:
           “On May 19, Lt. Kelly 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. The special and general court martial convening authorities requested permission to proceed to trial as scheduled on May 20. Lt. Flinn’s RILO is being forwarded through the chain of command to the SECAF for consideration. In order to provide the chain of command and the SECAF with an opportunity to review and give due consideration to this matter, the request to proceed to trial has been denied.”  (Public Affairs After-Action Report, 1997)
     Media interest then began to focus on the Article 15 process and whether Flinn may receive an offer to accept one.   The underlying theme of adultery and a double-standard for punishment remained at the forefront.  Public Affairs explained the legal process and provided copies of the rules governing Article 15s.
     CNN announced the SECAF’s decision regarding approval of a general discharge in lieu of court martial May 20 (Gibbs, 1997).  No one gave PA advance warning or notice of this announcement.  Their reaction to follow-up inquiries led to what Burgoon coined expectancy violation (as cited in Littlejohn, 1996).  According to the theory, people have expectations of non-verbal cues during a communication (as cited in Littlejohn, 1996).  Because PA did not know of the SECAF’s release, when questioned, their non-verbals showed confusion and disbelief.
     These reactions are not what the media expected from a well-informed representative of the Air Force.  Later recommendations established a fixed time for releasing any information and advance notification of the sense of the message.  Prior knowledge of the SECAF’s decision could have prevented the adverse reaction to the statement, thereby eliminating the expectancy violation.
      A press conference with the defense team, Gayla Zigo and Marc Zigo followed the announcement (Gibbs, 1997).  Gayla Zigo also conducted interviews with AP, Time and People magazines (Van Biema, 1997).  The defense team distributed copies of the resignation request to the media and conducted post-agreement press conferences.   Gayla Zigo gave a short prepared statement and fielded questions during a press conference and at a live national morning stand-up on May 23 (Public Affairs After-Action Report, 1997).
     In the end, the overall public perception of the Air Force was not a positive one.  The public outcry after the case and the eventual popularity of Flinn may have been different had Public Affairs followed through with their original gatekeeping stance.  By focusing on the letter and using Gayla and Marc Zigo as spokespeople, the Air Force message did not emphasize the untrustworthiness of an officer, but rather a sex scandal.  The sense of unfairness to Flinn from the Air Force was not the only negative outcome.
     Some of the details of the case had to go unanswered, due to the ongoing investigation.  The public and media felt the Air Force was being deceptive by withholding specific details.       Deception is a form of communication that often produces a result people hope to avoid.  This includes false impressions and erroneous assumptions (O’Hair, Cody, 1994).  O’Hair & Cody (1994) characterize evasion as a type of deception using an understatement or diversionary tactic.
 The Air Force did not effectively convey the legal limitations and thus appeared to be withholding information.  Had they employed other credible sources into their gatekeeping flow, such as retired experts who could speak more freely, the deceptive perception may have been reduced.
     The gatekeepers in Minot established solid communication strategies at the beginning of the case with their agenda setting ideas but, like the people who erected the Maginot line, they failed to account for unexpected scenarios.  Failure to enforce plans allowed for the appearance of expectancy violation and deception which eroded the passage of the Air Force message.  It was also the appearance of deception that caused a Navy scandal which has taken years to rectify.

     The Navy had a severe problem with public image following the publicity of it’s handling of sexual assaults at the 1991 Tailhook convention.  Each year, Navy aviators meet for the event which had become a haven for promiscuity.  According to a 1992 article in Newsweek magazine, the extent of sexual misconduct at the Tailhook conventions had become legendary, despite the fact that senior Navy officials were well aware of such behavior.  The article quotes one attendee as saying that then Secretary of the Navy John Lehman joined the crowd in watching a stripper at a hospitality suite during one Tailhook convention (Salholz, Waller, & King, 1992).  The behavior of attendees at the 1991 convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, proved to be extreme, even by Tailhook standards, with sexual assaults on more than 80 women, including 22 Navy officers (Buchwald, Fletcher, & Roth, 1993).
     One such officer assaulted at the 1991 convention was Lieutenant Paula Coughlin.  She reported the incident the following day to her superior, a Rear Admiral, who told her “…that’s what you have to expect when you go up to the third deck with a bunch of drunk aviators”  (Salholz et al., 1992). Coughlin filed a formal complaint with the Navy.  One of the Naval Investigative Service agents working on the case repeatedly propositioned her and referred to her as “sweet-cakes” (Salholz et al., p 35).   Unhappy with the progress of the Navy’s investigation of the incident,  Coughlin appeared on ABC Television’s “World News Tonight” and provided interviews to the Washington Post (Boo, 1992).
     After seeing her speak bluntly about the event to civilian media, more women began to come forward to tell their stories of sexual misconduct at the 1991 convention.  Two days after Coughlin’s public appearance, Secretary of the Navy Lawrence Garrett resigned.  Boo writes that Garrett  attended the convention, and was reportedly seen on the patio of a hospitality suite containing strippers and prostitutes.
     The incident received worldwide media attention, but there was no reply from the Navy.  They held steadfast to the idea that no statement could be issued while the investigation continued.  Finally, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank Kelso, announced that the Navy would deal harshly with any case of sexual assault or harassment.  He said the incident provided insight into an institutional problem in the Navy, and outlined strong steps the service was taking to correct the problem (Navy News Release, 1993).  Kelso released the statement  in April of 1993, 19 months after the convention.  For Coughlin and the public, it was too little, too late.  Kelso requested early retirement a year after the statement, when a military judge found that he had witnessed events at the convention and had done nothing stop them (Faludi, 1994).
     The ramifications of the Tailhook incident clearly describe how a public affairs problem, when not adequately addressed, can have severe implications on the public image of a military service.
The Navy’s gatekeeping strategy was intended to bolt the latch.  By not releasing any official statement of the Navy’s stance on the investigation, the public perceived a cover-up.  With so many high-ranking officials implicated in the case, this time the deception seemed deliberate.  O’Hair, Cody (1994) describe this kind of deception, secrets, masking, and disguise as concealment.
     Public Affairs eventually opened the gate when the Navy addressed the problem head-on, They accepted the fact that it employees made mistakes and also outlined, in detail, the steps being taken to address the problem.  However the Navy could have made a similar statement much earlier since the service had guidance in place, even before the 1991 convention, detailing commanders’ responsibilities in preventing sexual harassment (Buchwald et al., 1993).
     Had the Navy, at the very onset of the controversy, based its public affairs response on those standards, and provided a statement as strong as the 1993 release, it could, conceivably have maintained its public image, and headed off the serious public affairs problem that eventually  brought down the civilian and military leaders of the Navy.
    Because of the scope of the hierarchy involved in the case, the Navy delayed release of any information about the case.  Public Affairs never even received the key to the gate of information.     As in the city of Verdun, when the battle was over, public affairs was left with nothing but to clean up the debris.  This case showed the importance of knowing communicative strategies and their usefulness in future incidents.  It is that use of communication theory that will shape the case in the public eye today, the ongoing court martial of the Army’s top enlisted man.

Gene McKinney
     The Army appears to have learned a lesson from the Navy’s mistake of being closed-mouthed about Tailhook. So far, officials have done an effective job of agenda setting.  They suspended McKinney from his duties as the Army’s ranking enlisted soldier and denied his request for retirement.   The latter action allowed the Army to avoid the appearance of a double standard at the time, because Army lawyers sought prosecution of several male drill sergeants accused of similar sexual misconduct with female trainees (Schmitt, 1997).
     In February 1997, the Army accused Former Sergeant Major of the Army Gene McKinney of sexually harassing Sgt. Maj. Brenda Hoster, his former public affairs aide, in April 1996, an incident that forced her to reluctantly retire from the Army that August (Schmitt, 1997).  Hoster said she decided to come forward after the Army appointed McKinney as a member of the senior review panel on sexual harassment formed  in the wake of the sex scandal uncovered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., in November 1996 (Schmitt, 1997).   Former Secretary of the Army, Togo West, Jr., charged the panel to review the Army’s sexual harassment policies.  In early February, 1997, Hoster joined two Republican U.S. senators, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, in criticizing the Army’s decision to allow McKinney to continue in his normal duties during the investigation. The three said it was not enough that the service removed McKinney from the panel appointed to oversee the Army’s policies against sexual harassment. They contended that it was unfair to allow McKinney to continue to perform his duties while Army drill sergeants, also accused of sexual harassment in unrelated incidents, had been immediately suspended from their duties. The Army suspended McKinney two weeks after the complaint(Jet, 1997).
     Since Hoster made her allegations against McKinney, five other military women have lodged complaints of harassment and sexual assault against him. Other charges against McKinney  include adultery, indecent assault, maltreatment of subordinates, and obstruction of justice.
      In early June 1997, McKinney submitted a request for retirement, putting the Army in a quandary over how to deal with his request (Schmitt, 1997). Some senior Army officials worried about creating the perception of a double standard if they allowed McKinney to leave the service with an honorable discharge while Army lawyers prosecuted several male drill sergeants accused of similar sexual misconduct with female trainees. The Army denied McKinney’s retirement request.
     McKinney has categorically denied the charges in sworn statements and public comments. He did not testify during a lengthy pre-trial hearing last summer but may take the stand during his court-martial, which began in early February (Gross, 1998).  If convicted, he faces a maximum of 55 ½ years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, and the loss of his retirement benefits.
     The case raises two major public affairs problems for the Army.  First is the fact that McKinney was not immediately suspended from his duties, as the drill sergeants were (Jet, 1997).  The difference in treatment creates the appearance in the media and among the public of unequal treatment of individuals facing the same types of charges.
     Secondly, the Army’s doubt about how to deal with McKinney’s retirement request raised another issue.  Senior Army leaders decided to avoid the double standard and not allow McKinney to leave the service with an honorable discharge.  The fact senior Army officials wavered in this decision at all, again considering a perception of unequal treatment, serves to cast the Army in a bad light with the press and the public.  This case brings to light  questions all public affairs offices must ask themselves in order to secure their role as media liaisons.


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