''The Mother of all Hooks''

File Name: 0013.FEM

  Msg#: 761                                          Date: 07-04-98  01:32
  From: Grant Karpik                                 Read: Yes    Replied: No 
    To: All                                          Mark:                     
  Subj: "The Mother of all Hooks"
@MSGID: 1:153/831.2 59dbe781
@PID: timEd 1.10.y2k
Published by [email protected] (June, 1998)

William H. McMichael.  _The Mother of All Hooks:  The Story of the
U.S. Navy's Tailhook Scandal_.  Foreword by Charles C. Moskos.  New
Brunswick, N.J. and London:  Transaction Publishers, 1997.  xvi +
377 pp.  List of interviews, notes, and index.  $32.95 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed for H-Minerva by Francine D'Amico ,
independent scholar.

                    Whose Story of Tailhook?

Journalist William McMichael decided to write _The Mother of All
Hooks_ after the final trial in the government investigation of
charges of sexual misconduct at the 1991 convention of the Tailhook
Association.  As a reporter for the _Daily Press_ of Newport News,
Virginia, he felt media coverage was not exploring "the gray areas"
and was missing "the bigger picture of whether the Navy was ever
going to right itself in terms of the treatment of women," so he set
out "to tell the whole story" (p. ix).

In readable prose and with painstaking detail, McMichael paints a
candid picture of naval aviation culture--a culture in which pilots
live "on the edge" in a hard-driving/hard-partying atmosphere and
routinely engage in physical/sexual one-upmanship, seeing themselves
as a "unique fraternity"  at the apex of an exclusive and
masculinity-defining institution (p. 22).  While McMichael condemns
their excesses, he seems to admire their courage and patriotism as
military pilots and to sympathize with what he sees as their
bewilderment at being prosecuted for behavior that before Tailhook
'91 was _de rigueur_.  For example, McMichael writes, "While an odd
custom, ballwalking didn't cause anyone physical harm" (p. 45).
"Ballwalking" means walking around with fly unzipped and genitals
exposed--a "custom" which is criminally prosecutable in civilian
society.  Yet McMichael also acknowledges that the Navy _had_ sought
to change the institutional culture in which sexual harassment and
abuse were rampant prior to the '91 convention (p. 26), suggesting
that aviators perhaps saw themselves as exempt from the "Zero
Tolerance" policy--at least, that is, when off-base and off-duty,
with the Las Vegas Hilton as a "port of call" (pp. 21-28).

A Comparative Analysis

The release date for _Mother of All Hooks_ is February 1997.  Since
Jean Zimmerman's book, _Tailspin_, was released in July 1995, [1]
McMichael would have done well to examine and respond explicitly to
Zimmerman's analysis of Tailhook.  Given the timing of the two
volumes, I must ask:  What do we learn from McMichael that we didn't
from Zimmerman?

Both McMichael and Zimmerman base their analyses on author-conducted
personal interviews, and hence present valuable original research
(see section on methodology, below).  Both also rely upon media
reports of events and accounts of trials as well as recordings and
transcripts of interrogations, trials, and hearings.  Both examine
events up through the final trial connected with Tailhook '91 and
present a "where they are now"  rundown of the major protagonists,
so McMichael's effort does not "update" Zimmerman's in this sense.
However, McMichael attended that final trial and provides an
interesting first-person narrative of his impression of the

McMichael and Zimmerman offer similar arguments regarding how we got
to Tailhook '91, but they examine the event and its consequences
from very different perspectives and take different lessons from it.
While both are "outsiders" to the military, McMichael appears to be
a sympathetic "beat"  reporter, whereas Zimmerman is a more critical
academic researcher who explicitly specifies her theoretical
framework of analysis, which McMichael fails to do.  Further,
McMichael's analysis lacks the broad and deep historical
contextualization which Zimmerman provides to interpret Tailhook and
its wake.

Both McMichael and Zimmerman observe that the guilty went free
because investigators offered immunity to junior officers in order
to pursue the higher ranking officers who may have participated in
misconduct or at least turned a blind eye.  But McMichael and
Zimmerman perceive this effort to go to the top differently.  For
McMichael (and Moskos in the Foreword), this was a political witch
hunt, whereas Zimmerman sees it as part of the traditional doctrine
of command responsibility.  McMichael (and Moskos)  apparently seek
to draw the line on the extent of command responsibility by
distinguishing "public" from "private" behavior:  senior officers
are not to be held responsible for the off-duty misbehavior of
junior officers, even if the senior officers are present where the
misbehavior is occurring.  Because of this failure to act, junior
officers were not held responsible for their own misbehavior at
Tailhook.  Yet the quasi-official nature of the Tailhook convention
challenges the public/private dichotomy embedded in
McMichael's/Moskos' interpretation, and the military frequently
ignores or conveniently erases this public/private distinction, as,
for example, in the pursuit of gay/lesbian service personnel.  The
concept of "conduct unbecoming" suggests one must ALWAYS be "an
officer AND a gentleman"--not just when on-base and on-duty.

Both McMichael and Zimmerman link the abuse at Tailhook not only to
the culture of military aviation but also to post-Gulf War euphoria,
to male pilots' opposition to women's efforts to enter military
aviation, and to the political frame of the Clarence Thomas
confirmation hearings in which Anita Hill accused the Supreme Court
nominee of egregious sexual harassment.  Zimmerman goes on to
consider the connections between Tailhook and the controversy over
gays/lesbians in the military as well as the longer history of
women's entry to the military institution as a whole, particularly
in the context of the resumption of the post-Cold War downsizing and
restructuring which had paused during the Gulf War (pp. 195-204 and
passim).  In contrast, McMichael interprets funding cuts subsequent
to Tailhook '91 not as part of this larger picture but as a
punishment meted out by Congress "in protest over the Tailhook
scandal" (p. 82).

The differences in McMichael's and Zimmerman's perspectives lead
them to different interpretations of key events.  For example, they
disagree regarding the dismissal of charges in October 1993 in the
court-martial trial of Marine Captain Gregory Bonam, whom Lt. Paula
Coughlin had identified as one of her attackers.  McMichael supports
the interpretation of the court, that is, that Coughlin had
misidentified Bonam because friends/fellow officers corroborated his
story that he was present in the third floor party suites but did
not participate in "the gauntlet" and was wearing a different color
shirt that night than she recalled (pp. 59-65, 182-5, 233, 323).
Zimmerman believes NIS investigator Bill Hudson's assertion that
Bonam was guilty, based on Coughlin's testimony, Bonam's confirmed
presence on the third floor, and Bonam's failure of two polygraph
tests (pp. 258-64).

They also see the role of investigators differently.  McMichael
characterizes DOD-Inspector General (IG) investigator Peter T. Black
as overzealous, crusading, abusive, angry, and frustrated at the
lack of cooperation from Navy aviators in the investigation (pp.
142-3, 210-11, 284).  He depicts Vice Admiral J. Paul Reason, the
original CDA (Consolidated Disposition Authority--a prosecution
choice McMichael criticizes) for Tailhook Navy cases, as bending to
pressure "from above to produce some convictions to assuage Congress
and the public" to assert "undue command influence" in the
investigation and prosecution of alleged abuses (pp. 175-76).
Reason was relieved of the CDA position but found not to have
exerted undue command influence (p. 285), yet McMichael believes he
did so, based on the arguments of a defense attorney for one of the
junior officers accused of misconduct (pp. 175-93).  Similarly,
McMichael portrays Lt. General Charles C. Krulak, the Marine CDA, as
a "screamer" who "loved to chew people out," a "ground-pounder"
(infantry officer) who "had a general dislike for the aviation
community," and a "deeply religious" man who played the role of CDA
as "the Confessor" (pp. 100, 118-20, 124-5).  McMichael presents as
truth a junior officer's unsubstantiated accusation that in the
course of the proceedings, Krulak improperly interfered with the
promotion process of a Marine officer, though McMichael does note
that Krulak had a reputation as a fair man (p. 100).  Zimmerman
makes only one peripheral mention of Black, depicting him as a tough
investigator (p. 243), and praises Reason and Krulak as "men of
unassailable character," noting that "if you believed that the Navy
had the institutional capacity to prosecute the Tailhook offenders
(and some on the outside doubted that it did), then they were the
ones to do it" (p. 257).

And most tellingly, their versions of Kara Hultgreen's crash
diverge.  McMichael supports Moskos' version (p. xii), linking the
crash to the Navy's chagrin over Tailhook, which they argue prompted
the Navy to push unqualified women pilots through a training program
(p. 336).  Zimmerman endorses the findings of the Navy's official
investigation, that is, that the crash was caused by technical
malfunction, not pilot error (pp. 293-95).  So rather than taking
McMichael at his word, that is, that he intends to tell "the whole
story" of Tailhook (p. ix), we need to consider _whose_ story he is

Both McMichael and Zimmerman discuss the impact of Tailhook
investigation and its aftermath on the working relationship of
military men and women and the work environment in the Navy.  Both
interviewed servicemen and women, but McMichael's focus is on how
men are coping with the "uncertainty" of where their careers are
headed and how they are to behave.  Zimmerman, on the contrary,
focuses on how women have survived and continue to struggle in the
hostile environment of the military institution.  She concludes, as
I have elsewhere, that Tailhook seems to have changed official
policy but has had little impact on the practice of sexual
harassment in the U.S.  military, making harassment a less visible
tool of resistance to women's presence in the ranks--and therefore
less open to challenge--and widening the chasm of suspicion,
hostility, and isolation between military men and women.[2]

McMichael concludes that the "ugly aftermath" of Tailhook '91
continues "to have a powerfully detrimental effect on the Navy and
Marine Corps," as the Senate "continues to flog the Navy
Department...long past the time the whole matter should have been
dropped--liars and gropers notwithstanding"  (pp. 325-6).  He
continues, "Tailhook was and continues to be an overreaction by the
nation's civilian leadership that has forced social changes down the
military's throat--some good, some detrimental" and that it has
created "a climate of political correctness that has in some cases
lowered training standards, sometimes endangering others and dulling
morale" (p. 326).  McMichael, echoing Moskos, mourns the
"politicization" of civil-military relations evidenced, from their
perspective, by Congress' "interference" with the promotions of
Navy and Marine Corps officers post-Tailhook, pending the outcome of
the investigations.  This critique assumes that civil-military
relations and the military institution itself are not already
political.  Zimmerman, on the other hand, explores the institution's
gender, race, and sex/uality politics, suggesting that Tailhook '91
did not so much _politicize_ civil-military relations as _reveal_
the politics which underlie them.

Some Notes on Methodology

In his quest for "the whole story," McMichael interviewed some
seventy people, among them some of Tailhook's main protagonists,
including Cmdr. Thomas Miller, Lt. David Samples, and Cmdr. Gregory
Tritt, the final three defendants whose cases were thrown out on 8
February 1994 by Capt. William T. Vest, who presided at their
court-martial.  McMichael also interviewed Vest as well as
investigators, prosecutors, policymakers, and other active duty and
retired Navy and Marine Corps officers, some of whom attended
Tailhook '91 and others of whom gave him insight into what he calls
the "macho" military culture (p. 325).  McMichael also lists Lt.
Paula Coughlin and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Barbara
Spyridon Pope among his interviewees.  Zimmerman "conducted 400
sit-down interviews" (p. xiv) of military men and women,
investigators, and policymakers between June 1992 and December 1994
(p. 321), including Coughlin, Pope, and investigator Bill Hudson,
among others, as well as Rear Admiral Marsha Evans and aviators Lt.
Kara Hultgreen, Lt. Loree Draude, and Capt. Rosemary Mariner about
the climate for women in the military and especially military

McMichael notes that some people "were interviewed at length; others
for but a few minutes" (p. 339).  He includes the dates of
interviews in his first notes but does not specify the lengths of
the interviews or where they took place.  I found subsequent
citations confusing regarding the source of information.  For
example, the distinction between a personal interview by the author
and an official interview by investigators is lost after the first
citation.  The text itself sometimes reveals the source of
information explicitly; such "flagging" consistently throughout
would have made McMichael's effort more useful for researchers.

As an academic researcher, I found myself wondering what constitutes
an "interview" to a reporter?  Are arranged interviews taped with
the permission of the source--Zimmerman's methodology--the same as
firing questions at a person en route from car to courtroom?
Further, I would have liked to have seen the "who and whom" of
interviewer and interviewee addressed:  social scientists are
acutely aware of the importance of how questions are asked and
answered and of the difference identity and interpretation make in
the outcome of an interview.

Also troubling is that many of McMichael's source citations are
unconventional.  For example, much information is attributed to an
unidentified "Retired Navy official" (pp. 348-50).  Is this the same
source throughout, or is there a retired Admiral X, a retired
Captain Y?  The same question arises for his "Senior Navy official
close to the investigation" vs. "Senior Navy official" source(s)
(p. 348)--are these one person or several?  one interview or more?
Other citations list "numerous other sources," "various sources and
reports," or "consensus" as the basis for the information cited or
conclusions made (pp. 344-64).  Regarding these citations, McMichael
writes, "In a perfect world, every source used to develop this story
would be identified in the notes" (p. 343).  In his quest "to
produce a book that is as close to the truth as an outsider can
get," (pp. 343-44), he protected anonymity--possibly allowing some
to speak more freely--and sacrificed reliability, key to a social
scientist who might seek to retrace his steps.  Zimmerman identifies
all sources fully save one:  a "senior NIS official (retired)" (p.
317).  The question of anonymity for sources is a difficult call, as
I have found in my research on sexuality and military service...yet
I wonder why and from whom _retired_ officers especially need

In _Tailspin_, Zimmerman includes forty-three photos and
illustrations of Tailhook events and protagonists, including Lt.
Paula Coughlin, ASD Barbara Spyridon Pope, and CNO Admiral Frank
Kelso, as well as some of the pictorial evidence of the "conduct
unbecoming" revealed in the IG's Tailhook report.  These pictures
make palpable the climate at Tailhook '91 and make real the people
described, interviewed, and affected by the event and its wake.
Zimmerman's photos also trace the history of women in the U.S.
military, her larger frame of reference, and she provides an
extensive bibliography.  In _Mother of All Hooks_, McMichael
provides neither illustrations nor a bibliography of sources, which
impoverishes his presentation as compared to Zimmerman's.  Indeed,
McMichael's source citations include references to just three
monographs:  Gregory Vistica's _Fall From Glory_ (1995), mentioned
only as Sam Donaldson's source for his query about former Navy
Secretary John Lehman's attendance at a 1981 Tailhook convention in
an ABC program broadcast on 26 May 1996 (p. 345, note 9); James
Stevenson's _The Pentagon Paradox_ (1993); and Michael Gordon and
Bernard Trainor's _The General's War_ (1995), mentioned regarding
the services' participation in the Gulf War (p. 346, note 25).

So McMichael's _Mother of All Hooks_ provides a window on military
culture and some moderate critique of that culture, but does not
challenge the gendered foundations of the military institution or
naval aviation culture within that institution, as his choice of
title clearly suggests.  After a second reading, I found myself
asking if McMichael's intent was to entertain as much as to inform,
because in places the book reads like a docudrama movie script:
McMichael tells a story with heroes and villains and no shades of
gray.  There is not much new in his presentation to those already
familiar with the event's details, with Zimmerman's analysis, and
with Moskos' interpretation of Tailhook's wake.


[1].  Jean Zimmerman, _Tailspin: Women at War in the Wake of
Tailhook_ (New York: Doubleday, 1995).

[2].  Francine D'Amico, "Tailhook: Deinstitutionalizing the
Military's 'Woman Problem,'" in _Wives and Warriors:  Women and the
Military in the U.S. and Canada_, eds. Laurie Weinstein and Christie
White (Westport, Conn., and London: Bergin & Garvey/Greenwood, 1997)

     Copyright 1998 by H-Net and _Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women
     and the Military_.  All rights reserved.  This work may be
     copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is
     given.  For other permission, please contact


End cross-post

                   Grant {Internet: [email protected]}

 ! Origin: Rage at the Machine... (1:153/831.2)