In reports on the Meet the Press debate between Sen. George Allen and Democratic challenger Jim Webb, the Associated Press and The New York Times noted Tim Russert's questioning of Webb about his position in 1979 that "[t]here is a place for women in the military, but not in combat." However, both failed to mention that Allen also faced questions about his far more recent statements opposing the presence of women in combat.
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In their coverage of the September 17 Meet the Press debate between Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, both Associated Press writer Bob Lewis and New York Times reporter Robin Toner noted that Webb was asked about his position in a 1979 article that "[t]here is a place for women in the military, but not in combat." But neither mentioned Allen's far more recent statements on the issue of women in the military, about which he was asked during the debate. In a September 14 AP article, Lewis similarly ignored Allen's position on the issue while highlighting Webb's, as Media Matters for America noted.
On September 13, the Allen campaign organized a press conference in which female Naval Academy graduates criticized Webb for his article titled "Women Can't Fight," which appeared in the November 1979 issue of Washingtonian magazine. In the article, Webb asserted, "There is a place for women in the military, but not in combat," and declared, "I have never met a woman ... whom I would trust to provide those men with combat leadership."
The Webb campaign responded by noting that Allen had during the 1990s opposed the admission of female cadets into the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Indeed, during a 1995 interview with The American Enterprise, Allen argued that "if VMI admitted women, it wouldn't be the VMI that we've known for 154 years. You just don't treat women the way you treat fellow cadets. If you did, it would be ungentlemanly, it'd be improper." And in 2000, Allen repeatedly stated his opposition to women serving in combat, as Media Matters documented:
- A candidate guide published by the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot on November 3, 2000, reported that "Allen is insistent that women should not be involved in direct combat."
- According to an October 9, 2000, Washington Post article, Allen said women "should not be in foxholes," adding that the "purpose of the armed services is not to be a social experiment."
During an hour-long debate on the September 17 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked Webb about his 1979 article. Webb responded that he is now "fully comfortable" with the "roles of women in the military today" and "with women's ability to lead men." He added, "Senator Allen has his own issues on this, by the way. As recently as 2000, saying women didn't belong in foxholes, and maybe you should ask him about that." Russert proceeded to question Allen about his views circa 1995 regarding female cadets at VMI.
But in his September 17 AP article on the debate, Lewis noted only Russert's questioning of Webb on the issue:
Russert asked Webb about a 1979 Washingtonian magazine article, in which Webb wrote that women can't lead men in battle, and criticism from five female Naval Academy graduates who blasted Webb for it at an Allen-sponsored news conference last week.
Though Webb had issued a statement expressing regret, one of the women, Kathleen Murray, said it fell short of an apology. Russert asked Webb if a fuller apology was in order.
"I don't think it was wrong to participate in the debate at that time. It's been 27 years, it was a magazine article, and, if I may say, I am fully comfortable with the roles of women in the military today," Webb said.
In her September 18 Times article, Toner also ignored the questions surrounding Allen's position on whether women should take part in combat, while highlighting the fact that he had "taken aim" at Webb over the issue:
In the past week, the Allen campaign has taken aim at Mr. Webb on two counts: highlighting his opposition, in an article he wrote 27 years ago, to women in combat and at the Naval Academy, and asserting that Mr. Webb has no right to use videotape of President Ronald Reagan praising him in a new television advertisement.
On women in combat, Mr. Webb said that he was sorry for any pain his writing had caused, that times had changed, and that he should be judged by what he did in the intervening years to expand opportunities for women.
By contrast, a September 18 article by Post staff writers Michael D. Shear and Tim Craig noted that Russert also pressed Allen "on his opposition to allowing women as cadets at Virginia Military Institute":
Russert devoted the second half of the show to character issues that have bedeviled both candidates in recent weeks.
His first target was Webb, who last week was assailed over an article he penned in 1979 that critics say was demeaning to women. Several female U.S. Naval Academy graduates said Webb's article arguing against women in combat helped lead to harassment against women at the school.
Webb repeated a statement he had made earlier in the week, in which he expressed regret "to the extent that my writing subjected women . . . to undue hardship." On the show, he said he regretted writing that the Naval Academy is "a horny woman's dream," adding that "if I were a, you know, a more mature individual, I wouldn't have written" that.
But he declined to go further, even after Russert said he had received a letter from one of the women indicating that Webb's statement was not good enough.
Russert then turned his attention to Allen, quizzing him on his opposition to allowing women as cadets at Virginia Military Institute and later turning to the senator's comments to a Webb volunteer of Indian descent on the campaign trail last month.
From the September 17 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
RUSSERT: Mr. Webb, an issue that has now been raised in this campaign, an article you wrote in 1979. Here's the headline: "Women Can't Fight." And you write: "No benefit to anyone can come from women serving in combat. ... Their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation. By attempting to sexually sterilize the Naval Academy environment in the name of equality, this country has sterilized the whole process of combat leadership training, and our military forces are doomed to suffer the consequences. ... I have never met a woman, including the dozens of female midshipmen I encountered during my recent semester as a professor at the Naval Academy, whom I would trust to provide those men with combat leadership."
Kathleen Murray, who entered the Naval Academy in 1984, had a news conference the other day, and this is what she said. Let's watch.
MURRAY [videotape]: There is no question that James Webb's attitudes and philosophy were major factors behind the unnecessary abuse and hazing received by me and my fellow women midshipmen. This article was brandished repeatedly by our male upperclassmen. They quoted it and they used it as an excuse to mistreat us.
RUSSERT: Now, you issued a statement said, "To the extent my writing caused hardship," you were sorry. And Ms. Murray has sent me a letter saying, "That's not enough. It's not to the extent that my writing caused hardship, the content of the article was just plain wrong, and Mr. Webb should say that." Do you agree?
WEBB: I -- this article was written from the perspective of a Marine rifle platoon and company commander, and to that extent, I think it was way too narrowly based. I wrote that article --
RUSSERT: But was it wrong? Was it wrong?
WEBB: I don't think it was wrong to participate in the debate at that time. It's, it's been 27 years, it's a magazine article, and it's a something, if, if I may say, I am fully comfortable with the roles of women in the military today. I've been all around the world at the, at the request of many, you know, women commanders. This issue was vetted twice in, in Senate confirmation hearings, 1984, 1987, and both times I, I expressed my views on women in, in military billets. And when I was secretary of the Navy, on my own initiative, I put together a task force that -- where we ended up opening up more, more billets, operational billets, to women than any other secretary of the Navy in history.
RUSSERT: When you say, "Being in the Naval Academy is a horny woman's dream," you regret that.
WEBB: Well, I do regret that. And I, you know, I've said --
RUSSERT: There's been, there's been --
WEBB: -- you know, I've said -- there's many, you know there's many pieces in this article that if, if I were a, you know, a more mature individual, I wouldn't have written. And I've, and I've tried to say that and I've tried to show by my conduct when I had positions in government that I, I am open to, to assisting women succeed in all the areas where that's possible.
RUSSERT: Twenty-two percent of the incoming class will be women. We've had 2,700 graduates, women graduates, of the Naval Academy. But you also followed it up with an article in 1997. This is more recent.
RUSSERT: In The Weekly Standard, "The War on the Military Culture." And you write, "Political and military leaders must have the courage to ask clearly in what areas our current policies toward women in the military are hurting, rather than helping, the task of defending the United States." I'll ask you, where are our current policies towards women hurting the defense of the U.S.?
WEBB: Well, I think one of the things I was pointing out in that article was the -- was where the political process interferes with the military being able to make its own decision on those matters. And one of the things that I did when I was secretary of the Navy was I turned this over to the military side, to the uniformed side. As you know, I grew up in the military, my father was a career military officer. I had the military side go out -- I, I put a task force together that was 50 percent male, 50 percent female, with a truth-teller on it, a woman officer who could walk into my office anytime she wanted. They went to all the Navy installations around the world. And then instead of reporting to me, the political side, they reported to the, the chiefs of the warfare specialties and then as the, the uniformed service reported to me. And that's how we opened up all of those wells, so --
RUSSERT: Bottom line, do you now believe that women can, in fact, provide men with combat leadership?
WEBB: Absolutely. Other than that they're, well --
RUSSERT: So that's a change.
WEBB: Well, no, no. What I'm saying is, right now, I believe the situation is where a lot of people wanted it to be back in 1970, 1980 when people -- social experimentation was in place rather than allowing the military to make these decisions. When I was in Afghanistan two years ago as a journalist, I went nine different places in Afghanistan. One place I was driven around in a CH-46 with a, with a woman pilot. You know, she gave me the ride of my life. We landed, she came over and had her picture taken with me.
RUSSERT: But it is 2006. You have not changed your mind at all about women's ability to lead men?
WEBB: No. I did not say that. I'm fully comfortable with women's ability to lead men.
RUSSERT: So you have changed your mind?
WEBB: What, what I'm, what I'm saying is, in areas like the infantry and the artillery, where -- which now remain all-male, I'm comfortable with that, too. And Senator Allen has his own issues on this, by the way. As recently as 2000, saying women didn't belong in foxholes, and maybe you should ask him about that.
RUSSERT: Well, I will. In fact, I want to ask Senator Allen about this. From American Enterprise magazine, "If [Virginia Military Institute] admitted women, it wouldn't be the VMI that we've known for 154 years. You just don't treat women the way you treat fellow cadets. If you did, it would be ungentlemanly, it would be improper." Men and women shouldn't be treated the same at a military institution?
ALLEN: The, the regiment at VMI and the way that it was -- the curriculum, the training would, would be ungentlemanly to treat women the way that they were doing it. In Virginia, at Virginia Tech, we had women and opportunities for women to get military training in a co-ed approach. VMI and their board for many years, including with [former] Governor [Douglas] Wilder, felt that they should continue the way that they had in the past. Now, here's the difference.
RUSSERT: But has women at VMI worked?
ALLEN: Yes, it has.
RUSSERT: So you were wrong.
ALLEN: Yeah, it has worked, and we have been able --
RUSSERT: So you were wrong?
ALLEN: Well, we were wrong. But here's the point, here's the difference: The Supreme Court said we were wrong, we applied -- we complied with that decision. And here's the difference: Mr. Webb goes and gives that -- writes that, that piece, gives speeches criticizing women at the Naval Academies, three and four and five, six years after they were admitted. What we said, and what I said, is I'm going to deplore anybody who demeans women. And, in fact, what I was trying to do as governor was to make sure that we protected women from the demeaning, disrespectful viewpoints of people like Jim Webb.
WEBB: I don't -- wait, I can't, I can't let that sit. That's just ridiculous. I mean, I, I was not allowed to speak at the Naval Academy for, for several years after this occurred. When I went back there, when I spoke, one, one of the things that I said was a strong voice saying women -- men and women, need to get along, they need to respect each other. And when I was secretary of the Navy, I, on my own initiative, strengthened rules against sexual harassment.