U.S. military hits bad publicity trifecta over crisis in sexual assaults


If you must report bad news, you can’t do much worse than hitting a journalistic trifecta of sorts, as the U.S. military did today with a report that estimates there were 26,000 sexual assaults last year in the four service branches. That’s 33 percent more than in 2010.

The trifecta? The lead story on Page One of the New York Times; an editorial in the same day’s paper; and a scathing op-ed column by the Times’ Maureen Dowd.

Any one of those is enough to give generals sweaty palms; but all three at once is overwhelming force.

As if that were not enough, the U.S. Air Force’s lieutenant colonel in charge of combatting sexual abuse in the ranks is charged with groping and attacking a women in near the Pentagon late Sunday. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, deservedly became an immediate symbol of all that’s wrong in this area. In an indication that attention is being paid, at least, prosecutors announced today Krusinski will be prosecuted in a civilian court, not a military court-martial, where his commanding officer has the last word.

This is not a good week to be a military public affairs officer.

Dowd noted:

Senator Jay Rockefeller issued a white-hot statement, calling Krusinski’s arrest “further evidence that the military isn’t taking the issue of sexual assault seriously,” and “a stain on the military” that “should shake us to our core.” 

Secretary of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responded:

“This department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need.”

President Obama expressed his remorse and support for victims. And to generals rationalizing the report as an offshoot of sexual permisiveness by women in society, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand retorted:

“To dismiss violent rapes as part of the hook-up culture shows a complete lack of understanding. We’re not talking about a date gone badly. We’re talking about criminal behavior by predators who often stalk their victims in advance.”

This as three men in Cleveland were arrested and charged with keeping three women as sex slaves for the last 10 years.

This is an enormous crisis for the military, and surely for society at large. No workplace is immune to these criminal excesses. But no one in the Main Street office takes an oath to protect and defend the water cooler.

It’s one that needs systematic tackling, as a crisis. The effort could take a decade or more, but that’s what they said during Tailhook — 22 years ago. Too young for Tailhook? Look it up.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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