It would seem a straightforward journalistic piece when Susan Keating at PEOPLE Magazine decided to inform readers that Congressman Steve Russell, R-Okla., and others were questioning the qualifications and training of the first women to pass the Army Ranger school. Russell has asked the secretary of the Army for documentation pertaining to the passage of 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest after he said various sources complained that (in direct contradiction of official Army statements) the women were given help in passing the rigorous tests. Keating, however, has been attacked as “anti-woman” for writing the story in a strong backlash as the Army denies all of the allegations.
I admit that I am sensitive to people acting out against journalists for their reporting on stories. Reporters are often placed in a position of reporting on stories that the public or people in power may not like. However, they play a critical role in keeping our government accountable. That is not to say that the allegations are true but they have been made by sources viewed as credible enough by members of Congress to demand that data be turned over to Congress. The story also ran in the midst of a growing controversy over the use of women in elite combat units with a move to add women to programs like the Navy Seals.
In his letter (published exclusively by PEOPLE), Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla. asked to see the women’s test scores, evaluations, injuries, pre-training and other records. He revealed that multiple “sources at Fort Benning are coming forward to say the Army lied about women in Ranger School, that the women got special treatment and played by different rules.” These include Ranger instructors who were allegedly warned to stay quiet about the special treatment to guarantee the passage of the women. The school lasts 21 days and includes long hikes, an obstacle course, and other physical challenges. Russell says that instructors have come forward to say that the women did not carry the same amount of equipment as the men, did not take their turn carrying the heavy machine guns and were given intensive pre-training that was not offered to men. Moreover, they alleged that men who repeatedly failed crucial phases of the school were sent home but the women were allowed to redo those phases over and over until they passed.
Emails started to fly almost immediately from women accusing Keating of being a traitor. One named Melody H. Mitchell thanked Brig. Gen. Malcolm B. Frost, chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army for denying the allegation, saying “Pathetic when women work against others.” Keating did not back down and asked Mitchell ” You support a male general who discredits a female journo. And you accuse ME of being anti woman?”
Other critics include Sue Fulton, who was a member of the first West Point class in 1980 to include women graduates. She said that this is the same type of “questioning of our every accomplishment at every turn, from Gen. (William) Westmoreland calling us ‘freaks’ to anonymous soldiers online spreading rumors.”
I am afraid that I do not get this controversy. Keating (right) is reporting a major story. The premise of female Rangers is that they would be treated exactly like other Rangers with no alterations or lessening of the standards. This is based on the simple fact that Rangers are required to perform on an extraordinary level in combat and must be physically capable of reaching the same level of conditioning and proficiency. I truly hope that the story is false and that Fulton is right about the cultural backlash. However, it is a legitimate story when a congressional committee starts to investigate and reports multiple sources from within the program. Keating to her credit is standing her ground as a journalist doing her job and even tweated “To anyone who thinks the Army never lies: Here’s a cup of Agent Orange to drink while reading about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.”
The fact that Keating is a woman is immaterial. She is a journalist and she is reporting on an allegation that the Army has misrepresented a story that was reported throughout the world. She is not supposed to, as Melody Mitchell suggests, “support women.” She is supposed to support the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be. Even if the investigation is shown to be unfounded, the story was not.