Public Relations

Yesterday I read on multiple news sites about Captain Owen Honors, commander of CVN-65 (the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which my father and uncle both served aboard), drawing criticism for his production of several videos that included visual gags about hygiene, masturbation, and homosexuality. The videos were meant to be humorous; Honors frequently engaged in self-deprecating jokes, including once calling a digital insertion of himself in SWO coveralls as a “fa–ot”. At first I thought this was an outcry over something done recently.

Then, confusion set in: this was actually done when Honors was the XO (executive officer, or second-in-command) of CVN-65 – back in 2006.

A full four and a half years after these videos were produced and showed during “XO Movie Night”, the videos are being made public and today, I have read that Capt. Honors has been relieved of his command just weeks before his ship is deployed to support the war in Afghanistan.

A few months ago, I wrote here about the outrageous displays at a protest in Phoenix. A Phoenix police officer had shot a young man during a domestic disturbance and the Latino community was outraged over the incident; they staged massive, attention-grabbing protests outside of police headquarters, complete with melodramatic re-enactments of the shooting, signs in Spanish calling the police all manner of offensive tags, and calls for the officer involved to be immediately sent back to jail. Right here, on that post, two of the organizers banged on their chests and crowed about what they’d done, bragging that their actions had “affected change” and “brought a killer to justice.” I told them then that they had done little more than affect mob rule in a country where the law demands that public opinion not sway justice. I said that simply because you are angry about a situation does not make you right, nor does it mean that the right thing has been done.

Since then, new information has come out about that incident. The accusing officer’s wife was recently involved in a fraud scheme with the Post Office. It was revealed by two detectives that the accusing officer’s testimony changed from the time that the incident happened to the time that the report was filed – detectives were told on scene that the officer who fired absolutely acted in self-defense, only to read a different report later. The accusing officer had also fired his taser at the suspect before shots were fired. Plus, no less than two experts involved have interviewed the officer currently facing trial and have said that the officer absolutely acted in self-defense and did fear for his life. None of the people involved in those protests have had anything to say about this information. There have been no more protests. The entire incident has simply fallen off the city’s collective radar. Entire groups of people, in a fit of outrage, called for justice in a situation where they didn’t know all of the facts and reacted emotionally, causing problems that could have been avoided. That officer will likely be found not guilty. In the meantime, public funds will be flushed down the toilet and the officer’s life has already been turned upside-down.

It isn’t the first time I have written in frustration about public opinion wreaking havoc on justice. Sometimes, public anger is a good thing. These days, however, public anger arises far too early for it to be effective or even correct. In the case of Capt. Honors, the offense now being publicized is more than four years old – and the issue was addressed back then. Honors and his subordinates moved on with their lives.

It wasn’t until Sunday – when the story broke – that the public heard about it. Why anyone felt it necessary to release the videos to the media, I will never understand. Maybe they felt that the Navy hadn’t done enough to reprimand Capt. Honors. Regardless, the issue went away because Honors apologized and never produced another XO Movie Night video again. His reviews since have reportedly all been stellar (he wouldn’t have taken command if they had been anything less). So why the sudden about-face?

Public relations. That is the only reason. The Navy doesn’t want the general public to be offended, so they’ll act now, four years later, to stave off the anger that they fear is coming. They don’t want to have to deal with any backlash. That sends two very bad messages: to members of our armed forces, it tells them not to take responsibility for the non-criminal offensive things they do and say because it won’t matter in the end; and to the public, it tells them that all they have to do is get angry and their suggestion of mob rule will be rewarded. It is outrageously unfair to Captain Honors as well as to the many who deeply respected the man.

Was what he did in poor taste? To the public, sure…but the US Navy isn’t the general public. They live a different life than we do. Re-hashing an incident four years later is a poor way to deal with anything. Shame on those who made the decision to react this way.