60 Minutes Salutes Homosexuals in Uniform

Should the American military cancel its “don't ask, don't tell” policy on homosexuals serving in the armed forces, even in a time of war?

60 Minutes gave its opinion during its December 16 broadcast by turning the segment into a propaganda piece for overturning the policy.

CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl devoted more than 10 minutes of the 12 minute segment to homosexual soldiers talking about their own experiences with “don't ask, don't tell” or arguments in support of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the United States military.  Stahl's objectivity on homosexuality is in question.  She delivered the keynote address at a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in Las Vegas in 1998.

Stahl focused on Cholene Espinoza, a former Air Force captain who left the service to live openly as a lesbian.  Espinoza, who now works with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization working to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the United States military, attempted to paint the discharging of homosexuals as a crisis:

I've gone, never to come back.  You spent two million dollars training me to fly airplanes.  Thank you very much.  And what do you get for all this?  What do we get as a country?  Because we've thrown out an Arabic linguist or because we've thrown out a medic, are we any safer?  Are we any more secure?

According to the Center for Military Readiness, however, discharges for homosexuality are a very small portion of the total discharges.  Discharges for parenthood are more than twice the number of discharges for homosexuality. 

Stahl reached across the pond for additional support.  Admiral Sir Alan West, commander of the Royal Navy when Britain first allowed homosexuals to serve openly in the military, told Stahl “there's been almost no trouble” since the policy changed in 2000.  West also claimed the British military is better now “because people feel they can be open about who they are.  And they can really throw themselves totally into what you want to achieve with your force.”

Stahl added that the British military “now allows soldiers to march in gay pride parades, in uniform.  And gay couples are even eligible for married military housing.”

Stahl interviewed only one soldier who supports the military ban on homosexuals, Army Major Daniel Davis, and quickly slapped him down by likening opposition to homosexuality to racism.   

DAVIS: If you introduce something in there that's going to cause chaos and division, then that's going to prohibit that unit from forming the bonds and the cohesion and that teamwork that's necessary to really win and do well in hard combat.

STAHL: What do you think would happen if a unit with a gay person went out into a combat situation?

DAVIS: In my view, men are going to die, units are going to fail that would otherwise not fail, that would otherwise not die.

STAHL: Didn't they say exactly the same thing about blacks?

DAVIS: You know, I've heard that many times.

STAHL: And then cohesion was achieved.

DAVIS: However, if you have a moral or religious issue, you cannot order me to bond and cohese with that person, because he's morally repugnant to me.

Stahl's response displayed no concern at all about soldiers' moral convictions:

STAHL:  But Espinoza says if the policy were changed, the troops would have to fall in line.

ESPINOZA:  You can believe that black people are not as smart as white people, you can believe that and still serve in the U.S. uniform. You can believe that women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. You can believe that. But you cannot bring those beliefs to your job front.

Stahl also interviewed U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a GOP presidential candidate and the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, who opposes homosexuals in the military.  Stahl responded to Hunter's comments first by allowing the British admiral to rebut him, then by deriding the “culture of conservatism and macho-ness” in the military.  Later she played another Hunter clip and immediately allowed Espinoza to rebut him.  Stahl did not give anti-gay rights speakers any opportunity to rebut pro-gay rights arguments.

Army sergeant Darren Manzella, currently serving in Kuwait, portrayed the military as hypocritical.  He explained how even with video footage of him engaging in “passionate kissing” with his partner, and various other photos, the Army found “no evidence of homosexuality.”  He was told to “go back to work.” 

The following exchange between Stahl and Marine Brian Fricke indicated “don't ask, don't tell” is an unnecessary policy and that military leaders are “out of touch” with how tolerant people now are of homosexuality:

LESLIE STAHL: Why do you think the people who knew didn't tell on you?  That was required.

BRIAN FRICKE:  They don't – they don't care.  It's – you know, these are our peers.  This is the generation that also – like the 'Will and Grace' generation.  They were exposed to…

            STAHL: The 'Will and Grace' generation?

FRICKE: Yeah. That's what we kind of refer to them as.  They, you know, they grew up with it in the media, gays.  And they understand- they see gay people as people, as humans, as Americans.  They don't see gay people as people with a disability or a disease.

Stahl identified Fricke as a “Marine Corps avionics technician who served in Iraq.” 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.