Times Sees Just One Side to Women-in-Combat Debate

Two days in a row Times coverage gave short shrift to critics who disagree with placing women in dangerous ground combat assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Failing to quote a single critic of the Pentagon's changing policies on women serving in combat, New York Times staffer Steven Lee Myers offered readers of the August 17 paper a unanimously positive view of how military women in Iraq and Afghanistan were "Living and Fighting Alongside Men, and Fitting In."

[Women] have changed the way the United States military goes to war. They have reshaped life on bases across Iraq and Afghanistan. They have cultivated a new generation of women with a warrior's ethos - and combat experience - that for millennia was almost exclusively the preserve of men.

And they have done so without the disruption of discipline and unit cohesion that some feared would unfold at places like Warhorse.

Although Myers later admitted that the military would not disclose data on mid-deployment pregnancies, he uncritically accepted the view of commanders who insisted it did not significantly impact unit readiness :

Women do become pregnant - a condition that, intentional or not, in or out of wedlock, requires the woman to be flown out within two weeks, causing personnel disruptions in individual units.

The Army and Marine Corps declined to say exactly how many women left Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of pregnancies, but it appears to be relatively rare and has had little effect on overall readiness, commanders say. At Warhorse, the First Stryker Brigade, which has thousands of soldiers, has sent only three women home because of pregnancies in 10 months in Iraq, the brigade said.

Nowhere in his 64-paragraph story did Myers find room for any critics of the Pentagon's women-in-combat policies, such as Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR), although fellow Times staffer Lizette Alvarez a day earlier made room forDonnelly's viewsin her August 16 front-page article, "G.I. Jane Stealthily Breaks the Combat Barrier.":

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a group that opposes fully integrating women into the Army, said women were doing these jobs with no debate and no Congressional approval.

"I fault the Pentagon for not being straight with uniformed women," said Ms. Donnelly, who supported unsuccessful efforts by some in Congress in 2005 to restrict women's roles in these wars. "It's an 'anything goes' situation."

Of course, Alvarez sought to marginalize Donnelly's comments, first byusing loaded and inaccurate languageto describe CMR's position on women in combat -describing CMR as opposed to fully "integrating" women into the military - and secondly portraying CMR as on the wrong side of popular opinion, noting how "[p]oll numbers... show that a majority of the public supports allowing women to do more on the battlefield."

For good measure, Alvarezthen tossed in comment from"gay equality" group theHuman Rights Campaign pushing for arepeal of the so-called don't ask, don't tell policy:

"They made it work with women, which is more complicated in some ways, with sex-segregated facilities and new physical training standards," said David Stacy, a lobbyist with the Human Rights Campaign, which works for gay equality. "If the military could make that work with good discipline and order, certainly integrating open service of gay and lesbians is within their capability. "

Responding to a TimesWatch inquiry by e-mail, Donnelly complained that itseemsMyers and Alvarez"didn't talk to any active duty military men or women who are concerned about the situation," noting that her groupreceivescomments supportive of CMR's stance on women in combat frommilitary personnelatthe confidential contact section of CMR's Web site.