Sunday, March 13, 2011

University of Alaska President Gamble to Review Religion at the Air Force Academy

Background:  Journalistic Guidelines

As the world is coming to grips with blogging and how it differs from traditional journalism, so too do I have to figure out what I'm doing and what my rules are.  I'd learned from journalists in the past, that if a source knows he's talking to a journalist, it's assumed that everything is 'on the record' unless the source says it is not BEFORE anything is said.  Here's what Norman Pearlstine says:
We should start virtually all interviews with the presumption that they are on the record. Inexperienced sources—usually ordinary people who unexpectedly find themselves the news—should clearly understand that you are a reporter and should not be surprised to find themselves quoted in your publication.
Journalists should not give the source more protection than is necessary. It is preferable to spell out the nature of the attribution in clear terms, instead of using vague and other terms that might be misunderstood. A primer:
· On the Record—The source can be named and identified by title, rank, job description, or other relevant information. Information can be used in direct quotation or indirect quotation. [It goes on to spell out 'Background,' 'Deep Background,' 'Not for Attribution,' and 'Off the Record.']

So, you are asking, what's this got to do with President Gamble and the Air Force Academy?  I'm just giving you context of why I haven't posted on this sooner. I still feel a strong obligation to be fair to the people I write about and that seems to be much stronger when I actually talk to them.  It's a bias I noticed when I started blogging seriously.  I'm probably guilty of what Pearlstine describes as giving  "the source more protection than is necessary."  And unlike traditional journalists, I don't have an editor demanding a story.  Just you readers and you are, for the most part, very undemanding.

Learning about the story

When I spoke to University of Alaska  President Gamble after the Faculty Senate meeting last February 4, I identified myself as a blogger.  He said something like, "You're not the blogger who wrote about the sexual harassment at the Air Force Academy, are you?"  I said I was.  He said he'd had nothing to do with that.  I pointed out that the first GAO report had come out in 1991 saying all three academies were having serious problems.  That he'd been the Commandant of the Air Force Academy from June 1993-November 1994, and the next GAO report - 1995 - said things were worse.  Since I hadn't had that information when I went to the public forum in Juneau last February, I posted about it so someone (like the Board of Regents) could ask then-candidate Gamble about his role.  I hadn't said he was directly involved, but raised questions about his management effectiveness if things had gotten worse during his watch.  He told (back to Feb 4 now) me he'd been there such a short time he really couldn't have had an effect, but that he learned after the fact and much later that he'd been cleared in an investigation and, in fact, the policies he'd implemented had been cited as model policies.  (I'd note that most Commandants are at the Air Force Academy for about two years so that would mean none of them have enough time to have an effect.  If people aren't in their positions long enough to have an impact, how does this square with the importance of accountability in the Air Force?)  I asked him to send me some documentation so I could add it to my original post.

He also mentioned that he had been asked to do a review of how religion was being handled at the Air Force Academy in March. 

Now, about blogging ethics again.  I try to use publicly available information and point out where there are contradictions or missing information.  But I'm soft when it comes to my need to publish something fast rather than be (overly?) respectful of my sources.  So even though he knew he was talking to a blogger, I still asked if the Air Force Review was something I could post about.  He said that no one had said it wasn't, but asked if I'd hold off until he checked. I agreed.

He didn't get back to me on either issue.  I emailed him a couple weeks later and still didn't hear from him.  But I guess I should say something now since today I noticed a Huffington Post piece on the review of the Air Force Academy.  

Gamble said Friday he was assembling a team of five or six other members with expertise in law, religion, academics and other areas to conduct the review. He said it was too early to release the other members' names.
Gamble said his goal is to see whether various programs and provisions put in place since 2004, when religious intolerance became an issue, are working. . .
Gamble said he wasn't sure whether he would report his findings orally, in a written report or both. No date has been set for the team to visit the school, he said.

It's a bit vague. Just an oral report?  Is that serious?  And the scope of the study seems vague as well.

Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a vocal critic of the academy, criticized the scope of the review as it was outlined in the Air Force statement.
The problem at the school is not with any restriction on the free exercise of religion, but with unwanted proselytizing by fundamentalist Christians, a violation of the constitutional concept of the separation of church and state, he said.
Gamble said he had not ruled out looking at the separation issue. He said his review team is still getting organized and its scope hasn't been determined.
"We're going to take a blinders-off look, and nothing's off the table, but nothing's on the table, either," he said.  [Emphasis added.]

The proselytizing by evangelical Christians at the Air Force Academy became enough of a problem that the Air Force set up a task force to look into it in 2005.

Colorado Springs, where the Air Force Academy is located, has become an evangelical stronghold.  According to an NPR story,  Colorado Springs
has become a special place for evangelical Christians, like Ted Haggard, pastor of the 11,000-member New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Another giant evangelical organization, Focus on the Family, is nearby.  Someone told me these organizations are across the highway from the Academy and google maps suggests it sits on the other side of the Ronald Reagan Highway, less than 2 miles from the Academy gate.  

A recent law suit against the Air Force concerning an evangelical luncheon speaker was  dismissed by the judge on the grounds the plaintiffs didn't have standing, but others are percolating, and 1977 Academy Honor Grad, Mikey Weinstein, through his position at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation  seems to be connected to a number of the lawsuits.

A USA Today piece posted at on March 10, 2006 described allegations in an earlier lawsuit and gives some background to the current 'review':
The 12-page court filing says guest speakers at conventions of Air Force recruiters in 2003 and 2005 told Burleigh and other recruiters that "they needed to accept Jesus Christ in order to perform their job duties" and "to use faith in Jesus Christ while recruiting."
"It's absolutely horrifying that the Air Force has been trying to force its recruiters to use the gospel of Jesus Christ as a recruiting tool," said Weinstein, who is Jewish. "There's no wall left between church and state in the Air Force."
Weinstein took on the military last year after a Pentagon task force cleared the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs of "overt religious discrimination" but noted insensitivity toward cadets of non-Christian faiths. Weinstein has a second son who is a cadet there.
Complaints of religious intolerance, conversion attempts and favoritism for "born again" Christian cadets had first surfaced in a 2004 campus survey and in criticism in a Yale Divinity School study of chaplain practices at the academy.
The controversy led the Air Force to issue four-page guidelines last August for "free exercise of religion" throughout the service. It also instituted religious sensitivity training for the academy's cadets and staff.
Members of Congress and some Christian groups objected that the guidelines were too restrictive. They said the rules violated constitutional guarantees of free exercise of religion and discriminated against evangelicals, who consider spreading their faith a requirement of Christianity.

It would interesting to know how much the Air Force will spend on this possibly oral review.

1 comment:

  1. This important information. There are other related topic posts here that add to the picture.

    You need to send this and the related posts to MRFF and Talk2Action.


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