The Making of a feminist hero

Carlson, Tucker

The Making of a Feminist Hero By Tucker Carlson Probably the weirdest stop on Kelly Flinn's quick journey from disgraced adulteress to feminist hero came on May 11, during her first appearance on...

...In the 1980s, he was among the first to represent soldiers dismissed for homosexuality...
...he asked...
...I was confused, I was wondering if I had cancer or not...
...In conversation, Ensign is not reticent about explaining his interest in Kelly Flinn...
...I leave her and her self-deception to Ann Landers...
...That battered and betrayed ex-wife managed to turn her rage on the other victim of Marc's attentions," wrote Goodman...
...You know, blond hair, blue-eyed, Academy grad, blah, blah, blahóthe woman careerist of tomorrow...
...Given a choice between an upper-middle-class officer and a dumpy enlisted woman with a job in a service industry, champions of women's rights such as Goodman didn't have to think long...
...Of the 154 people brought up on adultery charges in the Army, Navy, and Air Force last year, only nine were women...
...In other words, Flinn's decision to deceive her superiors had not been a conscious, calculated act, as she had claimed on 60 Minutes, but an inadvertent slip of the tongue made by someone too distracted by thoughts of the hereafter to get her facts straight...
...Flinn's abuse of her position is a central part of the story, but it was ignored by many reporters...
...The Making of a Feminist Hero By Tucker Carlson Probably the weirdest stop on Kelly Flinn's quick journey from disgraced adulteress to feminist hero came on May 11, during her first appearance on 60 Minutes...
...I think there were overtones and suggestions of sexism in her case, but that wasn't the dominant theme...
...The story got bigger and more predictable from there...
...Indeed, according to Tamara Jones, a Washington Post staff writer who wrote the first major newspaper story about Flinn, the saga initially seemed to have little to do with feminism...
...Military and civilian cultures are indeed different, but what Flinn did would have been considered unacceptable in both, if only because of the vast difference in rank between herself and Gayla Zigo...
...But they didn't need to...
...Actually, women in the military are far less likely than men to be prosecuted for adultery, even accounting for their lesser number...
...In April, before most people had even heard of Kelly Flinn, USA Today dutifully responded with an A Section story, "Air Force Accused of Female Bias in Crackdown," quoting Ensign in the second paragraph...
...In his spare time, Ensign has dabbled in radical politics, agreeing several years ago to become the vice-presidential candidate for the socialist Peace and Freedom party...
...Many pilots are guilty of the same indiscretion as Lt...
...How did the story of one woman's misdeeds in the Air Force become the story of all women's mistreatment in the military...
...A terrible injustice was being done, and Safer wanted to know how Flinn was handling it...
...This is the crux of Flinn's defense, so it's interesting to note that neither she nor anybody else has offered any hard evidence to support it...
...Flinn's tearful response: "I was 25 years old at the time...
...We had been out there articulating this position for months, and finally it fell into place with Kelly Flinn...
...In fact, Flinn could have saved her career in the Air Force by being honest at the outset of the investigation...
...Nor did they come off as very professional...
...Consider Flinn's various explanations for why she lied under oath to the Air Force...
...With the arrival of women, however, things had changed for the discriminatory...
...Flinn was an Air Force Academy graduate, the country's first female bomber pilot, and, most significantly, an officer...
...The point was that women like Flinnówomen who were more than qualified to do their jobsówere being drummed out of today's military, possibly even sent to jail, for the crime of being female...
...By contrast, the much-maligned Marc Zigo, derided as a chronic liar by almost everyone, did tell the truth about the affair when asked by Air Force investigators...
...Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for The Weekly Standard...
...Nor was Flinn subtle about it...
...We know that the Air Force is prosecuting four times more women than men for fraternization," he told Joan Lunden in what must rank among the boldest and least-true statements uttered on television this year...
...Flinn sobbed through most of the 60 Minutes piece and in virtually every other interview she gave over the next few weeks...
...During her initial interview on 60 Minutes, Flinn was asked why she had falsely denied having a sexual relationship with married boyfriend Marc Zigo, then, after being ordered to cease contact with him, had invited him to live at her house and taken him home to meet her parents over Christmas...
...Kelly Flinn wasn't really taking that tack," says Jones...
...I do believe that we forced them...
...My opinion is that neither her or her lawyer would have framed the issues the way we framed them," he says...
...Yes," she replied, her voice barely audible...
...If anything, Flinn's behavior and judgment amounted to a strong defense against charges of sexism in the military...
...His clients so far this decade have included alleged victims of Agent Orange poisoning and Gulf War deserters...
...Zigo's existence is tricky for feminists, for she is also a woman and, thanks to her husband and Kelly Flinn, also a victim...
...And I'm very happy about it...
...Gayla Zigo is an enlisted airman who works part-time at the front desk of a local Holiday Inn...
...To prove it, Safer read from an Air Force job evaluation that described Flinn as "aggressive," an "incredibly sharp professional warrior...
...I don't think the investigation would have been handled in the same manner that it was handled if I had been a man," she told 60 Minutes...
...And then there's the problem of Gayla Zigo, the person who was married to Marc Zigo at the time of the affair...
...In the civilian world, Flinn's behavior is the equivalent of the vice president of a corporation openly taking up with the spouse of a mail-room employee...
...Ensign and Font became fixtures of the countless news stories that sought to explain the greater significance of what had happened to Flinn...
...According to a reporter who interviewed her before she appeared on 60 Minutes or Good Morning America, Flinn originally claimed that her cancer scare took place weeks after she had knowingly made false statements to military authorities...
...Garton...
...We looked at each other, Louis and I, and said, 'Jesus Christ, look at this.' She was like a poster child for the Air Force...
...Then," remembers Ensign, "out of the blue comes Kelly Flinn in late February...
...On the other hand, as a woman, Flinn certainly had been subjected to selective and unfairly vigorous enforcement of military regulations...
...I was very confused and I saw myself in a Catch-22: If I went ahead and admitted to all this, I saw my career ending...
...Her answer is still profoundly disingenuous...
...By the time Flinn resigned from the Air Force in late May, it was clear that her case was not a simple morality tale about gender bias...
...There's a policy here, there's a message being sent, I think, to successful independent women in the Air Force today, 'Watch it, baby, don't step out of line, we'll hold you to a double standard.'" Font went on NBC with a similar message...
...An early and influential front-page Washington Post story on the case didn't even mention that Marc Zigo was married to an Air Force employee, describing him instead as "a civilian who has stated under oath that he lied to [Flinn] when he claimed to be legally separated from his wife...
...Flinn and much worse, and they continue to fly and advance in rank...
...Slade Gorton as "Sen...
...Flinn may have recognized that this explanation needed some work, so a week later she changed it...
...The fine thing about her case was, it was enormously attractive and dramatic and it lent itself to tabloidization...
...In the old days, Safer said, the Air Force had been "a virtual boys club, a club that by tradition often turned a blind eye to the off-duty behavior of its officers...
...It was an idea whose time came...
...Then she started to cry...
...In a particularly poignant scene reported in Time, Gayla Zigo recounted how, as she "sat crying on her stoop" after an argument with her husband, "the bomber pilot drove up in her Honda Accord and whisked Marc Zigo away...
...Only one version of the story, at most, can be true, though neither one may be worth taking too seriously...
...In the 1970s, Ensign, who is not himself a veteran, worked unsuccessfully to unionize GIs...
...By early this year, Ensign, along with another attorney named Louis Font, was representing Lisa Kelley, an Air Force nurse accused of adultery (and other things...
...In private, according to one woman who knows her, Flinn had even less control over her emotions, at times throwing tantrums and becoming "hysterical...
...In May, Ensign appeared on Good Morning America directly after Flinn to comment on the case...
...Flinn herself made a similar argument...
...one release repeatedly referred to Sen...
...The aggressive professional warrior looked down, lower lip quivering...
...I wasn't focused on the fact that this was an investigation that could go so far...
...Trace the sexism thesis back far enough and ultimately you'll arrive at Patient Zero, a lawyer in New York City named Tod Ensign...
...Never mind that Flinn does not appear to know what a Catch-22 is...
...Before long, polls showed that most Americans believed sexism was a central factor in Kelly Flinn's case...
...Ensign and Font kept the media up to date with a steady stream of press releases, but to the lawyers' disappointment Kelley's case did not become widely known...
...The Flinn story is often presented as a clash of cultures, the inevitable conflict between a modern, morally complex civilian society and a rigid, antediluvian military system still hung up on 17th-century notions about adultery...
...There's a double standard in the military about what men and women are able to do and get away with," protested Karen Johnson of NOW...
...During an interview on Good Morning America, reporter Erin Hayes asked, "Why did you lie...
...The Air Force soon issued a statement denying Citizen Soldier's allegations, which were then reprinted in wire-service stories...
...Ensign and Font did their best to make sure the story evolved along specific lines, furiously faxing press releases to reporters explaining how Flinn, whom they were not formally representing, had been charged with adultery as "payback for the wave of sexual harassment complaints filed by female GIs throughout the military...
...In this particular drama, there was room for only one female lead...
...The releases contained no evidence to support the claim...
...Flinn's revised response: "At the time, when the investigation began, a few days prior I was told by a doctor I might have cancer...
...Still, her impressive resume doesn't fully explain how Kelly Flinn became a cause among feminists...
...Correspondent Morley Safer opened the segment by explaining how sexism had destroyed Flinn's brilliant career in the military...
...Gayla Zigo, like Flinn, was a military employee, but it was never an even match between the two...
...Ensign runs a non-profit organization called Citizen Soldier, and for almost 30 years he has represented soldiers in their cases against the military, always from a leftist perspective...
...You're a tough woman, yes...
...The fact that someone as psychologically fragile as Kelly Flinn had been put in command of a B-52 bomber with a nuclear payload was powerful evidence of the Air Force's determined, even reckless, effort to install women in positions of leadership...
...And that's not the only messy detail Flinn's supporters have had to overlook...
...Nevertheless, from the beginning, a number of high-profile feminists, including several female members of Congress and the National Organization for Women, took stands in Flinn's defense, most demanding that she not be court martialed and instead receive an honorable discharge...
...I believe that a lot of these militaristic policies come from the domination of the military of our foreign policy...
...Nor is he shy about the effect he thinks he has had on the case...
...It takes a pretty creative interpretation to construe this as an anti-female witch hunt...
...I'm on the left," he says cheerfully...
...That's how the issue evolved...
...Yes, her supporters admitted, Flinn had made a mistake by committing adultery and then lying about it to her superiors...
...Ellen Goodman, in her syndicated column, not only dismissed Gayla Zigo as irrelevant, but suggested there was something wrong with her for being upset with Kelly Flinn...
...And Kelly Flinn fit in...

Vol. 2 • June 1997 • No. 38


 
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