missed opportunities

Why Fox News’ Story On Gay Soldiers Living Under DADT Never Got Filed

“It’s the story I regret most not reporting,” writes gay veteran television reporter Dominic Di-Natale, who’s on contract with Fox News. “While in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout 2009 and 2010 I was approached by more than a dozen American gay combat soldiers wanting to discuss living and fighting under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. … The first gay serviceman to contact me did so in a brave but disarming fashion. A specialist from Ft Carson, C.O. walked directly up to my cameraman and I while we were filming on base in Mosul last spring. He very pointedly said wanted to talk about how ‘you got something real wrong about the Army.’ At first I thought it was yet another soldier unhappy with press coverage of the war. Fox is big on military stories and we air both the successes and the failures of their combat efforts, which often draw pointed comments from servicemen. He said it was a big story but he wouldn’t talk while the bases’ public affairs officer, who was escorting us, was present. Like others who emerged, the specialist, aged 21, didn’t want to bemoan living a lie or enduring the homophobic comments that punctuate the cultural requisite of male soldiers asserting their masculinity. Instead, he and the other men I eventually interviewed, all of whom went outside the wire daily, had killed insurgents and dutifully covered their fellow men’s backs under kinetic and hostile conditions, explained that they were ‘out’ to their unit and that those units either acknowledged it but had not chosen not to report them to command, were comfortable with them or actively embraced them – usually with a lot of good-natured soldierly ribbing. More often than not their squadron would defend them from slurs by other companies without revealing the truth. What a story, what a scoop. Here was in-theatre evidence that disproved in numerous examples the argument that openly serving homosexuals were a threat to unit cohesion in a combat environment. While I was under no illusion that there would be companies and commands where it would be a fractious problem and that egos on both sides of the fence could clash within units, it clearly wasn’t the case in every example.” So why didn’t Di-Natale’s report get filed?

Timing, for one (“This was my last assignment in Baghdad, which came at the height of the combat troop drawdown from Iraq”). Logistics (“We were constrained by time to revisit bases where the gay combat soldiers were stationed”) played a part. And the military (“There were politics, too. While soldiers are in theory free to talk to reporters, following the Gen McCrystal scandal last year there would have been repercussions for some men by a less tolerant senior command. Public Affairs officers now take names of all soldiers who speak to the media. That would have prohibited many from holding honest conversations and discretion”). And not, I’m guessing from Di-Natale’s absence of mentioning it, because Fox News killed his story. In fact, he writes, “I’d got the thumbs up from my editors in New York July this year,” but, “in many ways the story came too late for me.”