Andrea Mitchell Bemoans 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' as 'Sad Episode'

On her Wednesday program, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell helped a homosexual filmmaker promote his documentary on what she labeled the "sad episode" of the passage of the military's soon-to-be lifted "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1993. Mitchell touted how she questioned then-President-Elect Bill Clinton in 1992 on his campaign promise to allow open homosexuals to serve in the military, and let her guest, Fenton Bailey, attack the supposed "bigotry, homophobia, [and] ignorance" of supporters of the policy.

Before introducing Bailey, the anchor played an excerpt from his documentary, "The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell," where several unidentified members of Congress and servicemen all used the term "unit cohesion," followed by a clip from a man featured in the film who claimed that "they had to come up with a reason that sounded rational. And so, they came up with this idea of the unit cohesion to justify their homophobia."

Mitchell then turned to her guest and first asked, "Talk to me about what you found in making the documentary that was surprising to you about the history of this whole sad episode." Bailey, who recently put out a documentary on Chastity-turned-Chaz Bono titled "Becoming Chaz," and has produced two TV series for drag queen RuPaul, repeatedly used the adjective he used in the title for his documentary, "strange," to describe the policy's genesis:

BAILEY: Yeah. I think most surprising is that it is a long and strange history. It's such a strange law- 'don't ask, don't tell'- because it basically says that to be in the military, if you're gay, you just can't tell anyone about it. And the thing is, that people ask you all the time, what did you do this weekend? Where did you go? So, it was a law that forced people to be dishonest, forced people to lie, and kind of go against the very values of the military- you know, truth, honor, valor. These things all had to be contradicted by conforming to 'don't ask, don't tell.' It was very strange.

Later, the MSNBC personality gave her personal account of her question to Bill Clinton back in November 1992 on the issue of homosexuals in the military ( Mitchell gave a more detailed chronicle of the episode in a March 2007 blog entry):

MITCHELL: I was in at the beginning of this, sadly. I was the person who asked Bill Clinton the question- just before he took office, actually, during the transition on Veterans Day, November 11, which then led to a reaction from the Joint Chiefs, which then led to him being cornered. And it was just a sorry episode where it wasn't something he wanted to do, but politically, he felt hammered by the military back then- by all of the military- and the leading members of the Armed Services Committee- Democrats and Republicans- who were really much against it.

Bailey replied by smearing those who wanted to keep the explicit ban of homosexuals from the armed services:

Fenton Bailey, Filmmaker; Screen Cap From 14 September 2011 Edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports | NewsBusters.orgBAILEY: Oh, those hearings in '93 were shocking and surprising - the bigotry, the homophobia, the ignorance. It was really shocking to go look back at those archives and see the kinds of things that people said. And, of course, as you said, it was such a sort of irony that here was President Clinton trying to deliver on that election promise, and he ends up basically being forced to pass a law that, for the first time ever, bans gay people from serving openly in the military. It was a law- it was against the law. It's extraordinary.

Actually, the filmmaker's statement on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is misleading. A November 30, 2007 New York Times article acknowledged that "before the policy was put into place, gay men and lesbians were barred from serving in the military." Under the 1988 Uniform Code of Military Justice, those found guilty of sodomy "shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." Before this, a 1982 Department of Defense directive found that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service." The same directive also casts doubt on the claim Mitchell led the segment with: "The presence of [homosexuals] adversely affects the ability of the Military Services to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among servicemembers." Sounds like "unit cohesion," doesn't it?

One of those who testified during one of those 1993 hearings was the late Vietnam War hero, Marine Colonel John Ripley, a Naval Academy graduate who won the Navy Cross for making repeated trips under the Dong Ha Bridge in 1972, climbing hand over hand to place explosives, so the communist North Vietnamese wouldn't be able to use the river crossing. This is the kind of man which Bailey tagged with "bigotry, homophobia, and ignorance."

During his May 4 testimony that year before the House Armed Services Committee, Col. Ripley stated that allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military would "virtually destroy the Marine Corps by imposing on us this deviation of values which we hold dear, which we have fought for, and which we know to be proper." Mitchell and her guest, both of whom never served in the military, could learn something or two about the services' "very values" from the 35-year veteran.

Near the end of the segment, Mitchell bemoaned the 18-year-old policy:

MITCHELL: The statistics are really numbing. Going into two wars, we managed to- the military, I should say- managed to discharge more than 13,000 men and women under this policy, including many of the language experts from Monterey- from the Monterey school, whom we needed desperately because they were Arabic speakers.

Back in June 2008, the journalist argued against former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn as a possible running mate for then-candidate Barack Obama during a roundtable discussion on NBC's Meet the Press, citing his involvement in the passage of "don't ask, don't tell":

MITCHELL: Minuses: He [Nunn] is anathema to the gay and lesbian community because of "don't ask, don't tell." He's tried to moderate his position, but it was he and Colin Powell who shoved that down the young Bill Clinton's throat in 1993, as a new President. So there are large Democratic interest groups who would rebel at the convention if Sam Nunn were the nominee.

The full transcript of Andrea Mitchell's segment with Fenton Bailey on Wednesday's Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC, which began 38 minutes into the 1 pm Eastern hour:

Andrea Mitchel, MSNBC Anchor | NewsBusters.orgANDREA MITCHELL: 'Don't ask, don't tell'- it's officially going to end next week permitting gays and lesbians to serve in America's military openly. A new HBO documentary, 'The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' takes a closer look at the compromise put in place by President Clinton back in 1993.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1 (taken from the HBO documentary, "The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell"): Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 5: Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 6: Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 7: Unit cohesion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 8: They had to come up with a reason that sounded rational. And so, they came up with this idea of the unit cohesion to justify their homophobia.

MITCHELL: Fenton Bailey is one of the men behind the new documentary, and joins us now from California. Thank you. I think you're out there in San Francisco. Thanks very much. Talk to me about what you found in making the documentary that was surprising to you about the history of this whole sad episode.

FENTON BAILEY, FILMMAKER: Yeah. I think most surprising is that it is a long and strange history. It's such a strange law- 'don't ask, don't tell'- because it basically says that to be in the military, if you're gay, you just can't tell anyone about it. And the thing is, that people ask you all the time, what did you do this weekend? Where did you go? So, it was a law that forced people to be dishonest, forced people to lie, and kind of go against the very values of the military- you know, truth, honor, valor. These things all had to be contradicted by conforming to 'don't ask, don't tell.' It was very strange.

MITCHELL: In fact, what Admiral [Mike] Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said at that really extraordinarily powerful hearing-

BAILEY: Yeah-

MITCHELL: Perhaps, more than a year ago, which began the beginning of the end of this, was that you were basically asking the military men and women to go against the military code of honor, which is that you can't lie.

BAILEY: That's absolutely right, and, of course, the reason for saying that gay people shouldn't be open in the military is that it would impact unit cohesion. But, in fact, it created the very threat to unit cohesion by forcing people to lie, by forcing them to be closeted and secretive and not completely honest and open with their colleagues.

MITCHELL: I was in at the beginning of this, sadly. I was the person who asked Bill Clinton the question- just before he took office, actually, during the transition on Veterans Day, November 11, which then led to a reaction from the Joint Chiefs, which then led to him being cornered. And it was just a sorry episode where it wasn't something he wanted to do, but politically, he felt hammered by the military back then- by all of the military- and the leading members of the Armed Services Committee- Democrats and Republicans- who were really much against it.


BAILEY: Oh, those hearings in '93 were shocking and surprising - the bigotry, the homophobia, the ignorance. It was really shocking to go look back at those archives and see the kinds of things that people said. And, of course, as you said, it was such a sort of irony that here was President Clinton trying to deliver on that election promise, and he ends up basically being forced to pass a law that, for the first time ever, bans gay people from serving openly in the military. It was a law- it was against the law. It's extraordinary.

MITCHELL: Here's one particularly telling clip from the HBO documentary- your documentary.

MARGUERITE CAMMERMEYER (taken from the HBO documentary, "The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell"): To have to sit in front of these elder statesmen, their pontification about me and about my sexual orientation.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 9: We have to give up some of our constitutional rights. We have to give up a degree of privacy. If you feel that intensely and that patriotic that you want to serve, then give up a little something.

MITCHELL (on-camera): That was Marguerite Cammermeyer, of course, a signature case here. The statistics are really numbing. Going into two wars, we managed to- the military, I should say- managed to discharge more than 13,000 men and women under this policy, including many of the language experts from Monterey- from the Monterey School, whom we needed desperately because they were Arabic speakers.

[MSNBC Graphic: "The End of Don't Ask Don't Tell: Over 13,000 Discharged Under Policy; $53,000 For Every Service Person Expelled; There Are An Estimated 1 Million Gay Veterans in U.S."]

BAILEY: I mean, I think, without doubt, the military really weakened itself by throwing out fabulously talented people with impeccable records- a huge financial cost, but also a huge brain drain in skill-set loss. And, you know, consequently, I think, also, the military had to increase the moral waivers and lower its standards for admissions. It also created problems with the kind of people who were getting into the military. So, it hurt in every which possible way.

MITCHELL: Fenton Bailey, thank you so much for bringing us the story and your documentary. Thank you.

BAILEY: Thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center