GI JANE Trapped in Stereotype:
How Television Magazine Shows Bolster Gender Bias While Purporting to Fight it
in their Coverage of Military Women
This paper analyses TV magazine news shows that took up the cause of women who
accused Sgt. Major Gene McKinney of sexual harassment, of Lt. Kelly Flinn, who
faced prison on adultery charges, and of Navy fighter pilot Lt. Carey Lohrenz,
who was grounded for alleged poor flying. Reports on 60 Minutes and Dateline
argued sexism led to their unfair treatment. Yet these reports advanced other
stereotypes -- woman as victim, woman as emotionally fragile -- that
inadvertently suggested these women did not belong in a tough environment. Why?
The study aruges that TV magazine journalism uses highly sensational, simplistic
narratives to draw ratings. Stock narrative formulas cast the reporter as The
Equalizer, gallantly protecting victims from villainous institutions. In all
five magazine narratives studied here, the reporter-rescuer was male, the one
rescued was female. The Equalizer and similar formulas are founts of sexist
cliches and stereotypes.
Freedom Forum Ph.D. Fellow
529 Hillsborough St. Apt. G-1
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/GI JANE Trapped in Stereotype
GI JANE Trapped in Stereotype:
How Television Magazine Shows Bolster Gender Bias While Purporting to Fight It
in their Coverage of Military Women
Freedom Forum Ph.D. Fellow
529 Hillsborough St. Apt. G-1
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
919 933 1288
[log in to unmask]
Submitted to the Radio & Television Division, AEJMC
GI JANE Trapped in Stereotype:
How Television Magazine Shows Bolster Gender Bias While Purporting to Fight It
in their Coverage of Military Women
Since the end of the draft in the mid-1970s, the Pentagon has relied
increasingly on women to meet recruitment quotas because male volunteers have
not provided a large enough pool of skilled entry-level personnel. As women
have risen through the ranks in the services, they have confronted, and in some
cases overcome, barriers that relegated them to second class status. Among
these obstacles was a ban on women in combat aviation, lifted by Congress and
the Clinton Administration in 1993. After interviewing women in the armed
services, one might well conclude that one goal of many female enlistees is
deeply inimical to our society's gender stereotypes: women enter military
service to prove themselves in a physically and technologically demanding
environment and win equality and acceptance in what is probably the country's
most male dominated institution.
The road has been tough. Congressional foes of full gender equality in the
military have preserved a ban on women in infantry, armor, and special forces
combat units. In addition, many male officers, especially those in elite combat
units, have put up great resistance to integrating women in the services. In
fact, the news media have termed this resistance to women's integration a
"gender war" in the U.S. armed forces, manifested in outbreaks of sexual
misconduct against women and allegations that the military did not respond
vigorously when the women came forward to complain. Notorious incidents have
included the 1991 Tailhook scandal, in which male officers sexually molested
women officers at an aviators' convention in Las Vegas, and the 1996-1997
Aberdeen scandal, in which male drill instructions raped or sexually abused
female recruits. There was also the 1997 court martial of Sgt. Major Gene
McKinney, in which the Army's highest ranking enlisted man -- an appointee to a
prestigious panel investigating sexual misconduct in the military -- was himself
brought up on charges of sexually harassing female subordinates. Gender bias
and a pervasive double standard against women have thus become major themes in
news coverage of the post-Cold War U.S. military, with the focus shifting in
recent years from job discrimination to sexual misconduct.
Another area of public embarrassment for the military over the past five years
has been the harsh treatment of female officers accused of sexual misconduct
themselves. In these cases, the crime has been adultery. Under military law,
adultery is a criminal offense, although it often goes unpunished. The cases of
Lt. Kelly Flinn, whose career as a bomber pilot was destroyed by an adultery
charge, and Lt. Col. Karen Tew, who committed suicide after an adultery
conviction, led defenders of military women to allege a pattern of
discriminatory prosecution against women.
Finally, there have been serious allegations that political pressure has
motivated -- and undermined -- the integration of women into naval aviation.
Women who have been cut from the program have alleged they were the victims of a
sexist double standard, while foes of gender integration have charged that the
Navy lowered standards to allow women to stay in the program.
In the course of this "gender war," a pattern developed that is unprecedented
in American military history: uniformed officers, frustrated by the slow pace
of investigation of charges of misconduct, went outside the chain of command and
took their complaints to the news media. That the officers were women suggests
their support networks within the military were woefully inadequate. Such
"telling tales out of school" is anathema in the military, a career-risking act
of desperation. Even so, a succession of military women have followed this
In several notable cases, military women have told their stories to television
magazine shows. For reasons to be detailed below, this genre of TV news program
is known for arousing sympathy in viewers by focusing on the trials and
tribulations of individuals who symbolize larger problems. Navy Lt. Paula
Coughlin put a human face on Tailhook and made it a household word when she told
ABC News of being assaulted at the convention; her story was carried on Prime
Time Live. and ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. Flinn's ordeal
was covered sympathetically on CBS News' 60 Minutes; and her name, too, became a
household word. McKinney's accusers and F-14 pilot Lt. Carey Lohrenz, who said
she was unfairly grounded by the Navy, drew sympathetic coverage on Dateline
(and not so sympathetic coverage on 60 Minutes). And in one detailed, half-hour
segment, Dateline came close to blaming a callous Air Force for Lt. Col. Karen
Argument and methodology
This study examines how the fourth estate, especially the TV news magazine
shows, became more than simply a forum for airing tales from the front of the
military's "gender war." The news media itself have played a role in the
conflict over women in the military. By choosing to cover the stories they have
-- and by covering them in the manner they have -- the fourth estate has helped
turn the nation's conflicts and ambivalence over the role of women warriors into
The study takes a cultural studies approach, starting from the assumption that
people construct and reconstruct the meanings of such basic concepts as
femininity and masculinity. Individuals make sense out of their life experience
with the help of symbolic structures, including narratives and stereotypes.
These structures allow us to impose some meaning and order upon what Walter
Lippmann once called "the blooming, buzzing confusion of the . . . world." 
There is a strong case that members of the audience bring their own meaning to
media texts; viewers are not malleable, mere clay in the hands of those seeking
to create reality for them. Even so, this study follows television scholar
Julie D'Acci in arguing that, when television creates and transmits stereotypic
constructions of femininity, it very likely imposes constraints upon how people
conceptualize the role of women. It can thus disempower women and limit their
horizons and choices.
Although this study discusses daily news coverage to provide context for the
cases under review, it focuses on description and close analysis of how military
women are presented in several Dateline and 60 Minutes texts. It attempts to
isolate some of the stock, formulaic narratives used in these reports. As
there is a danger of missing the forest for the trees when texts are studied in
isolation, textual analysis is combined with historical background about each
The thesis of this study is that the texts under study, while aimed
ostensibly at shattering old stereotypes and at promoting military women as
pioneers, in fact reinforced a number of conventional female stereotypes. On
the surface, most of these TV magazine shows are highly sympathetic to their
women subjects. The segments studied stress the women's side of the story and
strongly insinuate that the women are in the right. They are depicted as
brave, resourceful, admirable: after all, they are fighting back against
oppression and have had shown the good sense to come to Dateline or 60 Minutes
to tell their stories. Nevertheless, as will be shown later in the paper, those
programs perhaps inadvertently reinforced several unfavorable or otherwise
disempowering stereotypes about women. These include, among others, the notion
that military women are unladylike, incompetent, tend to be victims, need to be
protected by men, are emotionally vulnerable and cannot make rational decisions,
especially in matters of the heart.
After describing how those stereotypes are manifest in the texts, the study
will offer an explanation as to why programs that purport to be challenging
stereotypes in fact reinforce them. A number of factors account for this
phenomenon. Among them are the imperative of "objective" journalism to present
more than one side -- including strong articulated anti-feminist views about
military women, as well as the economic and narrative imperatives of TV
magazine journalism to build ratings. (Their method for attracting an audience
seems to be sensational personal dramas that sacrifice nuance for stock
characterizations.) Another factor in TV news magazine shows' perpetuation of
sexist stereotypes is the tendency of even "objective" journalists to conceive
of gender roles in very limited ways.
This paper will address three research questions: 1) How did television "news
infotainment" programs become a major locus in the struggle over defining
military women and their roles? 2) How did TV news magazine shows cover
controversies involving women in the military, and what stereotypes were evident
in the coverage? 3) How does one explain that the most "in depth" news
programs on the air perpetuated stereotypic characterizations?
How military women are constructed in television news magazine shows has not
been addressed in the existing literature. This paper is aimed at helping to
fill that research gap, building on insights from the writing and research of
other scholars and experts. Before turning to the paper's main arguments, it is
important to survey four categories of literature: (1) work on the nature of
military gender strife and how it has come to public attention; (2) general
works on scandal reportage, highlighting the potency and problems of
tabloid-style coverage; (3) discussions on the rise of TV news magazine shows;
and (4) writing on stereotyping, and on the uses and abuses of narrative in the
To begin with, there is a large body of literature that analyzes the
military's serious gender conflicts. It is clear in this context why the
controversial cases of the past five years should be studied. Several
books -- among them, Tailspin: Women at War in the Wake of Tailhook by Jean
Zimmerman, and Ground Zero by Linda Bird Francke -- depict the struggle
of women to be assimilated into the armed forces as an incessant guerrilla war
against a male created and dominated culture. Francke maintains that most women
in the military are unlikely ever to be accepted, but will continue to be
recruited because of the military's personnel needs. Francke notes that
since the creation of the all-volunteer force in the 1970s, the Pentagon has
needed woman-power to fill key jobs requiring education and technical
skills. Other authors, some of them female, are more optimistic about the
possibility that women can become well-integrated into the military in the long
run. These optimists agree with the skeptics, however, that the growing
percentage of women in the forces has put men and women in close proximity, thus
increasing the possibility of all varieties of gender tension.
A second burgeoning body of writing addresses the ways in which news
organizations have dealt with the issue of sexual scandal in recent years.
Howard Kurtz in Media Circus , Larry Sabato in Feeding Frenzy, and
Suzanne Garment in Scandal 9 all make the point that sex scandals a la Gennifer
Flowers-Paula Jones-Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton have fed on each other and
changed the reporting climate. While Sabato and Garment deplore the trend with
few qualifications, Kurtz acknowledges that the tabloid, story-telling approach
has its strengths. By putting a face to something that might otherwise be vague
or theoretical the reporter can make a story vivid and keep it alive. For
example, millions of Americans were alerted to the personal nightmare -- rather
than the abstract problem -- of sexual harassment when Anita Hill came forward
to share her experience with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, Kurtz
voices regret that it takes an extreme case to draw the media into an issue they
should have been covering all along. Similarly, McKinney's accusers and
others who charged wrongdoing, such as Tailhook's Lt. Paula Coughlin, have
brought to life for millions the problems of sex, discipline, and gender strife
in the military.
A third body of writing charts how TV news magazine shows have risen to
prominence on the back of scandal coverage, using simplistic formulas and
sensational personal narratives to explore such issues as sexual misconduct,
political corruption, and product liability. Critics -- in the high-culture
versus low culture mode -- allege that the programs are largely trash because
they stress entrainment over discussion and use scare tactics that exaggerate
dangers to the public.  Other analysts, including Richard Campbell, reject
the high-low model and interpret the magazine shows as a forum in which cultural
issues are contested. As Campbell puts it, we all confront competing forces
in our lives -- the pressure of novelty, which pushes us toward unfamiliar and
threatening changes, and the pressure of social convention, which pulls us in
the direction of comforting familiarity. Magazine shows help mediate this
conflict by packaging novel, threatening situations (from HIV to sudden infant
death syndrome) in familiar formulas of fictional entertainment that people find
The fourth category of writing analyzes the nature of stereotypes,
particularly their role as building blocks in the narratives that people
construct to make sense of the world. A large body of literature argues that we
need narratives to cope with the complicated social tensions that bedevil us.
By reducing complexities to simple narrative, we may be, on the surface, less
confused by the world; we may also, however, be more easily manipulated by
those who promote the narratives, which are generally filled with
stereotypes. Joan Didion has made the case that news narrative is essential
to capturing the public imagination, yet inherently distortive. In telling
stories, we follow the imperatives of drama and omit facts and nuances that do
not fit the story line. Even if a story line is essentially true as far as it
goes, it oversimplifies. Michael Schudson argues that the narrative form
in which news stories are presented has a huge impact on the "reality" that the
news conveys. By limiting what is said, and dictating what is omitted,
narrative conventions and stereotypes shape public perception. As Schudson puts
it, "The power of the media lies ... in the way the world is incorporated into
unquestioned and unnoticed conventions of narration, and then transfigured, no
longer a subject for discussion but a premise of any conversation at all." 
Other literature spotlights the role of stereotypes in perpetuating the social
order. Walter Lippmann argues in Public Opinion , for instance, that
stereotypes cause us to filter out and ignore facts that do not fit our
preconceptions. More recent works have studied gender and racial
stereotyping. Of particular relevance here are several works that analyze
how the news media help reinforce stereotypes that bolster a status quo in which
men dominate our major institutions, particularly the armed forces. For
instance, Julia Wood, in her bookGendered Lives, argues that our notions of
gender are socially constructed rather than the result of innate biological
differences between men and women. She maintains that the news and
entertainment media constantly repeat and thus perpetuate such simplistic,
polarized, and limiting stereotypes as "good woman" (mother, symbol of hearth
and home, beautiful, subservient), and "bad woman" (evil sister, witch, bitch,
whore, or cold, aggressive, hard "nonwoman"). Other recurrent stereotypes
include man as independent, woman as dependent; man as competent agent, woman
as incompetent and ineffectual; man as hunter/breadwinner, woman as care giver;
man as aggressor, woman as victim. Gulf War news coverage, Wood notes,
focused on the trauma of women soldiers leaving their children to go to war far
more than on the departure of fathers; by Wood's reading, this reportage
bolstered the stereotype that "real women" do not leave their children and that
"fathers are not primary parents".
In Camouflage Isn't Only For Combat, sociologist Melissa S. Herbert discusses
how gender stereotyping makes professional life particularly difficult for
military women, who must walk a fine line. According to Herbert, the
military has always defined acceptable and high-quality performance in
"masculine" terms -- the tough, stoical, aggressive, virile, athletic soldier is
the ideal, while signs of vulnerability and weakness in a trooper are ridiculed
as "feminine."  For instance, male recruits who are not measuring up to the
physical demands of basic training are often derided as "girls" or "ladies."
For men to thrive in the Army or Marines, they must master the art of appearing
to be hypermasculine. But military women are expected by the service hierarchy
to maintain more than a vestige of femininity and thus face a far subtler and
more complicated task than do male soldiers: women must strike a balance
between conventionally "feminine" and "masculine" styles. If they appear "too
feminine," they are open -- to an even greater degree than are nonaggressive men
-- to derision as being soft, weak incompetent, unsoldierly. Beyond that,
women who seem particularly feminine are vulnerable to being cast as sluts, or
as gold-diggers who use feminine wiles to win perks and promotions.
On the other hand, women who work too hard to avoid the pitfalls of overt
femininity, or who display traits of aggressiveness that would be praised in
male soldiers, are vulnerable to appearing "too masculine." They become
targets for such accusations as being "ball busters" on "power trips." Taken
to its extreme, this stereotype carries with it the risk of causing those who
fit it to be drummed out of the service for being "dykes."  In short,
appearing either "too feminine" or "too masculine" can make military women
vulnerable to suspicions of "deviant" sexuality and thus unsuitable to military
service. Women de facto fall between two stools in a military culture that
still does not accept them on a visceral level, according to Herbert,
despite the official policy of partial integration.
To sum up, the literature most pertinent to this study addresses the intense
problems of integrating women into the male-dominated military, the professional
problems for journalists in burgeoning scandal coverage, the rise of tabloid
television, the economic and narrative imperatives of TV magazine journalism,
the issues of stereotyping and narrative construction in the press and in the
armed services, and the role of television in waging battles over the role of
women in our society. This literature does not directly address the role of TV
news magazine shows in constructing military women, the gender stereotypes in TV
magazine reporting on them, or the reasons why the stereotypes persist. The
remainder of this study will explore these issues.
How did TV news magazine shows become a major locus in the struggle over
constructing public perceptions of military women?
As television scholar Julie D'Acci pointed out in an influential article,
television is, among other things, a system of discourse and a forum for
struggle over society's most basic issues, including the role of women. By
the way in which television depicts the sexes, she wrote, it "defines the
possibilities of what it means to be a woman and a man."  D'Acci focused on
the role of prime time fiction entertainment in defining those possibilities,
analyzing the evolution of Cagney and Lacey, an early 1980s show about two women
police officers aimed at the upscale women's audience.
The title characters in Cagney and Lacey were depicted initially as tough,
working class professionals rather than as hyperfeminine pin-ups a la Charlie's
Angels. Male network executives grew concerned, however, that, by appearing
tough, the stars seemed "too masculine" -- and possibly lesbian. They pressured
the show's producers into changes that softened the image of the women. They
replaced one actress, rewrote the Cagney character as less of a feminist, and
upgraded the fashions of the stars. D'Acci described the process as "bringing
women back in line," suggesting, as Melissa Herbert does, that women in tough
jobs traditionally held by men are too much of a threat unless they are
"feminized."  On the other hand, once they are, it becomes harder for some
viewers -- mainly men -- to take them seriously as professionals. Thus,
although the show, like others in the 1980s, began addressing issues of concern
to women (date rape, sexual harassment, breast cancer, domestic violence),
D'Acci saw it typifying the way in which television tends to constrain the
meaning of woman.
In recent years, the struggle over defining gender possibilities has moved
beyond prime time fiction entertainment to the prime time news magazine show.
As pioneered by CBS, which unveiled 60 Minutes in 1968, the magazine show was an
inspired fusion of news and theatrics. Its chief architect, Don Hewitt, was
convinced he could boost ratings beyond those achieved by traditional TV news
documentaries by focusing on personal narrative. Hewitt's creation would
feature straightforward story lines with heroes and villains, thus "packaging
reality as well as Hollywood packages fiction." The high ratings came, and with
them inevitable clones. The TV news magazine roster currently includes
Dateline, 48 Hours, Prime Time Live, and 20/20, and will soon be joined by 60
Minutes' clone of itself, 60 Minutes II. These now pepper the prime time
schedule and compete directly with one another, as well as with fictional
entertainment shows and sports programming.
Women are a key part of TV news magazines' target audience (Dateline, for
instance, is slated opposite Monday Night Football ); the shows include many
segments evidently aimed at women, from the feature about the lady who had
plastic surgery to make herself look like a Barbie doll, to an in-depth look at
the "world's sexiest men" according to People magazine, to a Dateline segment
on gender tensions entitled "The War Between Men and Women." 
The centerpiece of these shows, however, is Hewitt's standby: the dramatic
personal narrative. In it, major parts of the story are presented
chronologically, scene by scene, often using film shot on location where the
action had actually occurred to draw the audience into the story. The personal
narrative frequently follows a standard plot line: A hero or heroine is shown
being victimized, in graphic detail, by a villainous institution. A magazine
reporter is presented as a major actor in the drama and intervenes; he or she
ministers to the victim and confronts the villain, attempting to resolve the
conflict in the victim's favor. The reporter does not always succeed, but is
always in the right.
With the 1991-1992 Tailhook scandal, a TV news magazine sub-genre emerged: the
personal narrative of the military woman in peril (though, significantly, not in
the kind of physical danger one might expect a soldier to face, say, in
combat). Like such fictional heroines as Cagney and Lacey, the real life
women in this genre are seen struggling to define their roles in a tough,
traditionally male environment. Yet, in the pattern that D'Acci identified,
these military women are frequently constructed and stereotyped by the media in
constraining ways. These characterizations may well reflect male discomfort at
women who are "too masculine" to meet expected standards of femininity or "too
feminine" to take care of themselves in a treacherous world.
Tailhook introduced us to the first military TV magazine heroine and
established the narrative convention that continued through the coverage of
later cases: the military woman as victim. None of Tailhook's female
complainants was identified during the first eight months of the scandal and, by
the spring of 1992, it seemed likely that none of the offenders would be
prosecuted. The story was winding down -- until June 24, 1992.
On that day, Coughlin, the admiral's aide, stepped forward to describe in
graphic detail how she had suffered a humiliating sexual assault at the hands of
male officers at the convention. Exasperated at a Navy investigation that
seemed to her more like a cover-up, Coughlin decided to use TV as an
equalizer. She described her experience at the Tailhook convention on Prime
Time Live and ABC's World News Tonight . Coughlin gave a compelling account of
being manhandled as she walked a hotel hallway filled with drunken men who also
happened to be her fellow aviators. In a ritual known as "the gauntlet," the
male pilots lined up on either side of the corridor, grabbed women who walked by
and shoved them down the aisle, jeering and groping them lewdly. Coughlin
told Prime Time Live's Sam Donaldson that her journey down "the gauntlet" had
been the worst experience of her life.
Coughlin was convinced that the public would pay more attention to the story,
and put more pressure on the Navy to take Tailhook seriously, if people had a
flesh and blood victim with whom to identify. As she said on ABC, "I felt
there was a message that was missing . . . . There really wasn't a face assigned
to the issue." By providing a personal story line, Coughlin enabled the
audience to feel what it was like to be a female naval officer who expected
respect and courtesy from brother officers, only to be treated as an object of
sexual derision. This was done with the help of Prime Time Live's camera, which
drew viewers through the empty, yet menacing, hall where the attack took place,
as Coughlin narrated her harrowing experience in voice-over.
Coughlin's television appearances had an enormous effect on both the news
media and the Navy. In the two months before she agreed to tell her
personal story to reporters, 176 news reports dealing with the scandal appeared
in some two dozen newspaper and broadcast outlets, according to the Nexis
electronic media archive record. For the Tailhook story up to that point, these
two months constituted a heavy news period; during this time, the Navy issued a
major Tailhook report and the Navy Secretary was reported to have been near the
scene on the night in question.
In the two months after Coughlin went public, the number of Tailhook stories
had shot up to 995 -- an increase of more than 500 percent. No sooner had
the Coughlin interviews appeared on ABC than Navy Secretary Lawrence Garrett
announced that he was taking responsibility for a mishandled Tailhook
investigation -- and resigned. Over a dozen senior officers were demoted
or took early retirement for trying to down-play or cover up at least one aspect
of the Tailhook scandal.
Clearly, Coughlin's intervention proved to be a transforming event. That women
often had a hard time in the military was nothing new by 1991. Over the years,
there had been publicity about military women being discriminated against when
it came to benefits and promotion opportunities. Relatively little
coverage, however, had been done on sexual misconduct in the military. The
Tailhook story, as jump-started by Paula Coughlin's television appearances,
shifted the focus to sexual misconduct for both the news media and the nation's
military policy makers.
Ironically, although Coughlin displayed courage in pressing her case and,
through the media, had wielded considerable influence, she became a living
stereotype of female ineffectuality and weakness. What she came to symbolize
most can be summed up by the identifying label that accompanied her on ABC:
"Victim of Sexual Abuse."  As Julia Wood has pointed out, victim is one of
the stereotypes that works to disempower women by reinforcing the idea that they
cannot take care of themselves. The idea of victim status is especially
disempowering in the military. How could an officer help defend the nation if
she could not even manage to take care of herself? The net effect of Prime
Time Live and other media outlets' coverage of Coughlin and the plight of
military women was to reinforce the stereotypic notion of the helpless female.
How TV news magazines continued to stereotype other military women
This pattern continued in later TV news magazine portrayals of women in the
military, from Kelly Flinn and Karen Tew, to female Naval aviators struggling
to make it in the fleet, to Sgt. Major McKinney's accusers. In each case, the
magazines weighed in on the side of the women, challenging the stereotypes
imposed by military brass or others casting women as the villains. But in each
case, the magazines imposed stereotypes of their own on the heroines, casting
doubt, perhaps inadvertently, on their fitness as warriors. This section will
describe these stereotypes in four separate cases. Unsurprisingly, many of the
same stereotypes crop up from case to case. The reasons for this will be
analyzed in the following section, which will discuss how certain narrative
motifs in the news magazine shows breed the same stereotypes over and over.
Flinn and 60 Minutes. Like Paula Coughlin, Kelly Flinn, a B-52 pilot facing a
possible prison term for adultery and related charges, hoped her appearance as a
TV magazine heroine would help her gain leverage with the brass who controlled
her fate. Perhaps her biggest coup was landing a starring role on the May 11,
1997 60 Minutes, the highest rated network TV show in the country. In that
segment on Flinn,60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer made the case that she
was being unfairly hounded, quite probably because she was a woman among hostile
men. Flinn, like Coughlin, was depicted as a victim. She was also
characterized as an emotionally vulnerable naif, who had lost her head over a
man and needed protection -- from the military higher-ups and perhaps even from
As the first female B-52 pilot, Flinn had been used by the Air Force to
showcase the new opportunities for women in the wild blue yonder. But in
September 1996, Flinn was investigated under the Uniform Code of Military
Justice for the crime of adultery. The investigation started after a fellow
officer accused her of having an affair with a civilian, Marc Zigo, who was
married to an enlisted woman on the Minot, N.D. base where she was
stationed. Flinn initially lied to investigators, insisting the
relationship was platonic. Eventually, she admitted the affair but said that
Zigo had convinced her he was getting a divorce -- hence, Flinn was not really
having sex with a "married man," in her attempted framing of the issue.
Before long, the Air Force had grounded Flinn and charged her with adultery,
insubordination, and refusal to obey an order not to see Zigo. Her commander
rejected the option of handling her case quietly, with nonjudicial punishment,
and instead ordered a formal inquest. Air Force investigators tried to
prove she had engaged in group sex, bisexual sex, or made a practice of preying
on wayward husbands (none of these attempts was successful). Ostensibly
for use at her trial, the investigators solicited graphic details of her sexual
relationship with Zigo (everything from birth control method to preferred
positions and techniques). For the Air Force, Flinn had become a symbol of
prurience who needed to be held up for public opprobrium. Many journalists --
conditioned by Tailhook and other cases to think of military women as victims of
the system -- did not take kindly to her treatment. Among them, evidently, were
Safer and his 60 Minutes team.
In its Flinn piece, 60 Minutes fashioned a classic example of the TV news
magazine personal narrative -- a damsel in distress story of stark simplicity,
virtually designed to evoke moral outrage at the Air Force.
Flinn, of course, comes off as a virtuous figure. Safer makes much of her
flying exploits, her coolness in the cockpit, and her pioneering spirit. It is
not much of a leap from there to suggest that she was an asset to the Air Force
who should be allowed to keep flying. The villains are Marc Zigo, depicted as a
conniving cad and wife-beater, and Air Force authorities, who seem bureaucratic,
remote, insensitive, evasive.
Safer observes incredulously that Flinn faces ruin over "the Biblical sin of
adultery," suggesting that the military authorities are out of touch with the
modern world. He puts Flinn's insistence that she is a victim of a double
standard front and center in his report:
Flinn: I don't think the investigation would have been handled in the same way
if I had been a man. I think somebody might have stepped in a little sooner.
Safer: Are you saying that if you were a man they would have said, 'Look, pal,
just straighten up, for God's sake?'
Flinn: It's a definite possibility. That's what I had seen happen with other
members of Minot Air Force Base. 
Casting Flinn as a victim posed problems because she had admitted lying,
disobeying orders, and continuing to have a sexual relationship with man she
knew was married.  Safer gets over this narrative hurdle by depicting her
transgressions as the result of naivete and misguided passion: she is
inexperienced with men, has been duped by Zigo, who misled her into thinking he
had filed for divorce. She fell for him too deeply to think clearly. This
"fool for love" scenario cast Flinn as essentially innocent, and thus
undeserving of the cruel and unusual punishment the Air Force sought to mete
Safer (with understanding half-smile): He (Zigo)was not the man you thought he
Flinn: He was a con artist. . . .
For good measure, Safer plays up her fear, to stress her vulnerability and
neutralize Air Force charges that she was predatory:
Safer: You are a tough woman.
Flinn (in chair, wearing blue Air Force tunic, weeping): Yes.
Safer: You could deal with that [i.e., prison]?
Flinn: (Voice breaking) I would deal with it the way I've dealt with (pause).
It's not something I'm really looking forward (voice breaks) to facing . .
This was not the picture of a villain. It was the very picture of human
fragility, and the TV images reinforced the moral message of this drama: Kelly
Flinn was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Given Kelly Flinn's desire to project herself as a valuable Air Force nuclear
bomber pilot, Safer's story had some inherent weaknesses. Naivete,
emotionality, and victimhood, all stereotypic "feminine" traits, are not
necessarily consistent with being cool and competent, let alone a dominating
professional warrior. As with Coughlin, the TV magazine treatment challenged
one stereotype -- the Air Force depiction of Flinn as conniving slut -- only to
substitute other stereotypes that cast doubt on whether Flinn belonged in the
service in the first place.
Tew and Dateline. Much the same pattern was evident in Dateline's treatment
of Lt. Col. Karen Tew, an auditor for the Missouri-based Air Force Inspector
General. Tew, an officer with a sterling record, committed suicide in March
1997 after being sentenced to prison for adultery and fraternization.
During a lengthy separation from her husband and their two teenaged daughters
(who had stayed behind in Florida, Tew's previous posting, so they could finish
high school), Tew started an affair with a married civilian named Ron Spears, an
old high school flame. When his wife found out, she contacted the Air Force and
blew the whistle on Tew's role in the affair.
In the ensuing investigation, military police discovered that Tew had also once
dallied with a sergeant in her unit, in violation of rules against
fraternization between officers and other ranks. In the court martial, the
prosecutor played into a stereotype that Melissa Herbert says is very prevalent:
military woman as slut, Jezebel, camp-follower. The prosecutor told the jury
that Tew had "traded the integrity of the military profession for sexual desire
. . . She traded the honor of wearing the military uniform for lust . . . She
traded her ability to act as an effective leader in a position of authority for
sexual intercourse." 
Over a year after Tew's death, Dateline devoted an unusually long segment to
attacking that stereotype; entitled "Officer and a Gentleman," it ran on May 25,
1998. The half hour report, timed to coincide with our annual commemoration of
fallen military heroes, characterizes Tew as a fine officer who also happened to
be a lonely and vulnerable. Shades of Kelly Flinn, Tew was depicted as a fool
for love with "emotional baggage".
Tew was no slut, according to Dateline. She was destroyed by a heartless
bureaucracy. Dateline works hard to construct Tew, an accountant who "flew" a
desk, as a hero. Reporter John Larson says that, as an auditor, Tew had saved
the Air Force millions of dollars. He declares, without evidence, that she had
stood a good chance of making general before the adultery charges were lodged.
The segment juxtaposes pictures of Tew in uniform, her awards and decorations,
with scenes of jets whizzing overhead, American flags waving in the breeze, and
American soldiers going into action in the Persian Gulf. The audio track
including strains of "Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder" and "Taps." Larson
introduces the segment with a reference to Memorial Day and closes, in
voiceover, with a military burial scene, making a visual analogy between Karen
Tew's death and that of a warrior fallen in battle.
By contrast, Larson casts the Air Force as cruel and remote for failing to use
its discretion to avoid an ill-conceived prosecution. Larson contends that Tew
was singled out for court martial because she was a woman, citing statistics --
disputed by the Air Force -- that indicate female officers are prosecuted for
fraternization three times as often as men. Larson, noting that no Air Force
officer involved in the decision to prosecute Tew would speak on camera, asks
Tew's defense attorney if the prosecutor knew that, as the court martial
approached, she was in a state of acute emotional anguish and desperation. The
lawyer replies, "I believe that he did." Larson then describes Tew's
Colonel Tew . . . began a steep decline. She fought
increasing depression and sleeplessness with prescription
medications. She stole this .38 caliber handgun, her father's,
from his drawer. (Scene of gun in drawer.) She sought help form
an Air Force psychiatrist, telling him she thought constantly
about suicide . . . Her depression worsened. One night, she
drove to this parking lot (scene of lot from inside moving car)
and tried to summon up the courage to shoot herself. The gun
went off accidentally, sending a bullet through the windshield.
(Scene of cracked windshield from inside car.) Frightened, she
gave up and drove home . . . Five days after her trial, she told
her parents she didn't feel like going to church with them . . .
(She) retreated to the smallest, darkest, most remote area of
the house. (Scene of shotgun leaning against basement wall.) In
a damp corner of the basement, she carefully spread a tarp on
the floor. She propped a pillow against the wall, wedged her
father's double barrel shotgun upside down between her knees.
(Scene of two barrels pointed directly at camera.) Using a
pencil to reach the trigger, she fired.
Larson's emotionally affecting account makes us feel that Tew was a victim
rather than a villain. Of course, as we saw with the coverage of Kelly Flinn,
mental fragility and collapse are not consistent with standard notions of
military strength and bearing. In Dateline's attempt to rebut the stereotype
of woman as slut, a TV news magazine program thus once again played into
stereotypes of woman as weak, frail and most certainly unmilitary.
McKinney's accusers and Dateline. In much the same spirit that Dateline went
to the defense of Tew, it took up the cause of the six women who had accused
McKinney, the Sergeant Major of the Army, of sexual harassment and assault.
McKinney's attorney had savaged the accusers on the witness stand, winning
acquittal for his client on all 18 counts of sexual misconduct. McKinney was
only convicted on a single count of obstruction of justice: he had tried to
coach a witness. As punishment, the Army's highest ranking enlisted man was
demoted one rank and retired with a full pension.
The women who claimed McKinney was a sexual predator had been based far apart
and had never met one another. Nonetheless, they described very similar abusive
behavior by the defendant -- including allegations that his unwanted sexual
advances involved exposing himself in their presence and rubbing his groin
against them. McKinney's accusers alleged that he tried to convince them to
have sex with him by promising to use his influence to help their careers.
Legal experts commenting on the case said that McKinney attorney Charles Gittins
had to discredit each and every one of the women, because if the jury believed
even one of the women testifying against McKinney it might send him to prison
for years. Stereotyping thus became a crucial weapon in the defense's
arsenal, one that might induce the jury of senior officers and sergeants to
regard all the women with a jaundiced eye.
Gittins relentlessly attacked the credibility of the women by depicting them,
to use Herbert's model, as "too feminine" for the Army in some generally
negative respects (sluts who came on to McKinney, gold-digging manipulators who
lied about him to get special perks, vengeful harpies trying to get back at him
because he had been critical of their work) and "too masculine" in others
(sexually aggressive, lesbian, so professionally ambitious that they shirked
their "natural" duty of motherhood -- in one case by considering an abortion.)
Dateline reporter Dennis Murphy clearly had no truck for such scorched earth
trial tactics. He works hard in his March 17, 1998 report to restore the
credibility of the women's' charges -- even though McKinney had just been
acquitted of all sexual misconduct. At certain points, the reporter personally
endorses the accusers' version of events without qualification (e.g., "They
realized later McKinney had fed them all the same lines about how he could
satisfy them and played on their sympathy by describing his pain following the
recent death of his teen-aged son."). In terms of time on camera, the Dateline
correspondent gives McKinney's side short shrift while structuring the report
to give the women a forum to air their position exhaustively, in a group
interview that follows the taped narrative recap of their ordeal.
But, if Dateline bolsters the credibility of the allegations against McKinney,
it does not bolster the accusers' credibility as soldiers. The women are
characterized, in the tradition of Coughlin, Flinn, and Tew, as victims of the
system; the report notes they "feel their careers have been destroyed." Three
of the women who were still on active duty are leaving the service, Murphy
reports, "their pride turned now to dust." In their group interview, sitting
side by side, the women express their despair ("We've all lost," says Sergeant
Christine Roy) and sense of betrayal ("My leaders didn't stand by me in the
foxhole," says retired Sgt. Major Brenda Hoster, who aired the first accusation
against McKinney.) They whine about their lot ("I've been living out of a
suitcase and in a hotel since May of last year," says Sergeant Christina Fetrow.
"It hurts because I was alone in a time when I needed -- I needed people.")
They admit they lack courage. Sergeant Fetrow says she avoided reporting
McKinney's unwanted groping and other lewd advances for two years because she
was afraid of him. Navy petty officer Joanna Vinson, whom McKinney was accused
of harassing, says if she had it to do over again she would never have come
In response to Murphy's leading questions, the women affirm each other's
observations in an almost desperate clamor for emotional support:
Murphy: Is Brenda right? Did you all end your military careers for
her, as it turned out?
Women: (in unison) Yes. . .
Joanna Vinson: He (McKinney) propositioned me . . .
Murphy: Ladies, Johanna's story, does it sound familiar?
Women (in unison): Yes.
Murphy: None of you know each other?
Women (in unison): No.
Murphy: You're based all over the country?
Women (in unison): Yes.
Murphy: But you each have had an encounter with Gene McKinney? Do
you recognize elements in each others' stories?
Women (in unison): Absolutely! . . .
Fetrow: We did what we were taught, to do the right thing.
Roy: We did the right thing.
Vinson: We did the right thing.. .
Murphy: That military jury either didn't believe your stories or
didn't know what to do with them.
Roy: They believed us.
Fetrow: They believed us.
Vinson: They believed us. . .
Roy: They protected the Army's good name . . .
Fetrow: They sacrificed us.
Women: (in unions) Yes.
Fetrow: Yes, absolutely.
Self-affirmation, mutual support, and emotional venting are not necessarily
incompatible with effective soldiering or effective leadership. But in the most
of this coverage those traits emerge as a by-product of victimization, linked
with vulnerability and weakness. As in the other magazine reports, the
non-military stereotypes of victimhood, fragility and weakness emerge in this
Dateline episode, casting doubt, inadvertently, on the suitability of women for
Female navy fighter pilots and Dateline. On July 3, 1996, Dateline aired a
segment that was somewhat different from those discussed above. Its topic was
not sexual misconduct. Instead, the report was about women in a high-demand
combat job: flying the carrier-based F-14 Tomcat. In response to Tailhook, and
under pressure from Congress, the Navy began training women in the F-14 in 1993.
Trouble soon flared when one of the first women to quality -- Lt. Kara Hultgreen
-- died in a flight training exercise off San Diego on October 25, 1994.
Hultgreen's crash became a long-running, highly politicized subject of
considerable media attention.
Several years later, news organizations were still raking over details of the
crash and what led up to it. A controversy continued to rage over whether
pilot error or an equipment failure were to blame for Hultgreen's fatal
accident. This debate led to questions about the stringency of the training
Hultgreen and a fellow female pilot, Carey Lohrenz, had received. A
disgruntled officer who had helped train Hultgreen and Lohrenz, Lt. Patrick
Burns, leaked copies of their training records to the conservative,
anti-feminist Center for Military Readiness, which passed them on to the press.
By Burns' reading, the documents showed that the women had struggled in flight
training and would not have qualified as F-14 pilots had the bar not been
lowered for them. In other words, these women had actually benefited from a
double standard, without which they would not have qualified for the fleet.
Following the leak of her flight records to the news media, Lohrenz was grounded
and removed from the F-14 program for alleged poor flight performance. She sued
the Navy to win reinstatement. Among other stereotypes, the controversy played
to the old saw that women are bad with technology and high performance machines
-- a variant on the stereotype of dangerously unskilled "women drivers"
wrecking havoc on the roads.
Dateline would have none of that. Reporter Gary Matsumoto's narrative --
focusing on Lohrenz -- suggests that another sort of double standard was at work
in this case. Matsumoto's report implies that this double standard is a sexist
one that discriminates against women pilots and denies them the chance to learn
the ropes in a supportive environment. As Lohrenz puts it in the report, "It's
not a gender thing. The plane doesn't know if it's a guy or a girl flying it,
for heaven's sakes ... and certainly girls can do it just as well as guys can if
they're given the opportunity -- and that's the key." 
Through Lohrenz's eyes, Dateline tells a story of relentless hostility to the
women pilots on board the carrier -- of hazing and ostracization, and of Lohrenz
and other women being forced to go through special evaluations that men who
ranked lower on flight tests were allowed to skip. No male mentors stepped
forward to help her improve her flying, she complains. Lohrenz recalls how the
training records that had been leaked by Burns were faxed to the ship, leading
to savage ridicule from male pilots who opposed women in combat cockpits. She
describes how, devastated by her treatment, she began to perform less well in
the cockpit and was grounded, even though male pilots with lower flight test
scores were allowed to keep flying. One of those male pilots later crashed an
F-14 near Nashville, killing himself, his backseat radar officer, and three
civilians. "As for Carey Lohrenz, who never had an accident, who had her
records stolen and her reputation ruined, an admiral has just upheld (the)
decision that (she) should not fly," Matsumoto concludes, noting that she plans
to challenge the decision.
Ironically, even this segment, which seems on the surface to be highly
supportive of women in the military, reinforces stereotypes that could raise
doubts about their fitness. Lohrenz, like the others, ended up going to the
media for leverage because she could not "take care of herself" in the Navy.
Like the other military women depicted on the TV news magazines, Lohrenz is
characterized as vulnerable prey. Like the McKinney women, she has had her
reputation smeared and gets into complaining mode ("I waited and I waited for
somebody to defend me. I asked the skipper, I asked the operations officer. I
said, 'Why is nobody defending me?'") And she acknowledges that her emotional
reaction to criticism caused her flying to deteriorate. The stereotypes of
victim, whiner and overly emotional woman come through.
Why "in depth" public affairs programs presented stereotypic characterizations
To sum up, this study's analysis of TV news magazine treatment of Lohrenz,
McKinney's accusers, Tew, Flinn and Coughlin found a pattern running through
each of the reports. On the surface, these news accounts are supportive of the
military women. Yet they can be read to suggest that these women really do not
belong in the armed services. The reports highlight the women's
vulnerabilities. They depict women as lacking the strength, resilience,
fortitude, aggressiveness, or power to dominate that are traditional "masculine"
hallmarks of soldiering. Of course, as Randy Shilts has pointed out, our
culture's notions of manhood are social constructions. So is the equation
of traditional masculinity with military prowess. Women arguably could be
effective in war, even while not fitting the traditional masculine profile, if
they were ever break to the barrier to genuine acceptance in the armed forces.
Yet, at best, the TV magazine reports studied for this paper make only tentative
nods in the direction of this possibility (e.g., Lohrenz's statement on women
flying planes). These programs have the resources and air time to present
arguments in depth and reach for subtleties in depicting gender. By and large,
however, they fall back on traditional stereotypes. The question is why.
It is easy enough to explain why some stereotypes are disseminated through
these programs. Although the magazines lean toward advocacy, they also retain
some semblance of the "objective" news report that presents more than one side
of a story. Thus the segments studied aired views of such anti-feminists as
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military readiness, who believes
women have no place in combat.
Harder to account for are the narrative stereotypes that come not from
anti-feminist advocates but from the journalists themselves -- "fool for love",
easy prey, etc. Part of the explanation for their prevalence lies in the topics
TV news magazines select for coverage. These video news magazines are locked in
a perpetual ratings war. They are under pressure to air sensationalistic,
highly polarized conflicts to draw audiences. Focusing on this type of story
intensifies a generic problem of news presentation: depicting the unusual as
usual. During 1996 and 1997, few, if any, success stories about military women
were aired, even though many of them existed. (Military women have
successfully commanded ships, run military police units, supervised weapons
development programs, etc.) Such stories, although made "sexier" by their
counter-stereotypic quality, presumably lacked sufficient conflict and
sensation to make the cut. Woman in Peril proved a far more promising theme
and was used repeatedly. TV news magazines thus conveyed the impression that
military women as such are victims and unstable, bolstering stereotypes based on
what are likely unrepresentative cases.
Another driving force behind stereotyping is the convention of personal
narrative. As discussed above, magazine shows, far more than the sober
documentaries of the early 1960s, package "reality" like fiction. There must be
heroines or heroes, villains, a simple plot, and a sense of immediacy. So, even
though the magazine segments are long, compared to nightly news reports, there
is little room for nuance, analysis, historical background and other context.
As practiced by these shows, personal narrative is a prescription for reducing
characters to caricatures, events to stock formulas. Certain of these formulas
appear, by their very nature, to reinforce stereotypes about women. Among them
The Equalizer. As mentioned earlier in this paper, scholar Richard Campbell
notes in an analysis of 60 Minutes formulas that the reporter plays an active
role as a character in each magazine segment. The reporter is not a detached
describer of events, but rather an intervener on behalf of the story's imperiled
protagonist. In the magazine segments reviewed for the present study, every
reporter was a man intervening to protect and defend a woman, much as the actor
Edward Woodward did gallantly each week in TV's The Equalizer. In the Flinn
segment, for instance, Morley Safer aggressively confronts the villain (a high
ranking officer, representing the Air Force justice system) on her behalf.
Later, throwing detachment aside, Safer declares: "It's hard to believe that
someone of her abilities and her character can go to jail." The Equalizer
formula thus spawns a variety of paternalistic stereotypes, many of which are
mentioned throughout this study.
The Equalizer motif relates closely to another standard formula, the damsel in
distress. For the formula to create maximum suspense, the audience must not
know whether the damsel will be saved in time to escape harm. Such suspense is
easy enough to create when the outcome of the actual case is in the future. 60
Minutes' Safer could thus dwell on whether or not Flinn would go to prison.
Suspense is harder to maintain when the outcome is in the past, as in the case
of Karen Tew. She had committed suicide over a year before Dateline aired its
piece. Luckily for the show's producers, however, few people knew her story.
Dateline was thus able to present it as a kind of Perils of Pauline. Reporter
John Larson narrates in a constant present tense, introducing her as "the young
woman you're about to meet." At one point Larson breaks the narrative to ask:
"What would the jury decide? Would nine fellow officers send her to jail,
dismiss her from the Air Force and end her dream of rising to the top, or would
they show the 19-year veteran compassion?" Anchor Stone Phillips then chimes
in: "The jury makes its decision, and Karen Tew makes hers when we return."
Only after the commercial, and some more cliff-hanging suspense, does the
audience finally learn that she killed herself. Needless to say, the
distress-rescue formula breeds any number of stereotypes about feminine
Sherlock Holmes. The detective formula is a favorite on magazine shows, as
Campbell points out. In this formula, the reporter-as-sleuth is seen
introducing the crime, searching for clues, confronting villains, ministering to
victims, putting puzzle pieces together, and ultimately solving the crime. The
detective formula is evident to some extent in every report analyzed for this
study. Matsumoto's report on why Lohrenz was grounded and Larson's on why Tew
killed herself are particularly striking examples. Both reporters are shown
uncovering evidence, tracking down reluctant witnesses, and otherwise
gum-shoeing their way to the "solution": sexism grounded Lohrenz, the Air Force
in effect killed Tew.
As used in the reports studied here, the detective formula is a font of sexist
cliches. In each case, the detective is a man. That man is the protagonist
and chief actor in the drama. He does things. The woman in question has things
done to her. She comes across as the passive foil to the male crime buster. She
is part of the mystery as the detective determines why she has been victimized.
The stereotypic message of these dramas might be interpreted as follows: women
are prey to all manner of malevolent forces; they cannot maintain order and,
particularly in a military context, inadvertently foment disorder by provoking
sexual conflict. In contrast, men solve crimes and work to restore order.
Marcus Welby. Another formula used in TV news magazines casts the reporter as
doctor or therapist. The reporter-psychologist gets on close terms with his
subjects. He or she "probes the private, emotional world of the [usually
traumatized] characters in order to reaffirm values." The reporter then
offers a cure for the patients and/or a solution to the broader problem that has
caused them distress. This formula is evident, to some extent, in the Tew
segment, where reporter Larson allows Tew's mother and daughters to express
their pain. It is even more obvious in Dennis Murphy's session with McKinney's
accusers. Murphy, in the therapist's chair, coaxes the victims to bond into a
support group. His mission seems to be to help them ease their pain through the
solidarity of sisterhood. Do you other women feel the same way?, he keeps
asking, eliciting bursts of mutual affirmation. In terms of stereotypes, one
message of the therapist motif, as seen in the magazine segments studied here,
is that men are in charge and healthy. Women need to take the cure and follow
the doctor's orders.
Days of Our Lives. TV news magazine coverage of women in the military also
taps into the cultural reservoir of the soap opera, which television scholar
Tania Modleski describes as a "feminine narrative form." Modleski argues
that the structure of soap opera works to reinforce the notion of feminine
powerlessness for a largely female audience. One can draw parallels between the
soaps, as she describes them, and the running saga of military women on the TV
news magazines. In the soaps, women characters are constantly thwarted in their
dreams and plans. Women are similarly thwarted in the magazine shows. For
example, as Modleski points out, one recurrent character in soap opera is the
good mother. She is worried about her children, but helpless to protect them
from the world's evils. One also finds this character in TV magazine
narratives. Kelly Flinn's gray haired mother Mary Flinn plays this part to the
hilt, as Morley Safer draws out her anxiety and consternation. "Here is someone
who has dedicated her life to her country and made a human mistake," she says.
"Does that make her a criminal?" Even more heart rending is Karen Tew's
gray-haired mother, Viola, who appears after the suicide has been revealed.
Lips trembling, on the brink of tears, she stammers in a tired Missouri drawl,
"They said if she keeps on going, she will make a general some day . . . We had
dreams for her, but it didn't work out." Modleski argues that women in the
soap opera audience identify with the helpless mother. Presumably there is
similar audience identification with the real-life military mothers. This
identification may well reinforce the susceptibility of viewers to the
stereotype of women incapable of attaining power, or even agency.
That stereotype of powerlessness is bolstered by another soap motif in which a
woman character is hit with one misfortune after another, until it is hard to
keep track of all her tribulations. This Woe is Woman refrain is also to be
found on the TV news magazines. Consider the Tew piece. First we learn that
she is under investigation, then that she is to be court-martialed and might go
to prison and lose her medical insurance. Then we are told that Tew has had a
breakdown and is talking suicide. The next revelation is that her daughter has
been diagnosed with brain cancer and desperately needs the medical insurance.
The next is that lumps have been discovered in Tew's breasts. Then we learn
that Tew that has been sentenced to four months in prison and dismissal from the
service. And so it goes.
Modleski suggests that the stereotype of powerless woman is reinforced most
persistently by the serial nature of soaps. Conflicts are never really
resolved. Stories never end. Viewers identify with multiple characters. They
can never be empowered vicariously by identifying with one character who
actually completes an action. They must live with a constant sense of being
thwarted. Modleski contrasts the soap opera structure with that of traditional
melodramas. These have a beginning, middle, and end. They are moral fantasies
in which the good are rewarded, the bad are punished.
In terms of their dramatic structure, do the TV news magazine segments under
review more closely resemble daytime serials or conventional melodrama?
Richard Campbell lumps the magazine narrative with traditional melodrama.
Beyond using stock characters of melodrama like the detective, he argues, these
programs reach dramatic resolutions that attest, like traditional fiction
melodrama, to the essential rightness of the world. "The mythic narrative
formulas of 60 Minutes." he writes, "affirm that individuals through adherence
to Middle American values can triumph over (villainous) institutions . . ." 
Campbell's description no doubt fits some magazine narratives, particularly if
the viewer identifies with the reporter righting wrongs and making the world
work better. Campbell's description is too upbeat, however, to fit the magazine
segments about women in the military. Consider their plot-lines: Paula
Coughlin is ostracized because she tries to right wrongs, while Tailhook
perpetrators elude justice. McKinney's accusers meet a similar, if not worse,
fate. Carey Lohrenz fights a losing battle. Kelly Flinn's dreams are
destroyed, along with her once brilliant career. Karen Tew despairs of having a
life worth living, and shoots herself so her daughters can continue to have
health coverage. Where is the affirmation of the triumphant individual?
The gallantry of the male reporter provides a glimmer of it, but identification
with the military women keeps the audience determinedly in the dark.
It makes most sense, then, to consider these magazine segments, collectively,
as a soap opera of the real: Days of our Military Lives. There are multiple
female characters, all of whom are thwarted. There are subplots that stimulate
our desire for a standard melodramatic resolution, in which justice prevails.
It never does. Instead, the episodes keep coming at us in a never-ending story
of female frustration. The soap opera motif is an eternal river of
disempowering stereotypes about women.
On another point, however, Campbell is remarkably perceptive. He argues that
the magazine shows serve as mediators between the opposing sides in our cultural
conflicts. On one hand are the forces of standardization and social
convention. On the other hand are the forces of diversity and change. TV
magazine shows secure the "middle ground" between the extremes as they weave
their narrative myths of cultural conflict. Campbell uses the example of a
1981 60 Minutes segment about an Air Force male sergeant who was punished by the
brass for trying to investigate the causes of an explosion in a missile silo.
Morley Safer weighs in on the side of the little guy against a villainous Air
Force. Safer thus "mediates the tension between the individual and
institution," according to Campbell. Mediation, in this sense, involved
confirming that the little guy "got screwed." By the same token, the magazine
programs -- and many other media outlets -- mediated the tension between
military women and the institution by siding with the women and confirming that
they had been victimized.
According to Claude Levi-Strauss, "myths progress from awareness of their
opposition to their mediation by replacing the original oppositions with
synonymous terms which do not permit mediation." Using this analysis,
reporter-mediators worked to replace opposing positions about military women
with synonymous terms to resolve the tension between the opposites. The
synonymous term they reached consensus on was "victim." Lohrenz, competent
flyer or not, was a victim. Flinn and Tew, reliable officers or not, were
victims. McKinney's accusers, credible witnesses or not, were victims.
Military woman as victim is thus the cultural "middle ground" as defined by the
media establishment. The establishment constructs military woman as someone not
"man enough" to take it. By implication, such individuals probably belong in a
gentler line of work.
In conclusion, this study has shown how TV magazine shows worked at cross
purpose in depicting, and defining, military gender roles. On the one hand, the
shows sided with military women against forces that had stereotyped and tried to
thwart or degrade them. On the other hand, the shows stereotyped women in their
own right. Reasons for this stereotyping include economic imperatives of
magazine journalism -- they must polarize, simplify, and sensationalize to draw
ratings and such tabloid journalism is rife with stereotype. Narrative formulas
and motifs the magazines employ -- equalizer, damsel in distress, detective,
therapist, and frustrated soap character -- all feed into traditional
stereotypes about women.
As long as military woman is constructed in this way, her support in winning
equal opportunity from the culture at large may well remain tepid. Of course,
the TV news magazine reports discussed in this paper can be read in more than
one way by viewers, as Stuart Hall has suggested in other contexts. A woman
viewer might be inspired by Paula Coughlin's courage or Carey Lohrenz's grit,
and see the military anew as a challenging career choice. A member of Congress
might be encouraged to push harder for reforms that foster full integration of
women. But it seems fair to argue, in D'Acci's terms, that the sheer volume of
stereotypes about military women transmitted to the country by the news media
establishment serves to "shut down and limit" the meaning of military
woman. The trend can neither be helpful to women in uniform nor to our society
Ironically enough, some fictional efforts to portray the military woman have
been freer of cliche and stereotype than were the portrayals on news magazine
shows. The Gulf War film Courage Under Fire depicts a female helicopter medivac
pilot (Meg Ryan) as a superb if unconventional soldier. The character is heroic
and complex, a mix of traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine traits.
GI Jane takes military woman further into the realm of aggressive combat ,
depicting how a Naval intelligence officer (Demi Moore) stoically endures brutal
training to become a SEAL commando. Relatively few female stereotypes are
evident in the film, a frontal attack on the notion that women are not fit to
be combat leaders. These films construct reality in a more nuanced way than do
the news magazine programs, which says something about the quality of the mirror
the news media hold up to society. Depiction of military women in film and in
television fiction is clearly a rich subject for study.
 Former Deputy Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb, on Nightline, March 3, 1998.
 The percent of women on active duty has risen nearly tenfold over the past
three decades, from 1.4 percent of total forces in 1970 to 13.6 percent in 1997.
James Kitfield, "Front and Center," National Journal, October 25, 1997, pp.
 See, for instance, Judith Hicks Stiehm, It's Our Military, Too: Women in
the U.S. Military (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.)
 60 Minutes, October 24, 1993.
 NBC Dateline, March 17, 1998.
 Ms. magazine surveyed issues facing women in the military in 1972 and
focused on unequal job opportunities and benefits. B. J. Phillips, "On Location
with the W.A.C.S," Ms., November 1972, 53-63. By the same token, Women in the
Military: An Unfinished Revolution (Novato, CA.: Presido Press, 1982, by retired
Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holmn, stresses efforts to expand women's job
responsibilities, with very little attention to sexual misconduct.
 NBC Dateline, May 25, 1998.
 NBC Dateline, July 3, 1996.
 Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (Free Press: New York, 1965) 55.
 First came the Navy's 1991 Tailhook scandal in which dozens of women were
manhandled and sexually molested by drunken aviators. Then, in early 1997, came
charges against Army drill instructors at Aberdeen Proving Ground, several of
whom were convicted of forcing female recruits to have sex with them. Shortly
thereafter, bomber pilot Lt. Kelly Flinn was forced to resign or face
prosecution for adultery. She accused the Air Force of employing a double
standard in which men implicated in adultery got off lightly, while women faced
the most severe penalties. The Air Force denied any double standard.
 Jean Zimmerman, Tailspin (New York: Doubleday, 1995)
 Linda Bird Francke, Ground Zero: The Gender Wars in the Military (New
York: Simon and Schuster,
 Ibid., 260.
 Francke, 16.
 See, for instance, Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm (Ret.), Women in the Military: An
Unfinished Revolution (Novato, CA.: Presido Press, 1993).
 The percentage of women on active duty has risen nearly tenfold over the
past three decades, from 1.4 percent of total forces in 1970 to 13.6 percent in
1997. James Kitfield, "Front and Center," National Journal,Oct. 25, 1997, pp.
 Howard Kurtz, Media Circus (Random House: New York, 1993).
 Larry J. Sabato, Feeding Frenzy (Macmillan: New York, 1991).
 Ibid., 210.
 Bert Briller, "The Tao of Tabloid Television," Television Quarterly,
Spring 1993 v26 n4 p51(11); Carl Session Step, "The Fallout From Too Much Crime
Coverage," American Journalism Review, April 1998 v20 n3 p55(1); Sean Paige,
"That's Infotainment," Insight on the News, June 8, 1998 v14 n21 p8(4).
 Richard Campbell, "Securing the Middle Ground: Reporter Formulas in 60
Minutes," Critical Studies in Mass Communication 4 (1987), 325-350. Other
analysts have discussed the role of television in the struggle for definition of
the nation. David Chaney has addressed the role of televised rituals (e.g.,
coronations, inaugurations, funerals, royal weddings) in bridging the mundane
domestic world with the extraordinary world of royalty and high state ceremony.
Thus TV helps build another kind of unity even as local social bonds have fallen
away. David Chaney, "The Symbolic Form of Ritual in Mass Communication," in
Peter Golding, Graham Murdock and Philip Schlesinger (eds), Communicating
Politics, (New York: Holmes & Meyer, 1986), 115-132. David Morley has suggested
that this link between the "public and the private, the sacred and the profane,
the extraordinary and the mundane" can also be reinforced by viewing of news and
soap opera. Screen 32;1 Spring 1991, 12-14. What is interesting in such
developments as Gary Hart/Donna Rice, Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill, Bill
Clinton/Monica Lewinsky is that the fusion between public and private has taken
another twist. The public involvement of private citizens now includes peering
through the window of TV into the bedrooms of the powerful to see their private
foibles writ large. Chaney's viewing of ceremony might have produced a unity
of uplift. But in the new version, the private becomes public and the mundane
fuses with the extraordinary as a form of populist leveling. One might even
say the profane has become sacred: the destruction of politicians by exposing
their sexual transgressions in exquisite detail becomes a kind of ritual
sacrifice. It slices "the great"down to the level of the rest of us. What
unifies us as a nation as we approach the millennium appears to be prurient
fascination combined with unease at our voyeurism. And not even Britain's
royals have been spared.
 See, for instance, W.L. Bennett and Murray Edelman, "Toward a New
Political Narrative," Journal of Communication (Autumn 1985) 156-171.
 See Dan Nimmo and James E. Combs, Mass Mediated Political Realities (New
York, Longman, 1990) 26-27.
 Michael Schudson, "The Politics of Narrative Form: The Emergence of News
Conventions in Print and Television." Daedalus 111 (4), 1982, pp. 97-112.
 Lippmann, Ibid.
 See Julia Wood's excellent study, Gendered Lives (New York: Wadsworth,
1997). See also Melissa S. Herbert, Camouflage Isn't Only For Combat (New York:
New York University Press, 1998). And see
E. R. Shipp, "O.J. and the Black Media: Neither a Typical Hero Nor a Typical
Victim, He Challenges the Typical Coverage," Columbia Journalism Review,
Nov.-Dec. 1994 v33 n4 p39(3). Alexander Cockburn, "White Rage: The Press and
the Verdict," The Nation, Oct. 30, 1995 v261 n14 p49(3).
 Wood, 281-283.
 Wood, 294.
 Melissa S. Herbert, Camouflage Isn't Only For Combat (New York: New York
University Press, 1998).
 Herbert, 8-25, 46.
 Herbert, 9.
 Herbert, 65.
 Herbert, 77-80. Randy Shilts documents at great length how service
women are frequently investigated, branded as lesbians -- whether accurately or
not -- and dismissed from the service. Some are even jailed. Randy Shilts,
Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military (New York: St.
Martin's 1993). Leisa D. Meyer points out that purges of lesbians, and the
tension between appearing "too feminine" and "too masculine," were pervasive in
the Woman's Army Corps during World War II. Creating GI Jane (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1996).
 A s mentioned earlier, women remain barred from many combat jobs,
including infantry, armor, artillery, submarine and combat special forces
 Julie D'Acci, "Defining Women: The Case of Cagney and Lacey," in Private
Screenings (Lynn Spigel and Denise Mann, eds) (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1992) 169-202.
 D'Acci, 193.
 D'Acci, 184; Herbert, 1-26; 112-130.
 Paige, Ibid.
 Other prime time public affairs shows that rely primarily on talking
heads, and less on scene-by-scene construction of personal narrative, also
became battlegrounds in the military gender war. Sgt. Major McKinney, for
instance, made his case on Larry King Live and (the now cancelled) Eye-to-Eye
with Bryant Gumbel before his accusers appeared on Dateline. And Nightline
devoted many shows to controversies over Coughlin, Flinn, McKinney, and others.
 ABC World News Tonight, June 24, 1992, transcription of videotape.
 John Lancaster, "A Gauntlet of Terror, Frustration," The Washington Post,
June 24, 1992, pA1.
 Lancaster, Ibid.
 John Lancaster, "A Gauntlet of Terror, Frustration," The Washington Post,
June 24, 1992, pA1.
 ABC Good Morning America, June 26, 1992, transcription of videotape.
 Nexis compiles archives of several dozen newspapers, news magazines, and
 The Washington Post had five Tailhook stories in the two months before
Coughlin went public, and 40 stories afterward; The New York Times 11 and 37
respectively, ABC News one and 11 respectively, CNN one and 34 respectively. In
the two months before Coughlin hit the news, Newsweek devoted a total of one
article and 534 words to Tailhook, as compared to four take-outs totaling
thousands of words each in the post-Coughlin period.
 Douglas Waller, Patrick King, "Deepening Shame," Newsweek, Aug. 10, 1992 p
 ABC Prime Time Live, June 26, 1992, transcription of videotape.
Paula Coughlin was not the sole cause of these developments, but she was
certainly triggered the events that followed her public revelations. For
instance, the Armed Services panel was already disgusted with the slow progress
and meager results of the Tailhook probe, but the committee's patience seemed to
snap as a result of Coughlin's revelations. Garrett and Kelso were already in
trouble over Tailhook before she came forward. John Lancaster, "Statement Puts
Navy Secretary in Suite at Convention Being Probed for Abuse," The Washington
Post, June 17, 1992, pA4. John Lancaster, "Navy Probe Faults at Least 70
Officers; Senior Ranks Tied to Assaults At Convention," The Washington Post,
June 3, 1992, pA1.
They had been near the scene of "gauntlet" debauchery, and they or their aides
had been accused of trying to cover this up. The public and Congressional
pressure set off by Coughlin, and the personal disgust of George Bush over
Coughlin's treatment, proved sufficiently strong to push them out.
See Eloise Salholz and Douglas Waller, "Tailhook: Scandal Time," Newsweek, July
6, 1992 p. 40.
 See B.J. Phillips, "On Location With The W.A.C.s," Ms., November 1972,
 Good Morning America, June 26, 1992.
 Gaya Zigo was not in Flinn's chain of command.
 CBS 60 Minutes, May 11, Ibid.
 Safer interviewed Air Force Col. Robert Green, a spokesman for the legal
affairs division. Col. Green declined to say anything about the Flinn case
directly, restated official policy and rules against adultery, ducked persistent
questions from Safer on whether some adulterers get off with reprimands, and
said -- unbelievably -- that he could not think of any case in his 20 year
career in which a fellow officer committed adultery.
 60 Minutes, May 11, 1997. Ibid.
 Structuring a news narrative as a morality play is tricky when the victim
is somehow morally compromised. One solution, according to media scholars James
Ettema and Theodore L. Glasser, is to reach for the details that create the
strongest possible contrast between villain and victim. For instance, in a
Washington Post investigation of persistent gang rape in a county jail, the
paper faced a narrative problem: some in the audience might think the victims
got what they deserved because they were law-breakers, and others might not care
particularly what misfortunes befell them. The Post's solution was to keep
investigating until it found jailed rape victims who were virtually innocent --
inmates who were minors, later acquitted, arrested in error, or guilty of
misdemeanors that by no stretch of the imagination made them deserving of the
horrors of incarceration. Once the subjects of prison rape were established as
sufficiently innocent, the Post was in a position to tell a tale of terror and
injustice powerful enough to win a Pulitzer prize.
 Dateline, May 25, 1998.
 Dateline, Ibid.
 Dateline, Ibid.
 NPR Morning Edition, March 2, 1998.
 Dateline, March 17, 1998.
 60 Minutes, April 12, 1998, transcription of videotape.
 Dateline, July 3, 1996.
 Shilts, 32-33.
 Shilts, 1-19, 28-47; Herbert, passim.
 In the Matsumoto piece, for instance, Donnelly advances the notion that
women have been sent to the fleet due to agitation by radical feminists and
mandarins of political correctness. She declares: "This woman [Lohrenz] was not
allowed to fail in spite of an astonishing risk of danger and . . . loss of
life. . .It is a pattern of forgiveness of major errors . . . for what appears
to be a political reason: to advance women into combat aviation."Dateline, July
 This conclusion is based on a review of the electronic database of the
Media Research Center in Alexandria, Virginia. The center tapes virtually all
network public affairs programming and logs the contents into its database.
 To be sure, harassment and discrimination are substantial problems in the
military. In one recent survey of military women, more than half reported have
faced unwanted sexual advances on the job (including relatively minor incidents)
over the previous 12 months. On the other hand, Northwestern University
sociologist Charles Moskos, who studies women in the military, has conducted
surveys that suggest military women are relatively content. He has found that
military women report higher levels of job satisfaction than do women
counterparts in the civilian world. Nightline, March 10, 1998.
 Stories of damsels in distress, their captivity, and rescue have an
enduring fascination for the press and public. In North America, this
fascination dates from at least the late seventeenth century, when one Mary
Rowlandson was captured by Indians and freed. She wrote a popular account of
her sufferings, violations and deliverance that was much quoted in publications
of the time Robert Jewett, The American Monomyth, Lanham, Maryland: University
Press of America, 1988, pp 169-197. And see John Shelton Lawrence and Bernard
Timberg, Ibid. The authors argue that the intense media and public interest in
the Patty Hearst kidnapping story, and in almost any hostage-taking, stems from
the underlying appeal of the captivity narrative. As they put it, "the mythic
paradigm seems to be constantly at work in news consciousness, determining in
part what we deem to be newsworthy and establishing a kind of order or rank
among news stories." (328)
 Campbell, 335.
 Tania Modleski, "The Search for Tomorrow in Today's Soap Operas," in
Feminist Television Criticism: A Reader (Charlotte Brundson, Julie D'Acci, Lynn
Spigel, eds). (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) 35-47.
 60 Minutes, May 5, 1997.
 Dateline, May 25, 1998.
 Modleski, Ibid.
 Modleski, 36-38.
 Campbell, 347.
 Under military rules, the daughter was entitled to the coverage, and some
pension money, if Tew died before her sentence was carried out.
 The title of Campbell's piece is "Securing the Middle Ground." As
Campbell defines it, myth can employ a factual or a fictional character in a
narrative that helps make sense of the environment. His notion of culture
conflict is influenced by M. Bakhtin, who posits a dialectical struggle,
universal to human societies, between forces of order and forces of change.
 Campbell, Ibid.
 Campbell, Ibid.
 D'Acci, 193.