From USA TODAY (Editorial):
The people who captain the nation’s aircraft carriers are not to be confused with choir boys. They lead crews big enough to populate a small town and command firepower sufficient to decimate a large city. They must be leaders with a capital L — people of substance, savvy and gravitas, with the instinct to make sound decisions and set an unerring standard for command.
Today, thousands of sailors, former sailors and others are rallying to the defense of Navy Capt. Owen Honors, the fired commander of the USS Enterprise, arguing that he is such a leader — a first-rate commander sacrificed on the altar of political correctness because some thin-skinned weenies were offended by videos he used to inspire his crew.
There seems no doubt that Honors inspires fierce loyalty. But the image the ex-captain puts forth in the videos, made when he was second in command, hardly merits it. If you didn’t know the man’s job, you might assume that he was the class clown, indifferent to the juvenile image he projects or to the consequences of his actions.
To be sure, humor is a valuable tool for building morale. But a savvier leader would know how to do it without resorting to frat-boy mockery, sexism and slurs against gays — on tape no less.
Honors’ productions include scenes of simulated same-sex showers and masturbation, and of Honors using an anti-gay slur. Judging by the outpouring on Facebook, many crewmembers enjoyed the videos, shown on closed-circuit TV on the ship’s movie night in 2006 and 2007. But some — it’s unclear how many — complained. Honors’ dismissive treatment of the objections says as much as the videos do about his leadership qualities.
Yes, firing Honors was an easy call.
Much tougher to deal with are the broader questions the episode raises about the modern Navy.
When the videos, all at least three years old, surfaced Saturday in The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, the Navy initially seemed dismissive. Only after the videos went viral did the hammer come down on Honors.
The episode, and the Navy’s shifting response, raise doubts about how much the Navy’s culture has truly changed since the infamous Tailhook scandal two decades ago.
Now, just weeks after Congress ended its ban on openly gay servicemembers, the Navy ought to figure out why a rising-star commander felt free to make and distribute videos with anti-gay epithets. If “don’t ask, don’t tell” is going to be successfully repealed, the military is going to need officers who know how to lead by example. Whatever his other estimable qualities, Capt. Honors failed that test.