Tailhook finally permeates presidential consciousness


All presidents complain about isolation, but George Bush sometimes seems to be encased in concrete.

My research indicates that what is national news to the rest of us, sometimes takes an extraordinary amount of time to penetrate the presidential consciousness.

Our case study for today:

Sept. 7, 1991: Naval aviators gather at the 35th Annual Tailhook Convention at the Las Vegas Hilton. Aside from doing a reported $23,000 damage to the hotel (including throwing a pressed ham through a window onto the crowd below), the aviators form a gantlet, grab at the breasts and buttocks of the women who pass through, and try to rip their panties off.

The aviators have been flown to the convention at taxpayer expense.

Oct. 11, 1991: The Navy begins its investigation into Tailhook.

Oct. 29, 1991: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announces on the Senate floor that he has written to Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III, who was at the convention, demanding the creation of a "high-ranking panel" of civilian and military offices to investigate the incidents.

McCain also says he has met with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to talk about the matter.

The Tailhook allegations come to public notice at a particularly sensitive time, since the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment hearing has taken place just two weeks before.

Though a week before McCain's speech, George Bush said the allegations against Thomas "stunned and repulsed" the nation, he now makes no statement about Tailhook.

April 30, 1992: The Navy's initial report on Tailhook finds that at least 26 women were assaulted. The report complains that non-cooperation by naval officers has hindered the investigation.

May 27, 1992: President Bush speaks to the graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He updates a John Paul Jones quotation, saying: "The measure of a ship is not its guns, but its courageous men and women."

Bush, a former naval aviator, makes no mention of Tailhook.

June 14, 1992: The New York Times runs a front-page story headlined: "Wall of Silence Impedes Inquiry into Rowdy Navy Convention/Women Describe Assaults by Drunken Aviators."

Bush makes no comment.

June 17, 1992: Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams says that Defense Secretary Cheney continues to have faith in the ability of Secretary Garrett to run the Navy and manage the ongoing investigation into Tailhook.

June 19, 1992: A Roger Simon column comparing the assaults at Tailhook with the assaults on our women POWs in Iraq appears in The Sun. Incredibly, President Bush has no reaction.

June 21, 1992: Collectors of U.S. Navy patches do a brisk business in a Tailhook patch depicting "a scantily clad woman --ing across the panel with Bart Simpson in the background." Around the panel are the words: "I didn't do anything. I didn't see anything. You can't prove a thing."

June 24, 1992: The Washington Post runs a front-page interview with Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin, a Tailhook victim. Coughlin also appears on ABC News.

June 24, 1992: Ross Perot, at a rally in Annapolis, holds his first news conference. Though not asked about it, he brings up Tailhook.

"The Navy Tailhook event -- inexcusable," he says.

June 26, 1992: Suddenly, Tailhook comes to presidential notice.

An administration official says that George Bush has become "upset" over Tailhook after seeing news reports about it "this week."

This week?

June 26, 1992: Secretary of the Navy Garrett resigns.

June 26, 1992: President and Mrs. Bush meet with Lieutenant Coughlin at the White House.

June 28, 1992: George Bush's national campaign chairman, Robert A. Mosbacher Sr., says that the resignation of Garrett proves that Bush "was horrified and moved quickly to do something about" Tailhook.

"I think it shows a lot about George Bush's leadership," Mosbacher says.

June 30, 1992: Female veterans of the U.S. armed forces testify before a Senate panel that they have been raped and otherwise sexually abused by their fellow soldiers. One senator "conservatively" estimates that 60,000 of the nation's 1.2 million female veterans have been raped or assaulted while in the military.

There is no immediate reaction from the White House.

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