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Saturday, May 29, 2010
David Welna: A Man Lost In The Mists Of Time
NPR's chief congressional reporter David Welna filed a story the other day that made me wonder about him. Is he 21? Did he just start his career as a reporter? Does he have an editor?

I wondered these things because of the curious way he started his report on the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal the other day. First, here is the intro that All Things Considered host Robert Segal read:

A 1993 law that's forced more than 14,000 gay service members out of the military may itself be on the way out.

Welna's report starts like this:

It was an act of Congress at the start of the Clinton administration that made "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" the Pentagon's official policy, barring openly gay people from serving in the military. At the time a majority of Americans opposed having gay service members.

What Welna omits -- either through laziness or mendacity -- is that gay service members in 1993 were already barred from serving in the military. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a reversal of the military's long-standing policy of actively ferreting out gays and lesbians, even the ones who were quietly serving in the military. A service member who was suspect of homosexuality in those days would be followed, investigated and harassed. Their friends would be interviewed. Their contacts would be scrutinized. Once enough evidence had been accrued, that soldier would be drummed out of the service. And that evidence could be something as simple as the soldier seen entering or leaving a gay bar, or marching in a gay pride parade.

The idea behind DADT was that a gay or lesbian would be left alone, as long as they didn't draw attention to their sexuality.

DADT was derided by liberals as a mealy-mouthed compromise -- which it was. And it was an early example of the sort of political triangulation that Clinton would use throughout his time in office.

But the NPR story -- in fact, much of the current media coverage -- now depicts DADT as legislation that was designed to bar gays and lesbians from serving. In fact, it was the first step toward ending the existing ban.

That wasn't lost on conservatives of the time. Shouting from the rooftops that Clinton had pushed through a provision to allow "gays in the military", the Republicans painted the provision as a dangerous cave-in to the gay lobby. That helped them gain majorities in both houses in the 1994 mid-term elections.

I'm glad the DADT policy will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history. But the same Senators who are now saying what a great policy it is were the same ones painting apocalyptic pictures of Adam and Steve in the foxhole 17 years ago.

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