Adm. John Harvey learned about the controversial, four-year-old shipboard videos co-produced by Capt. Owen Honors on Dec. 31 — the day before they were published for the first time outside the skin of the carrier Enterprise — and “immediately ordered an investigation,” he says in a Jan. 7 post on his command blog.
Harvey also says he reviewed the videotapes published online by Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot newspaper that weekend and then made his controversial decision to fire Honors, who’d graduated from executive officer — his position when the sometimes-racy, meant-to-be-humorous short films were produced — to become the 49-year-old carrier’s commanding officer. Honors was canned barely a week before the carrier deploys Jan. 13, possibly for the final time.
“When I did view those videos, I took action – just as I would have had I seen them four years ago,” Harvey wrote.
Those weighing in on Harvey’s decision seem to fall into two distinct camps. 1: Honors was a great leader who motivated his hard-working, much-deployed crew with humor they could relate to, the content wasn’t any edgier than what is broadcast every day on cable TV and his dismissal is a gutless reaction to outside media pressure. 2: XOs and COs are supposed to behave like grown-ups; Honors created a poor command climate that denigrated at least some crew members; and like it or not, today’s naval leaders must be cognizant of the image they project, here and abroad.
One Honors supporter’s view: “How dare anyone act as if those silly videos compromise the Navy,” wrote a civilian identifying herself as Dani MarieBernadette D’Angelo. “They are what they are, a means of blowing off steam for our sons and daughters who are so far from home and in dangerous situations. … the only reason that they have become a problem now is because the Navy wants to bow to the politically correct agenda. Captain Honors lives by a set of core values that anyone would be proud of.”
Another: “Leaders lead by example,” Anonymous wrote. ” CAPT Honors produced a funny, over the top, and professional [sic]filmed movie which was not to be taken seriously. You talk to his sailors; CAPT Honors was all business, a role model, and one hell of a Navy Officer. He is the guy you want fighting your ship in battle.”
Others say Honors set a poor example for others to follow. “What those individuals have missed is, to my mind, the TRULY grievous act that CAPT Honors committed: setting a negative, hostile command environment for the crew of ENTERPRISE when he was XO,” wrote James. “He mocked anyone who objected to his unacceptable behavior. He erased ANY personal credibility that he had when it came to dealing with issues of sexual harassment. It was even implied that filing a grievance would do no good — he was `above’ their control. That, more than anything, is what makes his behavior so damaging and toxic.”
Added SubIconoclast: “The line between ‘bold’ and ‘reckless’ can shift depending on whether we are at war or in peace, and senior officers must recognize that even units employed in war WILL be evaluated against peacetime standards when they appear in the national media of a nation which is generally at peace.
“Today’s combat leaders simply have to meet both standards; complaining about it won’t change the fundamental facts of the situation. CAPT Honors knew that – he just made the mistake of assuming that he could get away with skipping the `Washington Post’ test before recording videos and broadcasting them to thousands. That doesn’t make him a bad American but it does diminish his ability to command effectively.”
Both camps generally express a common thread: Go after the senior leaders who knew of the videos and didn’t react decisively four years ago. Some of those leaders are the subject of our story in this week’s Navy Times.