A Republican legislator, who once supported objecting to the Electoral College vote for the 2020 election, took aim at an AP investigative report on racism in the military. Last week, Rep. Bud Hulsey of Tennessee introduced a resolution attacking the AP report published in May 2021.
The resolution is an example of the right’s attack on facts and accurate reporting while feeding into conspiracy theories and disinformation. Hulsey was among the 23 state legislators who falsely claimed irregularities in the 2020 election and requested that the state’s federal delegation not support the final count.
Much of his objection stems from the article’s title and doesn’t engage with the detailed reporting.
AP reporter Kat Stafford quickly took to Twitter to rebuke the ridiculous assertions in Hulsey’s resolution. Stafford, a well-respected investigative journalist, often called on to lead training for other journalists, tweeted that she and her colleagues stand by their reporting. She explained the team had investigated for a year before publishing their findings on racism in the military.
As a part of their reporting, the AP investigative team highlighted an order for a one-day pause on operations “to discuss extremism in the ranks” by the Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, III. The report also shared first-hand experiences from several people. It also examined the types of questions asked on internal military surveys, noting one particular survey changed the way it asked questions about discrimination.
Hulsey, a retired police officer, claims the report isn’t relevant because the documented instances of discrimination are only a small fraction of those enlisted. Still, he fails to consider the culture of silence that persists, something also prevalent in his former occupation.
A 2019 survey of over 1,600 sailors from the AP’s research found that close to 25 percent reported they could not use their chain of command to file complaints. Another 40 percent said discipline was reported unfairly. (Read the full AP report here).
The AP used the best data available. It sounds like Hulsey’s issue is really with the military’s underreporting. And not that Stafford’s team needs confirmation from other sources, but several outlets, including Reuters, have made similar findings and discussed the likelihood of underreporting complaints.
A September 2020 report by Reuters noted those dealing with racism in the military have a “high barrier to justice.” The reporting team covering the racial reckoning needed in the military shared the account of Deven Sherk, a Black airman who had filed a report about a noose hung near him by a white airman. A few months later, he spotted a swastika in a bathroom.
The real question isn’t why outlets report racism in the military, but why are American soldiers drawing swastika’s and hanging nooses if there isn’t a prevailing culture that tolerates such behavior?
“But many service members, including Sherk, say the EO process is often a dead end, resulting in little action, or worse, backfiring on the complainant,” reported Reuters. “That’s because filing an EO complaint is often viewed as an act of defiance in the military, they say.”
Claiming that the military doesn’t have a deep history of racism is Hulsey’s opinion and distortion of the data presented by Stafford and her colleagues. It’s not a fact and ignores historical context and anecdotal experiences about racism and other forms of discrimination in the military and concerns of retaliation.
Bottom line, Hulsey should spend more time meeting the needs of people within the state instead of creating false controversies and attacking the work of Black journalists.