Reporting on Pentagon IG finding that officers violated ethics rules, Fox's Griffin ignored officer's alleged actions


On Special Report, Jennifer Griffin reported that a former Pentagon chaplain had "arranged" for the nonprofit Christian Embassy to film at the Pentagon, but not that, according to the inspector general's report, he did so in part by "mischaracterizing the purpose and proponent of the video" by "impl[ying] that the video was being produced to document the Pentagon Chaplain's ministry rather than to promote a non-Federal entity," a violation of Department of Defense regulations.

On the August 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report, national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin omitted key facts during her report on the Department of Defense (DoD) inspector general's (IG) finding that seven current and former senior Army and Air Force officers violated ethics rules by appearing in uniform in a video by the nonprofit organization Christian Embassy. During the report, Griffin stated that then-Pentagon Chaplain Ralph Benson had "arranged the video shoot for the Christian Embassy" and that "[t]he inspector general now says he should be punished." In fact, the IG found that Benson had violated Defense Department regulations in arranging the shoot because he "mischaracteriz[ed] the purpose and proponent of the video" by "impl[ying] that the video was being produced to document the Pentagon Chaplain's ministry rather than to promote a non-Federal entity. As a result," the IG report stated, "Christian Embassy received permission to film and unescorted access to Pentagon areas and personnel that similar organizations would not have received."

The report also found:

On February 2, 2004, Chaplain Benson sent an e-mail message to Mr. [REDACTED] OASD(PA) [Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs], to request approval for Christian Embassy to film within the Pentagon on February 4, 2004, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Chaplain Benson's request presented the filming to [REDACTED] as a project for the Pentagon Chaplain's office, giving the impression that the film would be of services or events for archival purposes. Several such events had been filmed in the past. The request stated that Christian Embassy had "volunteered" to help the Pentagon Chaplaincy film aspects of its ministry. Specifically, Chaplain Benson wrote,

Per your conversation with [REDACTED] [of Army Public Affairs] and myself Monday 2 February, I am requesting permission for a camera crew of three, from Christian Embassy, 4 Feb 04, from 0600-1500. They will be filming various aspects of our ministry with customers in the building. Christian Embassy has worked through and with our office for over twenty five years and have volunteered to help us on this project. Our office will provide escorts.

Based on that request, Mr. [REDACTED] granted approval, responding, "Should be no problem, crew must be escorted at all times ... I will alert the Pentagon Police"4 Chaplain Benson's request made no mention of the private promotional nature of the video.

The report concluded that "in light of all of the evidence, we determined that Chaplain Benson knew or reasonably should have known that the video was for the promotion of a non-Federal entity. He was aware that other officers were featured in it and he participated personally."

The IG's report also found that, contrary to "Chaplain Benson's e-mail message stat[ing] that his office would provide escorts for Christian Embassy personnel ... the testimony of Mr. [REDACTED] and several of the interviewees established that no employee or officer of the Pentagon Chaplain's office, to include Chaplain Benson, escorted the film crew. Rather, Christian Embassy employees with no official DoD affiliation escorted the crew." The report later concluded that "Chaplain Benson's failure to escort the Christian Embassy film crew provided additional selective benefit, giving the film crew free reign in the Pentagon when film crews from other organizations were escorted by Public Affairs or other DoD personnel. Mr. [REDACTED] did not work for Chaplain Benson or DoD, but was allowed unprecedented freedom to film within the Pentagon."

According to the IG's report, "[e]vidence established that the purpose of" the Christian Embassy video "was not to document the Pentagon Chaplain's ministry, but to promote Christian Embassy to its various audiences at dinners and similar events in order to raise funds and attract supporters." The report explained that the officers who appeared in the video seemed to offer official sanction of the group's activities:

The seven officers participated in interviews with Christian Embassy, excerpts of which were also included in the promotional video. The officers were filmed during the duty day, in uniform with rank clearly displayed, in official and often identifiable Pentagon locations. Their remarks conferred approval of and support to Christian Embassy, and the remarks of some officers implied they spoke for a group of senior military leaders rather than just for themselves. None of the officers sought or received approval to participate in the interview in an official capacity or in uniform. The overall circumstances of the interviews emphasized the speakers' military status and affiliation and implied they were acting within the scope of their official positions as DoD spokespersons. Based on these circumstances, we concluded the officers violated JER [Joint Ethics Regulation] Sections 2635.702(b), "Appearance of governmental sanction," and 3-300.a. on personal participation in non-Federal entities; DoD Directive (DoDD) 1334.1, "Wearing of the Uniform"; and Army and Air Force uniform standards.

Griffin also reported that "Benson and his lawyer say his participation in the video should be protected under the Constitution's Establishment and Free Exercise clause," twice quoting Benson's lawyer, Robert Ash, senior litigation counsel at the American Center for Law & Justice, on this point, who argued that "[t]he First Amendment doesn't stop when somebody puts on the uniform" and later, stated that "I think it's ironic in this case that men and women who put on the uniform to defend our rights to free exercise, to free speech, and everything else, now are having the tables turned on them and being denied that same right themselves."

In fact, the IG's report explicitly distinguished between the constitutionally protected right to practice religion and the activities that the officers were involved in:

[Air Force] Maj Gen [John J.] Catton [director of requirements, Air Combat Command] also contended that he wore his uniform for other religious observances, of which this was impliedly one. We acknowledge the appropriateness of military members wearing their uniforms to religious observances; however, we highlight that the Christian Embassy interviews and resultant video were not religious observances or services. Participating in a religious observance or service wherein one professes his religious beliefs is fundamentally different from participating in a videotaped interview in which one comments favorably about a non-Federal entity. A promotional video for a non-Federal entity is not a religious observance and has no related Constitutional dimension. The fact that Christian Embassy is religiously affiliated confers no special standing or protection to personnel who choose to endorse it. Likewise, we do not agree that a finding that Maj Gen Catton violated the JER under the circumstances of this case has any potential to adversely affect service members' Constitutional rights, to include their free exercise of religion.

While discussing other filming activities at the Pentagon, the report later stated that "other religious events were filmed at the Pentagon" and that "[a]lthough some videos contained footage of military members in uniform participating in religious observances, none of the films contained footage of military members speaking on behalf of a private non-Federal organization as in the Christian Embassy video."

From the August 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

JIM ANGLE (guest anchor and Fox News chief Washington correspondent): Seven current or former U.S. military officers have been found in violation of ethics rules for appearing in uniform in a promotional video for a Christian evangelical group. The Defense Department inspector -- inspector general, rather, says the video created a misleading impression that the Pentagon endorsed the group. National security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reports.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Through Bible studies, discipleship, prayer breakfasts, and outreach events, Christian Embassy is mustering these men and women into an intentional relationship with Jesus Christ.

GRIFFIN: This is the video that landed seven U.S. military officers in hot water for appearing in uniform while espousing their faith in Jesus and violating a government ethics regulation regarding the endorsement of a nongovernmental organization.

The Pentagon inspector general concluded, quote, "Military officers who appeared in a promotional video for Christian Embassy improperly endorsed and participated with a non-federal entity while in uniform."

The Christian Embassy has organized voluntary Christian fellowship prayer meetings inside the Pentagon since 1978, leading many of the video's participants to believe that it was, in fact, sanctioned by the Pentagon.

BENSON: We are in a worldwide war on terrorism. What more do we need than Christian people leading us?

GRIFFIN: Pentagon Chaplain Ralph Benson arranged the video shoot for the Christian Embassy. The inspector general now says he should be punished. Benson and his lawyer say his participation in the video should be protected under the Constitution's Establishment and Free Exercise clause.

ASH: The First Amendment doesn't stop when somebody puts on the uniform. In this case, this was a private film aimed at a private audience, and it was just thanking a ministry that has been performing marvelously at their own expense, assisting the chaplains for 25 years.

BRIG. GEN. VINCE BROOKS: Christian Embassy really gives us a tremendous opportunity here in the Pentagon.

GRIFFIN: It was the participation of Brigadier General Vince Brooks, the former head of Army public affairs, and other uniformed officers, that motivated Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran of 10 years, who founded, to file a complaint.

WEINSTEIN: You put on the U.S. military uniform -- as a couple of Air Force academy professors have recently stated, there is only one religion and that religious faith is called patriotism.

GRIFFIN: Weinstein's group says it wants to re-establish the division between church and state in the corridors of the Pentagon. He derogatively refers to the Pentagon as the Pentacostle-gon. So, when can an officer espouse his faith in God in uniform?

WEINSTEIN: You can pray as much as you want to, but you can't force it on a helpless subordinate, because, in the U.S. military today, if you're being even gently evangelized by your military superior, "Get out of my damn face, sir or ma'am," is not an option for you.

ASH: I think it's ironic in this case that men and women who put on the uniform to defend our rights to free exercise, to free speech, and everything else, now are having the tables turned on them and being denied that same right themselves.

[end video clip]

GRIFFIN: The officers whom I've spoken to who were mentioned in the report say that they didn't know that the video was not authorized. They thought they had permission because the request came through the Chaplain's office and the Christian Embassy has been operating in the Pentagon for so many years -- Jim.

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