Navy SEALS are the best trained military men on the planet — in every skill except giving media interviews.
|Dave Cooper – Navy SEAL Foundation|
The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported on Friday that Dave Cooper, president of the Navy SEAL Foundation, has been placed on administrative leave following a recent interview mishap.
Cooper is a highly-decorated former SEAL who retired last year and had been leading the non-profit foundation that assists Navy SEALS and their families for only one month.
According to the Virginian-Pilot, Cooper is under fire because of an interview he gave to U.S. News and World Report in which he was questioned about his former outfit the Navy Special Warfare Development Group (aka DEVGRU) and popularly known as “SEAL Team Six.”
The U.S. News article quotes Cooper saying some cheeky things about his fellow SEALS, e.g. that they have “a tendency to break the rules and a healthy disrespect for authority” and he appears to endorse a book by fellow-former SEAL Matt Bissonnnette. The article suggests that he thinks while the book “spilled classified information with dangerous effects” at least the authors “beat out other senior officers from spilling the same story without the same accuracy.” We note that those phrases are the article author’s, however, and not quotes from Cooper.
Apparently some people were unhappy enough with Cooper to put him on administrative leave (although the Foundation declined to comment about personnel matters.) But Cooper confirmed that he was on ice in an e-mail exchange with the Virginian-Pilot. In explaining himself he makes the following assertions:
* The article is a “gross misrepresentation of what (he) said”
* The article was supposed to focus on the Navy SEAL Foundation (which is barely mentioned in the piece)
* He was told he would have an opportunity to review and approve his quotes before publication (which did not happen)
As a result, Cooper says he spoke “casually and perhaps carelessly” and at times “in jest.”
He says that some of the comments attributed to him were not made by him at all but says that his actual comments were “simply too glib, perhaps even too arrogant.”
U.S. News & World Report says its story was “accurately reported” adding that they “have no further comment.”
There are dozens of lessons to be learned from this incident. Here are a few:
* Cooper needed more training before facing live fire from a reporter. It is understandable how someone who has distinguished himself in battle would be fearless about simply chatting up a reporter (Cooper reportedly holds the Silver Star, six Bronze Stars and a chest full of other medals) — but this is a new world for him with real (albeit bureaucratic) dangers.
* The SEAL Foundation needed a better prepared public relations person to assist Cooper. A pro could have told him that a national news organization is going to be much more interested in Cooper’s past job than in his present one running a non-profit. His expectations should have been more realistic. A pro would have told him not to allow himself to speak casually and carelessly — and would have called a time out for some course correction if Cooper veered off message. An experienced hand would have known that it was most unlikely for a reporter to offer to clear quotes in advance – if there was such an offer — he should have gotten it in writing. And a pro would have recorded the session so that if Cooper were badly taken out of context they would have been able to prove it.
* U.S. News could learn a few lessons too. We think it is unseemly for a news organization to flatly state that “we will have no further comment” on anything. We suspect they don’t want to get into a fight (of any kind) with Cooper — and would like the issue to go away. But “no further comment” sounds mighty defensive.
It should be stressed that even the worst reading of Cooper’s comments make them pretty mild stuff. Compared to the mis-steps of people much more accustomed to dealing with the press — his remarks strike us as well below anything which would merit him losing his job. The country and the Navy SEAL Foundation need men like Cooper and we are sure he will have absorbed the lessons of his encounter with the media. The retired Master Chief could certainly master the skill of doing media interviews — he just needs a little more training and some patience from his bosses.