By Theresa Braine
Friday, November 19, 2010
Investigative journalists with TV station KHOU-Houston started with a tip about Texas National Guard officers publicly degrading a lower-ranking woman. That led to a wider story of abuse that has earned numerous national awards.
(WOMENSENEWS) -- It started with the "Vagisil Award" in which a foam tiara decorated with military fatigue cloth and the label of an anti-itch vaginal ointment was placed on the head of a lower-ranking woman in the Texas Air National Guard.
The recipient was chosen because, her commanding officers said, "she whined and bitched about everything," according to a colleague who witnessed the ceremony at a leadership camp attended by top brass in the Texas Air National Guard.
Mark Greenblatt, an investigative reporter at KHOU-TV in Houston, heard about the crowning while working on another story involving the military.
It's the kind of tangential information that reporters often come across when they're following something else. Greenblatt thought it was worth checking out.
Over the next two years he would dig up a story that was not only about the abuse of women by top officers but also allegations of financial fraud.
Several officers were suspected of "double dipping,"or billing two government branches simultaneously by drawing state and federal salaries when they were supposed to clock out of one while working for the other.
Starting in 2008, Greenblatt and his investigative team--David Raziq, Keith Tomshe, Chris Henao, Robyn Hughes and Keith Connors--worked for more than a year and a half to produce several stories about a range of malfeasance among top officials of the Texas Air National Guard.
In June 2009 executive producer Raziq put the reports together to create a comprehensive hour-long special broadcast, "Under Fire: Discrimination and Corruption in the Texas National Guard,"which this year has swept up such major national journalism awards including the top medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors, the duPont and the Peabody.
The effects of their journalism continue.
The Texas Attorney General is suing two generals for unauthorized payments of $21,089.82 and $129,443.84. A third general has repaid a substantial sum.
While the civil suit wends its way through the courts, the head of the public integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney's Office in Texas has confirmed that a criminal investigation is also ongoing, KHOU said in an August 2010 story.
The original complaints of the women are still pending, but the officers in charge of that conduct have been dismissed and a new commander heads the Texas National Guard.
It's a lesson on following the story wherever it leads, Greenblatt said in a recent phone interview.
"A couple of years back we had found a pattern of problems where the U.S. Navy was actually protecting child molesters,"Greenblatt said. Some of his contacts on that story put him in touch with the mother of the roommate of the Vagisil Award recipient. The roommate's mother belonged to a three-generation military family and she felt the need to speak out.
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