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'Whole thing is crazy': Some officials find Pentagon feud with Tucker Carlson 'undignified'

The controversy began when Carlson denounced the Pentagon’s new line of maternity flight suits for pilots.

Updated: March 16, 2021 - 9:13am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

As the feud between military leaders and Fox News host Tucker Carlson seemed briefly to pause on Monday, officials and public affairs spokespeople weighed in on the fracas, what it meant, and where it was headed. 

"The whole thing is crazy," one active duty Navy public affairs spokesperson said. "You'll get whiplash if you try to keep up. And still you won't know the latest." 

Among the unknowns is whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will order Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger to meet with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who on Sunday demanded a sit-down to discuss the Marine Corps' part in the Carlson controversy.

"As with all congressional correspondence, we respond directly to the person who wrote the letter," Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Just the News. The Pentagon had nothing else to say on that particular portion of the feud.

A Marine Corps spokesperson did not immediately know on Monday whether the meeting would take place.

The controversy began last week when Carlson appeared on his prime-time show to denounce the Pentagon’s new line of maternity flight suits for pilots. Carlson termed the effort "a mockery of the U.S. military," which he said is being feminized while the Chinese military is not. 

The feud escalated when Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, a retired rear admiral, wrote a blistering take-down of Carlson in an official article entitled, "Press Secretary Smites Host That Dissed Diversity in U.S. Military." In the article, which no longer appears on the main Pentagon press page, Kirby said that the Pentagon will not "take personnel advice from a talk show host or the Chinese military."

Since then, the pushback against Carlson has been "far beneath the dignity of the United States military," Cruz wrote in his March 14 letter to Austin. "The campaign has alternated between being ostentatiously childish and simply outrageous," he wrote.

"Multiple military leaders have tweeted video of themselves, while in uniform, as they attack Carlson, including the Command Senior Enlisted Leader of U.S. Space Command, the Sgt. Major of the Army, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, and the commanding officer of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Information Group (IG)," Cruz wrote. "Throughout this campaign, military leaders have suggested and insinuated that it is out of bounds for civilians to criticize the military unless they've served."

Carlson hit back with at least one well-aimed riposte.

"We were almost rattled" by the mass military comments, Carlson said Friday on his show. "Then we realized if the woke generals treat us like they've treated the Taliban, we'll be fine. Twenty years later, the Taliban are still here."

Current and former public affairs officers defended the hits against Carlson.

"How is defending the military and military women against attacks either political or partisan? It is neither,” tweeted retired Col. Dave Lapan, a former spokesman for the Marine Corps, the Pentagon, and the Department of Homeland Security. “If Carlson can’t handle criticism of his ill-informed and misogynistic opinions, maybe he should keep them to himself."

Others view the critiques both as unprofessional and unnecessary. 

"I have wracked my brain over the last couple days about ever speaking out against a journalist," the active duty Navy spokesperson said. "I never have, and I've never known any of my colleagues to do that. But Admiral Kirby clearly felt he was within his rights to say that."

A retired Army colonel echoed those views.

"I find it quizzical and disturbing that DOD feels free to speak out against reporters and civilians in general," said Tim Nye, who previously was spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command. "I don't think it's a practice we should be doing."

Cruz's letter asked that Austin impost a policy that prevents other military units from being  "similarly mobilized against the speech of American citizens or in the service of left wing political causes."

A spokesperson for Cruz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.