Recently CBS took a severe hit over its “60 Minutes (Wednesday)” story in which Dan Rather reported on President Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard and allegations that then Lieutenant Bush didn’t perform all the service required. It turned out that the documents that supported the story were very questionable. CBS has appointed a pair of highly regarded investigators to find out what went wrong.
It caught my eye not only because of the ongoing Presidential election campaign but because it brought to mind another 60 Minutes story of many years ago, involving the Mk 48 torpedo. I was OP 313 in the Submarine Warfare Division in 1969-1970, and had responsibility for Manpower, Training and Intelligence. There were several other tasks that went with the job that were not spelled out in the OPNA V organization manual. One was Public Affairs, and that brought me in contact with the specialists in the Chief of Naval Information Office. I was the Op-31 contact with CHINFO staff on any matters involving submarines and media stories.
One day a contemporary, Commander Don Ulmer, who handled weapons in the OP-312 branch, wandered by my desk and mentioned that he was going to be interviewed by Mike Wallace of60 Minutes fame in connection with an upcoming story on the development of the Mk. 48 torpedo. I blew up because I was tired of being blindsided on matters that were supposed to be run through me, and here someone was scheduling an OP-31 officer to appear on 60 Minutes and I was finding out about it rather accidentally. I marched over to see the OP-31 Deputy, Captain Buck Dietzen, and started the conversation by saying “God damn it, Captain … ”
It turned out that Buck didn’t know anything about it either, and he then blew up rather more dramatically as he was wont to do. I was sent to summon Ulmer to report to Buck, and had to tell Don that I had apparently inadvertently placed a delicate part of his anatomy “in the wringer”. Needless to say Don was told that he would not be interviewed by Wallace about the Mk. 48 torpedo.
Although OP-31 remained adamant that none of its personnel would participate in the 60 Minutes story, the Navy Department wound up sending an Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research and Development into the lions’ den. He was a very bright, capable man and I am sure that senior personnel in the Navy thought that he could hold his own. The Mk. 48 torpedo development program was coming under serious fire at the time because it was way over budget and quite delayed.
The story as presented on television was a minor disaster, not for 60 Minutes-but for the Navy. The taped interview between Mike Wallace and the ASN had taken quite a while and the tape was then carefully and selectively edited to show Mike Wallace to advantage and his victim as an idiot who could not adequately respond to Mike Wallace’s probing, thoughtful questions. The scene would repeatedly flash from Mike Wallace at his most thoughtful and accusatory posing a question, to his victim looking goofy and apparently unable to put two sentences together coherently.
OP-31 collectively was extremely happy that they had not participated. The Mk 48 torpedo went on to conclude a highly successful operational test and evaluation cycle, and became the world’s premiere anti-ship and antisubmarine torpedo.
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