Investigation into the Fort Hood massacre raises a troubling question: Why did initial accounts make Sgt. Kimberly Munley sound like the hero of the day, and downplay the role of her partner, Senior Sgt. Mark Todd?
Todd and Munley appeared together on Oprah yesterday and on the Today show this morning (clip above), and both made clear that Sgt. Todd was the one who disarmed shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan after Sgt. Munley was injured. An eyewitness who spoke with the New York Times concurred with their account. The Times's James McKinley Jr. explains,
The witness, who asked not to be identified, said Major Hasan wheeled on Sergeant Munley as she rounded the corner of a building and shot her, putting her on the ground. Then Major Hasan turned his back on her and started putting another magazine into his semiautomatic pistol.
It was at that moment that Senior Sgt. Mark Todd, a veteran police officer, rounded another corner of the building, found Major Hasan fumbling with his weapon and shot him.
But initial reports said that Munley's shots had stopped Hasan, and some news outlets were continuing to report this version of the story as recently as yesterday. Ewan McAskill of the Guardian wrote,
Although there is still some confusion about which shots brought down the alleged gunman, officials have attributed the bullets that brought him down to Munley.
The commander of the base, Lieutenant-General Bob Cone, said of Munley: "It was an amazing and an aggressive performance by this police officer."
Note the singular "officer." Cone also told CNN that Munley was the one who stopped Hasan, and that "the critical factor here was her quick response to the situation." Initially, the military appeared to be holding up Munley as the sole hero of Ft. Hood, a story which gained enough media credence that Gawker used it to argue that more women should be in combat positions (they've since published an update).
If the military actually knows whose gun brought Hasan down, they aren't talking — Lt. Col. John Rossi said at a press conference, "These questions are specific to the investigation and I am not going to address that." And when asked whether Sgt. Todd was the one who stopped Hasan, Lt. Col. Lee Packnett said, "It could have been, but the final outcome will be determined by the results of the ballistics tests." So if military sources are so reticent now, why were they so quick to hold up Munley as a heroine.
One possibility is that the initial version of the story is, as Gawker's Ravi Somaiya puts it, an "Oprah-friendly narrative." Munley is the mother of a young daughter who once stopped an intruder in her home, and this "petite police officer" may have seemed to both military and media like a compelling hero. Curry too harps on Munley's small size, saying, "you're 5'2", 125 pounds, why didn't you call for backup?" It's possible that officers and reporters reeling from the violence at Ft. Hood simply settled on the cliche of the feisty little woman who saved the day. A more upsetting possibility is that Munley was given more credit and media attention because she is white and Todd is black. I would hope this isn't the case — Munley described the scene as "confusing and chaotic," and it's certainly possible that Cone and others were simply mixed up as to who did what. But because of this mix-up, as Somaiya points out, conspiracy theories are bound to fly.