Originally created 04/01/97

Spokesman criticized for show comments



CHARLESTON, S.C. - Citadel spokesman Terry Leedom is under fire from some of the military school's graduates after his comments on the 60 Minutes television show about the hazing of two female cadets. His defenders say he did well handling a tough situation.

The March 23 broadcast was about the hazing of former cadets Jeanie Mentavlos and Kim Messer.

The women, two of the college's four female cadets, quit school following allegations that, among other things, their clothes were set afire by male cadets.

During the interview, Mr. Leedom said the women ate popcorn in the dorm room of Ms. Mentavlos' brother Michael, who also was a cadet, after hours.

"You are going to equate eating popcorn to setting a girl's sweat shirt on fire?" CBS reporter Ed Bradley asked. "You are going to sit here and tell me that is the same thing?"

As Mr. Leedom tried to explain, Mr. Bradley cut him off. "Excuse me," Mr. Bradley snapped. "Are you serious?"

Critics say the exchange hurt the school, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reported Monday.

"It was just miserable," said Bob Knight, a Citadel graduate and Columbia public relations executive. "I cannot imagine how the 60 Minutes interview could have been worse."

Mr. Leedom called it the most frustrating experience of his career.

"Bradley reacted as a juvenile, screaming and yelling at me," Mr. Leedom said. The interview allowed the school "to keep some unsubstantiated allegations off the air. We knew we would pay a price in embarrassment."

Some Leedom supporters say his tough on-air persona may be hurting the school, the newspaper reported.

"He's always been very lucid and helpful with me," said Henry Woods, a Rock Hill lawyer and 1967 graduate. "But then I'll see him on TV, and he'll make some comment that's so out of place and so off the point."

Jimmy Jones, chairman of the college's governing board, is quick to defend Mr. Leedom and says he has done a good job in tough circumstances.

"Certainly there are some things I'm sure he wishes he hadn't said. And certainly there are some things I wish he hadn't said," Mr. Jones said.

The Citadel began to admit women last June after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a similar case involving Virginia Military Institute, ruled that single-gender policies at public schools are unconstitutional.

"You have to know that I wanted assimilation (of the women) to work smoothly. I wanted it to go perfectly," Mr. Leedom said. "It broke my heart when these allegations came out."

But Ms. Mentavlos' attorney Tim Kulp is skeptical.

"He claims to be devoted to the truth," Mr. Kulp said earlier this year. "The truth is he's only interested in protecting The Citadel."

Mr. Jones said that is Mr. Leedom's job.

"We have a press problem because of what some people think we represent, but we have to have a public face," Mr. Jones said. "So Terry, our public face, becomes our sacrificial lamb."