"It's very hard for me to understand why they rejected him," said U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek. "I hate to play the race card. But as I play all these things in my mind, race keeps coming back to the surface. The Republicans don't want to see the Clinton administration get a star African American in the cabinet right before the election."
State Rep. Beryl Roberts-Burke of Miami, chairwoman of the Conference of Black State Legislators, agreed, telling the St. Petersburg Times: "I wonder if they would have gone into that detail [of criticism against Jones] if he had not been black?"
This past Sunday Miami Herald political editor Tom Fiedler appeared ready to nominate Jones for sainthood. Fiedler was openly awestruck that Jones showed no signs of being embittered or angry. He noted that "Jones had accumulated a handful of nitpicking critics who, in the poisoned partisan climate that Washington, D.C., has become, were given a forum by the GOP-dominated committee to trash their former wingmate."
Fiedler then treated his readers to this priceless exchange:
I asked: Aren't you outraged by the petty allegations?
"Not at all," he replied. "I know the truth about who I am."
And he seemed sincere, a man at peace. I'd invited him for a beer. He ordered cranberry juice. "I'm driving," he explained, ever the straight arrow.
Also this past Sunday Jones appeared on Channel 10's This Week in South Florida. Michael Putney, the program's host, asked Jones why he thinks the committee rejected him. "I've pondered over that for some time," he answered. "And I've wondered what we could have done different to make a difference and I'm not sure that there was anything we could have done to make a difference."
How about this: You could have told the truth.
The questions about Jones's character were neither trivial nor petty, and if anyone at the Herald had ever taken the time to scrutinize him, his demise would not have come as such a shock.
The Herald wanted to see only Jones's good side, and there is a great deal in his life that is admirable. But there are serious flaws as well, and the way he dealt with them cost him the job as Secretary of the Air Force. I'll dwell on just two: the end of his flying career and the Dade County bond deal.
The Herald has never bothered to reprint this key exchange from Jones's June 16 confirmation hearing, but I don't mind doing so -- for the second time:
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-Va.): And your statement to the committee was "I decided to relinquish the flying status." Is that correct?
JONES: That is correct.
WARNER: Now, prior to that decision, did any of your commanding officers or those who had responsibility to supervise you tell you that it was their decision that you were going to be relieved of flying status?
JONES: No, sir.
That was a lie. The moment Jones uttered those two words, his nomination was doomed. There were other problems with his testimony -- questions about whether he had tried to pressure enlisted men to buy Amway products, the number of hours he had actually flown, his unjustified receipt of flight pay -- but none of these would have resonated if it weren't for his lie when he answered Warner.
That response prompted the Armed Services Committee to hold an extraordinary nine-hour hearing July 16, in which Jones's former commanding officer, Col. Thomas Dyches, testified that Jones had misled the committee. Dyches made it perfectly clear he had indeed told Jones he was not going to allow him to fly any more because he had become a danger to himself and others. Jones could accept the decision, in which case Dyches would help him move into a job with the air force reserves, or he could fight it, in which case the matter would go to a review panel that could take his wings away permanently. Jack Connelly, a retired lieutenant colonel, also appeared before the senators and corroborated Dyches's version of events.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) tried to minimize the affair by saying it was a matter of semantics. He compared it to an employee who is given a chance to resign before being fired. Levin said when that employee applies for a job somewhere else, if he's asked, "Were you fired from your last job?" the employee can honestly answer "No."