“Team – this will be my last email to you. Due to the distractions caused by the unfounded AP article last week, I am stepping down as President of YOUR college effective immediately.”
Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley pushed the button on that all-staff missive Monday after the Navy announced it was reassigning him in the wake of exclusive reporting by Jennifer McDermott and Michelle R. Smith – reporting that produced two APNewsBreaks in 72 hours.
From 2016 until this week, Harley was the head of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, an elite school that grooms future admirals and generals. He was unconventional and quirky, and it was his odd campus-wide emails – forwarded independently to McDermott and Smith by concerned college employees – that first got the AP Providence team’s attention. In the emails, Harley invited people to his office for a game of Twister, offered free hugs and boasted he had a portrait of himself painted on velvet.
“ ... Due to the distractions caused by the unfounded AP article last week, I am stepping down as President ... ”
— Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, president of the U.S. Naval War College
But there was more to the story, and they dug deeper after the staffers who shared the emails also spoke of financial problems and poor morale at the college, eventually obtaining documents that showed the prestigious school struggled to make payroll under Harley's leadership and spent about $725,000 annually on raises while facing an annual shortfall of $5 million or more.
Their first NewsBreak moved Friday, confirming the military was investigating allegations that Harley spent excessively, abused his hiring authority and otherwise behaved inappropriately, including keeping a margarita machine in his office. The story could not be matched and was widely and prominently played by members, including the hometown Providence Journal and The Boston Globe. Within hours of that first report, a college staffer who hadn’t previously spoken to McDermott or Smith reached out to credit them with forcing the Navy to confront the issues, writing: “You have accomplished what we have not been able to.”
Three days later, the AP team was first again with word that the Navy was removing Harley from his post pending the outcome of its probe. That story, too, gained huge traction with customers and on social media, where the Military Times pointed to the “powerful AP reporting” that led to the admiral’s fall. The college, meanwhile, hosted Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top admiral, who said he felt there was “enough actionable information” to reassign Harley. He called the AP report “responsible and balanced.”
AP’s reporting was “responsible and balanced.”
Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations
For dogged and diligent reporting that exposed questionable leadership at the heart of the Navy’s brain trust, McDermott and Smith win this week’s Best of the States prize.