WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee says the recent nude photo-sharing scandal in the Marine Corps is just one part of a widespread cultural problem through the military that needs immediate attention.
"Certainly, sexism is part of it," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., during an interview on C-Span's Newsmakers on Sunday morning. "But we have had several instances of hazing going too far, leading to deaths in the military. I think there is a cultural problem of abuse within the military that needs to be confronted.
"This isn't just a few bad actors. It's a broader problem than that."
The comments come as Defense Department officials are working to determine just how widespread the problem of nude photo-sharing is within the military, and what possible discipline service members may face for the practice.
Earlier this month, an investigative piece on The War Horse showed evidence that one prominent community of Marines and veterans online were sharing pictures of current and former women Marines, in some cases without their consent or knowledge.
Since that forum was shut down, copycat sites have emerged, and officials from the other services have acknowledged they are investigating similar sites and practices in their own ranks. Marine Corps officials have identified hundreds of active-duty troops and reservists involved in the potentially criminal behavior.
Numerous Democrats have noted these problems date back several years and have blasted military leaders for failing to take any real action to correct the problem.
"This cultural rot which has clearly regressed even more since 2013 harms our troops and our readiness," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said in a committee hearing March 21. "It is abundantly clear that this is not a few bad actors, but rather a cancer that has continued to spread and thrive in both the enlisted ranks and the officer corps."
A week earlier, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., lamented that the problems only caught leadership's attention because of the public outcry.
"There's a fundamental flaw in oversight, in terms of good order and discipline and conduct unbecoming, if we are not ferreting out this kind of ugly, ugly representation of the Marine egos, without journalists having to do it," she said.
Smith and other Democrats on his committee have pushed for a public hearing on the broader cultural problems, but so far have been rebuffed by Republican panel leaders. The committee did host a hearing on social media use by troops and is planning a May hearing on sexual assault and harassment in the ranks.
But Smith said a larger approach is needed "to discuss this issue … and to figure out a plan for how (service leaders) will begin to change the process of changing the culture."
The committee has held hearings on military hazing in recent years and included anti-hazing language in its annual defense authorization bill.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.