During the February 24 edition of Fox News Watch, Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton claimed that the reason it took the media so long to report on deteriorating conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was because "the media typically come at the Bush administration from the left" by criticizing the Iraq war. "The idea of going after the administration from the right as it were," Pinkerton continued, "that we're not supporting the troops enough, not [providing] body armor enough, not [protecting] Humvees enough, not helping at Walter Reed enough -- that is an angle that most reporters don't naturally think of when they're waking up" because "they come from a different ideological perspective."
Pinkerton was referring to a Washington Post investigative report by staff writers Dana Priest and Anne Hull, which ran on February 18 and 19, that exposed problems experienced by soldiers at Walter Reed once they were no longer inpatients at the hospital, including the substandard conditions at the facility's Building 18, which "housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." "The entire building," according to Priest and Hull, "often smells like greasy carry-out," and "[s]igns of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses." The report also discussed the bureaucratic complications plaguing outpatients at the facility.
In his remarks, Pinkerton suggested that the media operate from a liberal "ideological perspective" and therefore do not think of criticizing the president from "the right," which Pinkerton argued would consist of critiques based on "supporting the troops enough," providing "body armor enough," providing "Humvees enough" and "helping at Walter Reed enough." In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, Democrats have consistently supported legislation to provide more body armor for U.S. troops in Iraq. For instance, on March 20, 2003, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced legislation which would have provided funding to correct what she described as the "underfunding [of] our Guard and Reserve" and "the lack of equipment, the lack of money in this budget to fund their current operations." She added, "For too long, the Guard and Reserve have received hand-me-downs from the Active component. ... Let's give them their rifles, their helmets, and their tactical equipment so we can, as we know we will, win this war." In a March 26, 2003, press release, Landrieu further explained that the bill "targets shortfalls identified by the National Guard and Reserve in their Unfunded Requirement lists," including the "shortage of helmets, tents, bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests." On April 2, 2003, Senate Republicans unanimously voted to table (or kill) Landrieu's amendment to the fiscal year 2003 supplemental appropriations bill for the Iraq war. The amendment was tabled by a vote of 52-47.
Additionally, on October 2, 2003, Senate Republicans voted against a Democratic amendment to the $87 billion Iraq-war funding emergency supplemental bill to increase the amount of funding devoted to body armor and battlefield clearance to ensure that both needs were met. The amendment, proposed by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), would have added $322 million to the $300 million the Senate Appropriations Committee had already attached to an underlying bill for small arms protection inserts (SAPI) body armor and "the clearance of weapons and mines still lingering on Iraqi battlefields." Dodd repeatedly made clear in his October 2, 2003, floor statement that his intent in offering the amendment was to make certain that U.S. forces in Iraq were provided adequate body armor, which he described as a "top priorit[y]." No Republican voted against tabling Dodd's amendment.
Also, Democrats have consistently supported funding to provide for "up-armored" military's combat Humvees. For instance, in 2005, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) proposed an amendment "[t]o appropriate an additional $213,000,000 for ... the procurement of Up-Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (UAHMMWVs)." Bayh's amendment passed 61-39 (38 of the senators who voted against the funding were Republicans).
Following the Post's reporting on Walter Reed, Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) announced their intention to introduce legislation that, according to a McCaskill press release, would:
-Simplify the paperwork process for recovering soldiers;
-Improve the ratio of caseworkers to recovering soldiers;
-Increase the training of caseworkers;
-Require more frequent IG inspections of hospital facilities and standards of care;
-Establish timelines and benchmarks for repairs to substandard facilities;
-Provide recovering soldiers with psychological counseling; and
-Require regular reporting to Congress on: the total number of recovering soldiers at military hospitals; the number of caseworkers; the average waiting time for treatment; and the number of suicide attempts, accidental deaths or drug overdoses.
Additionally, Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Patty Murray (D-WA), according to a February 20 press release, "wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urging him to launch an Inspector General's investigation of the deplorable living conditions facing returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at the Army's flagship military hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C."
Further, contrary to Pinkerton's suggestion, the Post has previously reported on the lack of sufficient body armor and up-armored Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. For instance, a December 5, 2006, Post article, titled "U.S. Army Battling to Save Equipment," discussed how "[t]he depletion of major equipment such as tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and especially helicopters and armored Humvees has left many military units in the United States without adequate training gear," which caused "many U.S. units" to be "rated 'unready' to deploy." A June 18, 2006, Post report discussed the story of Pfc. John Hart and how "[t]he world's most powerful military failed to provide the armor that would have saved scores of American lives." Also, a September 30, 2003, Post article reported that "Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) will try to add $300 million on top of the president's $177 million request for additional heavily armored Humvees and $409 million to enlarge the Army by 10,000 troops."
From the February 24 edition of Fox News Watch:
CAL THOMAS (syndicated columnist): Well, indeed it is. But let me say this about The Washington Post. The Post has had several articles, front page and in its metro local section, about all of the good work happening at Walter Reed hospital, about the volunteers, various holiday parties held there. They have had reporters in Walter Reed over and over again.
My question is: Why didn't they find this out earlier, especially after what [MSNBC's Don] Imus had done? But also, why didn't a single veteran or wounded soldier speak up about this, and say to a reporter --
NEAL GABLER (media writer): They did. They did.
JANE HALL (American University professor): They said that they had tried.
THOMAS: To The Washington Post?
HALL: They said that they had tried.
GABLER: They've tried, again and again and again. If you saw them interviewed, there were two of them on the [PBS'] NewsHour on Thursday night. They talked about how they had protested with no -- to no avail.
THOMAS: To The Washington Post?
GABLER: Now, I'm going to answer your original question, with obviously, sheer speculation. Why didn't the media pick up on this story? And I'll tell you why, I believe. It's one thing to criticize administration policy. It's another thing to go right at the administration and say, " 'Support our troops, support our troops, support our troops' is a slogan and a lie."
The media were afraid. They were gun-shy. And this is only one part of a much a larger story, and the way in which this administration does not support our troops. Humvee armor, extended tours of duty.
ERIC BURNS (host): You're making a point here about the administration.
GABLER: No, no, no, I'm not making a point about the administration.
BURNS: You just said the administration does this, does that.
GABLER: I am making a point about the media. The media is afraid --
GABLER: -- of taking on the administration on this very, very sensitive issue --
BURNS: But wait a minute.
GABLER: -- of how you treat the troops.
BURNS: But wait a minute, they did it now. How did they get rid of their fear so suddenly?
PINKERTON: I think the issue is this. I think -- I'm not sure it's so much the media are afraid. It's that the media typically come at the Bush administration from the left. They say the Iraq war is a terrible idea. The idea of going after the administration from the right, as it were, that we're not supporting the troops enough, not body armor enough, not Humvees enough, not helping at Walter Reed enough -- that is an angle that most reporters don't naturally think of when they're waking up.
GABLER: Because it's dangerous, Jim. It's much more dangerous.
PINKERTON: Because they come from a different ideological perspective.
HALL: I think Jim is right. I don't think they come from an ideological perspective. I mean, [Washington Post reporter] Dana Priest was severely criticized for winning the Pulitzer for the secret-prisons story.
And I agree with Jim. It's somewhat counterintuitive. I think they should get praise for doing it now and spending four months doing it.