When Fox News Shrugged Over A Veterans Care Scandal (Hint: Bush Was President)
Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT
The Obama outrage engines are revving up at Fox News and across the conservative media landscape as conservatives shift, temporarily at least, from Obamacare and Benghazi and set their sights on the unfolding scandal involving backlog waiting lists at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. The serious allegations that dozens of veterans died while awaiting treatment from Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and that VA managers there created a secret waiting list to hide how long men and women had to wait to see a doctor, sparked a resignation and Congressional hearings.
The Fox condemnations have been especially loud, and sweeping. And yes, they've been mostly directed at the president.
"If only Barack Obama's team treated our veterans as well as they treat the mega-donors to the Democrat [sic] party," lamented Laura Ingraham on Fox & Friends. For days, a parade of Fox talkers have condemned Obama for the story. One even accused the administration of "criminally negligent homicide."
The heated right-wing response stands in stark contrast to the muted coverage Fox News provided for the last major controversy involving failed medical care for returning soldiers. In February 2007, the Washington Post, following up on original reporting done by Salon, exposed shockingly poor conditions inside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Those revelations also sparked resignations and Congressional hearings.
But back then, of course, George W. Bush was president and back then Fox News wasn't as interested in the story. (It took Bill O'Reilly six weeks following the publication of the first Post expose to conclude that the Bush administration had badly bungled care at Walter Reed.) And Fox worried journalists were paying too much attention to the scandal.
Numbers highlight the striking disparity in coverage.
Over a six-week period during early 2007, as the Walter Reed story continued to generate headlines, Fox aired a total of 28 reports and discussions on the topic, according to a search of programs archived by Nexis. By contrast, in just the last seven days Fox has aired more than 30 segments on the VA story. (According to TVEyes.com, "VA" was mentioned more than 250 times on Fox between May 14-20; 100 more mentions than on CNN and MSNBC.)
In 2007, key talkers such as Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer were all amazingly silent on Fox, for weeks at a time, about the wounded soldiers scandal. During that time, Hannity failed on camera to condemn the deplorable Army hospital environment, or hold the administration accountable. The same lack of interest was shared by Krauthammer: Not once did he discuss Walter Reed on the air during his more than one dozen primetime Fox News appearances in the months of February and March in 2007.
"At some point, you've gotta ask, 'Where has he been, and where is the competence, the elementary competence, he promised when he ran in 2008?'"
Betraying our Veterans: A new whistleblower blames VA department for vet suicides next #Hannity
-- Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 20, 2014
Meanwhile, in 2007 Think Progress noted that on March 2, as the veterans scandal escalated, and one day after the secretary of the Army resigned, the story was of little interest at Fox. That day, Fox mentioned "Anna Nicole Smith," who had generated tabloid headlines when she died three weeks earlier, 121 times. But "Walter Reed" was referenced just ten times on March 2, 2007. By contrast, MSNBC and CNN mentioned the hospital 84 and 53 times on that day, respectively.
While Fox shied away from the Walter Reed story seven years, it simultaneously wondered if the rest of the news media were paying too much attention to the scandal. During a March 10, 2007 discussion on Fox News Watch, host E.D. Hill noted, "The media first brought the scandal to light. But now, are they also in danger of overdoing it?" She later pressed a guest: "Is all of this just slightly overdone?"
Note that the disturbing Walter Reed story has been unraveling for years. Steve Robinson, director of Veterans Affairs at Veterans for America, had told Salon, "What we are talking about is a systemic problem where soldiers are left unattended in the barracks. They are sharing medications. They are drinking like alcoholics," and waiting for treatment.
Indeed, Salon's Mark Benjamin spent years prior to 2007 diligently detailing the troubling and widespread shortcomings for military members who returned to Walter Reed from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fox's look-away coverage from Walter Reed mirrored how the conservative press ignored the growing veterans scandal for years. "If the right-wing media had broadcast the story, hidden in plain sight," Steve Young wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "the right's water-carriers could have helped avert years of misery for many of our veterans."
More from Young, a U.S. veteran, in March 2007:
But you heard nary a peep of indignation from O'Reilly against the Republican Congress, which, for the last six years, not only stood by and allowed Walter Reed to happen but actually conspired in the abomination.
The one constant in the VA and Walter Reed coverage from Fox has been that in both instances, pundits erroneously suggested the deep flaws in veterans care represented the failings of "government-run" health care. That knee-jerk partisan response was widespread within the conservative media in 2007.
From Rush Limbaugh:
If you want government-run health care, if you want to see what it's going to be like, take a look at the mess that supposedly exists at Walter Reed and some of these other hospitals. It's classic.
What's "classic" is how Fox and friends determine their level of outrage about failed military care based on who occupies the White House.
*This post has been updated.