After ignoring a massive health care scandal at Barack Obama's Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), NBC finally offered substantial coverage on Wednesday night. But the network failed to make any mention of how this controversy would impact the President or his handling of health care. Nightly News anchor Brian Williams announced that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is "trying to fix this and hang on to his job."
Ongoing revelations have exposed the fact that as many as 40 veterans died after being placed on a secret list to hide delays. Reporter Jim Miklaszewski talked to Shinseki and pressed, "Are you willing, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to accept full responsibility?" He added, "But Shinseki indicated today he's going nowhere. They [veterans groups] want you to resign or be fired. Will you resign?" The only reference to Obama came when the Secretary noted that he "serves at the pleasure of the President." Miklaszewski never mentioned Obama.
Before Wednesday night, the only mention of this scandal on NBC came during a brief mention on Tuesday. On that day, Williams quickly recounted:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Tonight, the White House is standing by the secretary of veterans affairs, a veteran army warrior who`s under heavy fire. Three GOP senators and the American legion are calling for Eric Shinseki to step down after allegations that dozens may have died because of the delays in care at a VA hospital in Phoenix. And that the hospital kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide those delays. An investigation is underway. Press Secretary Jay Carney at the White House said President Clint-- President Obama, rather, remains confident in Shinseki`s leadership.
Prior to that, it was mostly CNN and Fox News that heavily investigated the story. (CBS This Morning offered a full report on Thursday morning.)
A transcript of the May 7 Nightly News segment is below:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: They have all volunteered for duty and served their nation with distinction. They have sacrificed and asked their families to do the same, domestically and overseas and when they come home to the thanks of a grateful nation, they have every right to expect that that grateful nation will take care of them. But as we learn more about an unfolding health care scandal in the Veterans Administration, it's now clear that's not happening in all cases and some of our vets have been ignored, neglected, under treated and mistreated with sometimes fatal consequences. Tonight, the man in charge of the VA, a former four-star general decorated combat veteran himself is trying to fix this and hang on to his job. Today, he sat down with our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski who he starts us off tonight.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Even for the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, it's a shocking scandal. As many as 40 veterans reportedly died while waiting for medical care at the VA hospital in Phoenix.
ERIC SHINSEKI: I am angry.
MIKLASZEWSKI: In a rare television interview, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told NBC News that he was surprised that the allegations but promised a full investigation. Are you willing, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to accept full responsibility?
SHINSEKI: I am. I have and that's the reason the IG is down there doing the investigation.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Hospital whistle-blowers claim in an effort to improve performance records, administrators ordered thousands of appointment requests be diverted to a secret unofficial list, not to be reported. If they died, their names would disappear. One veteran said it took 18 months of combating the system to get an appointment.
NOEL BENOIST (retired Army officer): You have to breakthrough or basically do a full frontal assault in order to get an appointment.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Veterans groups have exploded in outrage. The American Legion has demanded his resignation.
DAN DELLINGER (American Legion National Commander): These are just unacceptable things that have come about that led us to this decision.
MIKLASZEWSKI: But Shinseki indicated today he's going nowhere. They want you to resign or be fired. Will you resign?
SHINSEKI: I would say that I serve at the pleasure of the President.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq-Afganistan Veterans of America says the Veterans Administration lacks leadership, accountability and courage.
PAUL RIECKHOFF: The VA, unfortunately, is quickly becoming in this country and that is bad for VA, that's bad for veterans and that's bad for America.
MIKLASZEWSKI: It gets worse. As investigators closed in on the Phoenix VA hospital, one of its doctors, Kathleen Mitchell, claims hospital officials ordered the records destroyed.
KATHLEEN MITCHELL: It was data that was important for an investigation that had the significant potential of being altered.
MIKLASZEWSKI: And in fact, the scandal is spreading. New allegations of falsified records have cropped up at VA hospitals in Austin, San Antonio and Fort Collins, Colorado. One Vietnam veteran claims the VA lost it's humanity.
GABRIEL VASSO (Vietnam veteran): We are people. We bleed. We cry and we need these services and I don't want them to forget that.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Shinseki is a graduate of West Point. He was wounded in Vietnam and rose to the level of general, an Army chief of staff. Do you completely understand why there is that level of outrage right now?
SHINSEKI: Well, I think I do. I'm a veteran myself.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Reporters here at the Pentagon followed Shinseki for years, first as a general and then as VA secretary and it seems today that even Shinseki may realize that the initial responses from the VA to many of scandals will still not satisfy many of those veterans, Brian.