Friday's World News on ABC mentioned the ongoing scandal surrounding the Veterans Administration only in passing, despite the fact their own chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, hounded Press Secretary Jay Carney at the regular White House press briefing on the issue. Meanwhile, they set aside two full segments totaling seven minutes and 54 seconds of air time to Barbara Walters' departure from The View.
Diane Sawyer gave a 30-second news brief to a new development in the scandal – about one-sixteenth the amount of time that she and her newscast spent on Walters: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]
DIANE SAWYER: And tonight, here at home, a new twist in the national outrage about those allegations that some veterans' hospitals delayed care, and covered up the consequences – and they have cost veterans their lives. Yesterday, the Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told a Senate committee he was – quote, 'mad as hell' about the allegations, but would not resign. Well today, the V.A. announced that the man who testified with him, Undersecretary Robert Petzel, has resigned – though they say he was already scheduled to retire this year.
By contrast, NBC Nightly News aired a two minute and 22 second report from correspondent Kelly O'Donnell zeroing in on the Phoenix center at the center of the scandal. CBS Evening News omitted the issue on their Friday broadcast.
Hours after he grilled Carney, Karl spotlighted, in an online report, how President Obama's nominee to replace Undersecretary Petzel, Dr. Jeffrey Murawsky, is the current "network director–effectively the CEO–of the VA region that includes the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago....That hospital...is under federal investigation for allegedly keeping secret lists to conceal how long veterans wait for health care."
The ABC correspondent pursued the White House press secretary on the scandal, after initially asking the White House press secretary about the ongoing political debate over illegal immigration (See video of the exchange below):
JON KARL: On the V.A., I've heard you and I've heard others at the White House talk about the V.A. as having a good record on dealing with the backlog of claims – and actually praising the V.A. on this issue. In light of the way this – as we learn more about problems not just in the Arizona office, but in – but in other parts of the country, are you still saying you think that the Veterans Administration has done a good job in dealing with the backlog of claims? Are you still going to say that?
JAY CARNEY: I appreciate the question, Jon, and I think it's important to know – and I tried to the other day when this came up – you're – you're conflating two separate things. The disability claims – the backlog in disability claims – is a specific problem and challenge that the V.A. and the White House and others in the administration have been aggressively attacking. And that is where you have seen a 50 percent reduction in the size of the back – backlog year over year – from this point to year ago. And that has been important progress.
And the – the size of that backlog increased significantly when this administration – because our veterans deserve it – made the decision that there would be a presumption of acceptance of a claim if you were a veteran claiming problems associated with exposure to Agent Orange – that's the first time that has ever been done. That's what this administration did. If you were a veteran of the first Gulf War and you felt that you were a victim of problems associated with exposure to – in that war – and if you were a victim of – if you were a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan and you experienced post-traumatic stress disorder – again, your claim would clear a hurtle automatically, under this process that we established in this administration, because we believe our veterans deserve it. That immediately increased the population of people who had disability claims, added to the backlog – and that backlog has been a focus of intense work and attention by the V.A. and the administration in general.
On the matter of the absolute requirement that our veterans get the health care and services that they deserve – and they do – they get that in a timely fashion – the revelations, or at least, the allegations that have emerged from the situation in Phoenix, I think, have been greeted, in terms of reaction, in the manner that Secretary Shinseki suggested yesterday – with a great deal of anger and frustration. And if they prove to be true, people will be held accountable.
But these are matters and other issues that have been discussed in the wake of those allegations that are properly under review, under the order of Secretary Shinseki; under investigation at the recommendation of Secretary Shinseki by the independent inspector general. And, as you know, the President and chief of staff here have responded to Secretary Shinseki's recommendation by sending one of the President's most trusted aides over to V.A. to help with that review – to work with Secretary Shinseki on that review.
So, I think that reflects the seriousness with which we approach this matter; our concern about some of the allegations that have been made. But I just wanted to make sure it was understood that there is – the disability claims issue is not the same issue that is being discussed when we talk about the allegations in Phoenix.
KARL: Part of the confusion is when you and others have been asked about the problems, in terms of veterans getting the health care that they need and deserve, you've answered with talking points on the disability claims backlogs. So, are you really – I mean, are you suggesting that this is a problem that is limited to the Phoenix office?
CARNEY: I think that there are – there is an active review and – as well as an investigation by the I.G. that will determine both the – what happened in Phoenix – and, I'm sure, what happened elsewhere if – if some of the other allegations that we've seen merit investigation.
What I've been saying is that under Secretary Shinseki's leadership, there has been a firm dedication to providing the kind of services that our veterans deserve. It's reflected in some of the decisions that were made to increase access to disability claims and to health care. We have, under his leadership, reduced veterans' homelessness by 24 percent; we've provided post-9/11 G.I. Bill educational benefits to more than one million students; and we have decreased the disability claims.
My point is, that when I talk about the progress that has been made, I have been referring to questions about Secretary Shinseki and his leadership of the Veterans Affairs department, and that progress has come on his watch, and he certainly deserves credit for it.
KARL: Do you think it is so strange that, given the evidence that we're seeing coming out and suggestions that veterans have actually died waiting to get the health services-
CARNEY: I think the word that you used is essential, because you said the suggestion. This matter is under investigation. I would point you to what the I.G. said yesterday-
KARL: But you are praising the V.A. for all the things that have done under his – you know, have been done under Shinseki's leadership. It just-
CARNEY: Let me – let me just explain – the way you just asked that question, you're saying there's a suggestion that something terrible happened in Phoenix, and that's under investigation. All we know it's a suggestion-
KARL: So, you don't think there's evidence that there's been a real problem in the quality of health care that our veterans are getting?
CARNEY: I think-
KARL: You don't think that this – we still need to study this further. You're not – you don't think there's enough to act on right now to say our veterans aren't getting the care that they need.
CARNEY: We are acting on the allegations and the suggestions that you suggested – that you pointed out – and I would point you to what the I.G. said yesterday about his ongoing investigation....