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WAMU Airs Audio of VA Incident

By Ed O'Keefe

Washington public radio station WAMU this morning aired audio of an exchange that took place last Tuesday night between one of its reporters and a VA Hospital public affairs officer that resulted in the confiscation of the reporter's recording equipment.

Officials from Washington's VA Medical Center on Friday returned the audio flash drive they had taken from WAMU reporter David Schultz, claiming he neither properly identified himself nor obtained the consent forms necessary before speaking with Army veteran Tommie Canady a VA advisory committee meeting.

The VA begins an internal "top to bottom" investigation of the incident today to see "what lessons can be learned from the experience," according to VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts.

Listen to Schultz's full report here and read the exchange after the jump.

Schultz starts his report by stating that he invited Canady out into the hallway to further discuss his situation.

Canady speaking to Schultz: "I'd really like to tell you the whole story. It really makes the whole thing."

Schultz: "I don't mind at all."

Canady told Schultz that he was forced out of the Army "by a racist captain" and was homeless for three years.

At this point, public affairs officer Gloria Hairston approaches Schultz and Canady:

Hairston: "I can't allow you to use this. I can't."

Schultz: "I'm going to use this. I mean he's he's..."

Hairston speaking to Canady: "OK you can't talk anymore. I can't do it sir. You can't do it."

Schultz speaking to Canady: "You have a right to talk if you want to talk."

Canady speaking to Hairston: "Who are you? I'm just saying. I'm just, just tell me who you are."

Hairston: "I'm Gloria Hairston public affairs here at the medical center."

Canady: "Are you telling me I have to keep my mouth shut?"

Hairston: "No I didn't say that you have to keep your mouth shut. You don't have to keep your mouth shut."

Canady: "Well then why are you telling me I can't do this interview? You hear this guys? I can't do anything."

At this point, the audio recorder picks up the sound of Hairston walking away.

Canady: "No, I heard her you say she's gonna...[inaudible]... seize this tape. Well if she want it, I'm going to put it in my hand she'd better not try to seize it. And I mean it. Or else you're going to have to physically touch me and I don't think..."

Schultz: "Well let's calm down here..."

Schultz then reports that Canady continued to share his opinions on patient care at the District's VA medical center:

"They don't get the proper care they're supposed to by the nurses. I've spent months in here, some of these guys spend years in here. We know exactly what goes on in this hospital, and they hide it. It's time for it to come out to the public. This is sad."

Canady then alleges that hospital staffers are racist:

"These Black guys they can't get their benefits like the White guys. Count the numbers and you'll see what I mean. People come in here. Everyone one of them, they go through the same thing we do. Got a higher percentage than we do. And some of us don't even have a percentage and we file before they did. Doctors have given me 100 percent from California to Washington, D.C. and I still have not received my money. At last count it was almost $800,000 and these people have not paid me a penny."

At that point, Schultz reports, Hairston returns with security guards and asks for his equipment, promising to erase the audio on the flash card. Schultz eventually handed it over, but none of the audio was erased.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | April 13, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
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What's a little prior restraint between friends...?

Posted by: ews25 | April 13, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I know exactly what happened:

1) Petty bureaucrat Hairston, after seizing the recorder, was unable to figure out how to erase the interview.

2) She thought fr a moment or two about destroying the device but decided that would look bad.

3) She gave the recorder back without erasing the recorder.

Hooray for WAMU for letting us all know how ridiculous the VA staff was during this incident! Hopefully Hairston can find her next job at Faux News or the equivalent.

Posted by: JC505 | April 13, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse


The woman should be fired ! !

Posted by: swanieaz | April 13, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

This is not a huge surprise given the way Republican presidents and Congressmen have treated vets starting with Reagan vetoing every bill meant to help vets saying they were too expensive. Dan Quayle also voted against every bill meant to help vets. And the military wonders why they are not meeting recruiting targets unless they lower the bar to admit convicts, etc.

Posted by: chopin224 | April 13, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Schultz is a wimp for handing it over in the first place. A good reporter goes to jail to protect the First Amendment.

Posted by: jethro1 | April 13, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I may be mistaken, Jethro, but I thought that Schulz's editor at WAMU told him to surrender the flash card. Sometimes you have to pick your battles. I have a feeling that we haven't heard the end of this.

Posted by: ConstitutionalAnarchist | April 13, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I am very disappointed that any Washington Post reader thinks for a moment that the reporter was under any obligation whatsoever to turn over his audio recorder. He simply was not.

This is America. When some security goon walks up to me and says "Give me your property" or "erase those pictures", I'm going to tell them to pound sand. And the law is on my side.

Posted by: DupontJay | April 13, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

There are programs that can recover lost files from memory cards. My guess is WAMU has one of those programs, and it worked. Way to go public radio!

Posted by: ImIdaho | April 13, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

the public affairs official should have allowed the interview to continue. she also should have asked if she could witness the interview. either way, she then should have insisted that the reporter give her or another v.a. spokesperson the opportunity to affirm or refute the allegations made by the original source. as a former public affairs official for a government agency, i know that the news is what isn't working, not what it. thus, the original source would probably get more coverage in the piece than the v.a. it can be frustrating. however, that's the way it works. it is never good public policy for the government to try to surpress information.

Posted by: brigidquinn | April 14, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Doesnt surprise me one bit unfortunately. The VA in Salem, VA isnt much better having done clinical rotations there and seeing at times the ridiculous treatment or lack there of by staff. Heck they even treat LPNs like they are glorified Nursing Assistants not to mention Safety measures that should be in place arent when it comes to patient care. No telling how many vets have died or been injured through poor practices and of course you cant sue Uncle Sam for malpractice

Posted by: DJLPN6 | April 14, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

When I was a foreign correspondent, a government official once demanded my notes -- in China.

Posted by: mikeflagg53 | April 14, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I was there at the Townhall Meeting. The Veterans and Concerned Veterans were telling of their experiences with the DC VA and the VA Hospital and Staff. "The truth is - "The Truth Does Come Out In The Light." On April 24, 2009 at 1:30 at the Wilson Building, Washington DC more Veterans will assembly to have their say about the DC Office of Veterans Affairs and the Budget; will more truth come out then, that is when all Veterans should attend to tell how they feel about "Amercians Promise to Veterans That Have Served And Yet They Are Not Being Served."

Posted by: rpowell21 | April 15, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Relating positively to brigidquinn response. Reporting what's broken is a key part of the news role. Saving the agency's face is what staff info and PR people are paid to do. The news consumer is critical to the process, maybe most important, to make it work. Hopefully, the reporter pursuing the story was planning to get VA input. Balance/fairness not strictly required, but still an effective journalistic option to help the reader-listener-viewer measure the severity/urgency of the problem. The nature of the agency's response is important to the story. Acknowledging a complaint and looking into it with a problem-solving attitude is ideal, but other factors intrude: agency frustrations over budgeting and policy conflicts that prevent it from doing what's needed; bruised reputations over past exposes; concerns about patient privacy, building security, liability, etc., and, in some cases, arrogant denial of any injustices. Identifying the problem and sharing news of what needs attention, as well as helping individuals in crises, should be the focus here. Some First Amendment street theater may be necessary to dramatize resistance to reporting a story, but it should not be confused with the purpose of the mission.

Posted by: simondsj001 | April 16, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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