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VA's Shinseki Orders 'Top to Bottom' Review Following Incident With Radio Reporter

By Ed O'Keefe

The Department of Veterans Affairs tomorrow will begin a "top to bottom" review of last week's incident involving a WAMU radio reporter and staffers at the VA Hospital in Washington. Officials will investigate the actions taken by security guards and public affairs officer Gloria Hairston, who confiscated reporter David Schultz's flash card from his audio recorder during a town hall meeting at the hospital Tuesday night.

"We want to do a top to bottom review in order to learn what happened, why it happened, and what lessons can be learned from the experience," VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said in a statement Sunday. "We need to grow from this incident in order to determine how we can better provide media access while supporting the privacy of our Veterans."

VA officials contended that Schultz did not properly identify himself as a reporter when he showed up at the hospital Tuesday night. The department's Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans organized the meeting to hear comments about the medical care received by minority veterans. Schultz said he attended the meeting in the hospital's auditorium after learning about it from a VA press release.

Army veteran Tommie Canady told the committee that he had received poor treatment at Washington's VA hospital. Following his comments, Schultz invited Canady into the hallway for a recorded interview.

Moments into the interview, according to Schultz, Hairston approached them, telling Schultz that he could not interview Canady until they both signed consent forms. She summoned hospital security guards and demanded that Schultz hand over all his equipment. After calling WAMU news director Jim Asendio, Schultz gave Hairston his flash card and left the hospital.

WAMU later aired three reports about the incident and Canady's experiences at the hospital. Following similar reports by The Washington Post and other news outlets and two letters of protest from journalist rights groups, a VA official returned the flash card to Asendio Friday night.

"From day one [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki has made it a top priority to understand where within the department we can improve our processes, procedures and services," Roberts said in her statement. "We want to become an agile organization that is equipped to respond quickly and find solutions. We now have a unique opportunity to create the needed change to become an efficient organization built on the strength of corporate structure, accountability and transparency."


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By Ed O'Keefe  | April 12, 2009; 2:27 PM ET
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Comments

"VA officials contended that Schultz did not properly identify himself as a reporter when he showed up at the hospital Tuesday night."

Do I detect a slight bias, Ed? According to the report on WTOP, Asendio is a part time stringer and did not have either a press credential or business cards identifying him as a member of the press.

While there is no doubt that the VA overstepped here after they should have known Asendio was representing an accredited news organization, WAMU should not allow anyone to represent them without credentials. Carrying a camera or audio recorder doesn't make you a reporter any more than carrying a 9-iron makes you a PGA golfer.

Posted by: hisroc | April 12, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Nobody needs press credentials, permission, or an engraved invitation to talk to someone else in America. That is what the idea of 'free speech' means. The government can never under any conceivable circumstances have any legitimate interest in preventing people who want to talk to each other about lawful activities from doing so.

There are no conceivable circumstances under which the VA's actions were anything but an abridgment of the rights of free speech and free association.

There is no need for further review, and delay by 'reviewing' things is illegitimate. The ONLY appropriate course of action is for everyone concerned to be fired for cause on Monday morning.

What a sad day it is when out of control bureaucrats who are supposed to be taking care of the brave men and women who were injured and maimed protecting the rights of Americans to do simple things like talk to people without the need for permission, credentials or signed consent forms instead oppress them.

Posted by: andycutler | April 12, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

hisroc- So what if Shultz (Not Asendio) didn't have press identification?

Schultz was just talking to Canady with a tape recorder on. Who's a security officer to tell two people having a conversation in a hallway to knock it off? I suppose the recorder could be used secretly and that would be a no-no, but in this case, it was obvious to anyone what was going on. At most the guard might be able to say "You need to take this outside" and escort them to the door...or if they wanted to talk without the device, take the recorder ,(WITHOUT the flash card) returning it to Schultz as he leaves. At no point should the storage device be taken.

Posted by: JCritter | April 12, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

hisroc -- there's no such thing as a press credential.

Posted by: ChrisCombs | April 12, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

". Carrying a camera or audio recorder doesn't make you a reporter any more than carrying a 9-iron makes you a PGA golfer."

LOL right, because you have to go through Q-school to become a reporter.

Posted by: dubya19391 | April 12, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse


I spend 30 years as a medical reporter (Minneapolis Star Tribune). Except in special and unusual circumstances, I didn't carry special "credential." I simply identified myself and never lied about what I was doing. And yes, I came to Washington, D.C., to interview health officials and for other reporting.

Now I can see circumstances where a hospital might want to be sure that one of their patients knew they were being interviewed by the press. But why have the reporter sign anything? Lew Cope

Posted by: lcope | April 12, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Before overthinking this and making it bureaucratic endeavor, face it: Hairston acted completely unprofessionally--like a thug. She embarrassed the whole Department. She should be canned. I hope Eric S has the cojones to do the right thing--can her, Eric.

Posted by: axolotl | April 12, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Whoa, Nelly. This man went into a HOSPITAL and acted importantly like he was Bob Woodward investigating the Watergate Scandal. Its necessary to know the personalities involved before you condemn the person trying to keep order and know who was messing around with the patients there. Its the job of the person in charge to do exactly that---monitor the patients constantly, after all, that's why they are in the hospital. Also, I am suspicious of the "minority" excuse. We have a black president, a black attorney-general, and since the election nothing but an increased number of minority problems and people talking about their minority status and how it affects their lives. I thought the election was supposed to cure that. It seems to have made it worse.

Posted by: drzimmern | April 12, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

"From day one [VA] Secretary [Eric] "Shinseki has made it a top priority to understand where within the department we can improve our processes, procedures and services," Roberts said in her statement. "We want to become an agile organization that is equipped to respond quickly and find solutions. We now have a unique opportunity to create the needed change to become an efficient organization built on the strength of corporate structure, accountability and transparency."

What a complete load of crap. The person who put the department's statement together has been in D.C. too long.

Why is the department spokesperson unable to honestly admit that the VA employee who took the reporter's flash cards was wrong and will be provided further training on exactly where his or her authority begins and ends?

Posted by: ChrisBrown11 | April 12, 2009 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Reporter or not, a security guard never has the legal authority to "confiscate" ANY property from a member of the public.

I'm extremely disappointed that the WAMU reporter did not stand his ground against the groundless intimidation of the VA rent-a-cops.

If anyone ever attempts to "confiscate" your audio or video recording equipment without also arresting you, you can bet your bottom dollar they have zero authority to take your stuff. Know and use your rights, or lose them.

Posted by: DupontJay | April 13, 2009 6:51 AM | Report abuse

@ dubya19391

Excuse me, but the last I checked, we are NOT in a communist country, nor is our govt and workers under a communist rule! We are in a Republic WITH a constitution! For those that don't like, want or understand this, GET OUT NOW!

Shinsenki! FIRE all of them now for incompetency and mis-understanding the basic concepts of our constitution and amendment rights! The VA hospital is NOT a prison and it is run by tax payer funds. Until your workers understand that, CLEAN HOUSE!

Posted by: darmar40 | April 13, 2009 7:08 AM | Report abuse

From the facts presented in the article there are two issues:

1) the public affairs personnel of the Department of Veterans Affairs are not cognizant of what they can and cannot do when dealing with the media, and

2) the security personnel are not familiar with the protocols of maintaining security within the VA facilities

Both issues can be remedied through training and establishing standing operating procedures - if such training was not provided and the SOPs do not exist. If the answer is that training was provided and that SOPs do exist then the problem is organizational and leadership needs to asserted. General Shinsekei was correct in his approach. The final outcome will be based on the findings - not premature hysterical rantings for dismissals.

Posted by: condottiere18A50 | April 13, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

From the facts presented in the article there are two issues:

1) the public affairs personnel of the Department of Veterans Affairs are not cognizant of what they can and cannot do when dealing with the media, and

2) the security personnel are not familiar with the protocols of maintaining security within the VA facilities

Both issues can be remedied through training and establishing standing operating procedures - if such training was not provided and the SOPs do not exist. If the answer is that training was provided and that SOPs do exist then the problem is organizational and leadership needs to asserted. General Shinsekei was correct in his approach. The final outcome will be based on the findings - not premature hysterical rantings for dismissals.

Posted by: condottiere18A50 | April 13, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Bush and Cheney avoided war, sent men to fight an unnecesary and illegal war, then kept the war cost off the books, squashed all attempts to increase VA funding, smirked a laughed and lied all the way thru. VEteran care is abysmal, surgical equipment antiquated, mental health care horribly inadequate, even the food is an embarassment. Bush lied, many died. And they still are, in these Hospitals.

Posted by: JPSweet | April 13, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

This would appear to me to be a case of too many Bushies still pushing his policies and mindset. Control, control, control.

Posted by: pkbishop | April 13, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

the way i see it the veterans affairs should be open and answer any and all questions based on the past record of lost and destroyed records of veterans. for what ever reasons they turned up missing,destroyed or ready to shread proves they have no rights to not openly answering any and all questions concerning veterans or their care.

Posted by: james53 | April 13, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

re-read the cover-you-arse statement from another VA flack: "corporate" structure is mentioned. last time I checked the VA is a government agency, not a "corporation."
I hope both these dopey, over-paid federal flacks get canned. what a waste of tax dollars for their salaries and esp. their pensions.
deadwood to clear out. that would be change I can believe in.
how stupid is a flack to 'confiscate' devices from working press? for an event that was released?
glad the many incompetents at the VA, who were called out by the excellent work of the Post when they offered sub-par care at the hospitals, are back on the broiler.
can them all and hire people who are able to do the job without embarrassing the agency and wasting my tax money.

Posted by: nancyjeanmail | April 13, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

i must agree that in this case the worker at the va hospital had no right to deny a veteran to speak. we are not in a prison when at the hospital and we are not in a communist country.freedom of speach is a right us veterans fought for.no one has the right to deny us that.if someone has nothing to hide they we gladly allow such things and state their opinion as well. but as we all know for years the veterans affairs between destroyed records and lost records both medical and regular records.maybe they do have alot to hide.yes time for the newsecretary to clean out the old in order to start the new.

Posted by: james53 | April 14, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

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