CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose scored an exclusive interview with Chuck Hagel on Friday. But rather than grill the Secretary of Defense on the latest details of the Veterans Affairs scandal, the journalist repeated talking points and wondered about whether it's "premature" to ask for a top Obama official to resign.
Rose began by noting that there is "quite a concern" over the growing controversy and that some "argue that we need to know the facts." Talking to Hagel, the host then wondered, "Some in your party are calling for the head of the Veterans Affairs department to resign, General Shinseki. Is it premature to ask for his resignation?" [MP3 audio here.]
The Defense Secretary made the fairly bland point: "There does have to be accountability right up and down the line. But I think we've got to fix the problem."
Rose could have asked why it took Secretary Eric Shinseki over a week to issue a statement after the story broke. Instead, he just parroted back Hagel's talking points about resolving the situation: "Answer the questions. Fix the problem."
An analysis by the Media Research Center found that in the month since the story broke, it warranted 110 minutes worth of coverage. But Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal received more than that, 112 minutes, in just four days.
A portion of interview aired on Rose's PBS program. After asking Hagel for an "assessment" of the situation, he mildly queried, "Are we late in coming to this and recognizing that we need to focus our concern on it?"
A transcript of the May 23 segment is below:
CHARLIE ROSE: This morning, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki promises to crack down on any VA health facility with a secret writing list. In a Memorial Day message to veterans, the retired Army general writes, "The VA is redoubling its efforts with integrity and compassion to earn your trust." The VA inspector general is investigating 26 hospitals after allegations that patients died waiting for care. We spoke with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Thursday, aboard the U.S.S Oak Hill. Hagel says anyone responsible for the growing scandal must be punished.
HAGEL: Any time there is an issue or a problem or a veteran doesn't get service, or certainly if a veteran dies because he or she doesn't get service, or any time there's an issue, there's no higher responsibility our country has than to these people who served and sacrificed. So, it's a constant process of getting better, monitoring, managing, assuring in every way we can that every veteran gets the quality service they deserve. They, I think the VA has around nine million people that they take care of, and it's a large -- it's large department. But it's a zero tolerance kind of thing. I mean, you really have to come at it that way. We're all concerned about this, not just because I'm a veteran or Secretary of Defense, but I think every American --
CHARLIE ROSE: They clearly are. I mean, there's quite a concern about this. There are those who, one, do argue that we need to know the facts but we're late focusing concern about this. Some in your party are calling for the head of the Veterans Affairs department to resign, General Shinseki. Is it premature to ask for his resignation?
HAGEL: Well, I think it is. I support General Shinseki. I've known him a long time. This is an individual who has a responsibility, as he has said, to be accountable. The President said yesterday that there has to be accountability. There does have to be accountability right up and down the line. But I think we've got to fix the problem. That's the real focus here.
ROSE: Answer the questions. Fix the problem.
HAGEL: After we have the facts. I mean, we know things went wrong. There's no question.
ROSE: People died.
HAGEL: That's exactly right. Why did this happen? How was it allowed to happen? Who's accountable? Somebody's got to be accountable here like with any institution.