Wednesday's World News on ABC minimized any sense of the Obama administration's responsibility in the ongoing V.A. scandal, and spent the least amount of air time on the issue among the Big Three networks' evening newscasts following President Obama's morning press conference. The program actually aired segments on pickpocketing and custom mobile homes than lasted about a half a minute longer each than their report on the scandal.
Diane Sawyer spotlighted how the President "weighed in – talking tough and talking action" on the "growing outrage over veterans hospitals." Jim Avila's May 21 story noted how multiple V.A. medical facilities in several states are now being investigated, and let the relative of deceased veteran decry the President's handling of the scandal. However, he didn't mention that the wait lists have been around for years – something that CBS Evening News mentioned in its coverage of the controversy: [MP3 audio from the ABC report available here; video below]
WYATT ANDREWS: In this memo we obtained, a V.A. scheduler in Wyoming describes the pressure he felt from superiors to begin 'gaming the system' – to delay long-term appointments for veterans, in order to 'get off the bad boys list.' The existence of hidden wait times has been documented in seven formal V.A. investigations going back more than four years.
Avila led his report with tough language about the scandal, and two anecdotes of veterans receiving substandard care. The correspondent also included two sound bites from the President's press conference on the issue:
JIM AVILA (voice-over): A national disgrace – Durham, North Carolina: this dying Vietnam vet waits eight months for care. In Indianapolis, this sick vet can't get her meds for months.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: This is the type of hospital care that you receive?
AVILA: And in Phoenix, Sally Barnes-Breen loses her father-in-law, Thomas, to cancer, after waiting more than a year for a doctor; today, anxious to finally hear directly from President Obama.
SALLY BARNES-BREEN: Yes, I wanted to hear a long time ago.
AVILA: The President promising that if V.A. hospital staff anywhere has gamed the system – creating secret lists to hide delays – people will be punished.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from press conference): It is dishonorable; it is disgraceful; and I will not tolerate it – period.
AVILA (on-camera): President Obama saying he wants answers to four questions before firing anyone.
AVILA (voice-over): The checklist: who cooked the books? Were they under pressure to deliver unrealistic appointment dates? Who set those guidelines? And who covered up?
The inspector general's investigation now spread to 26 hospitals in 11 states we know of – but the President stuns relatives today by saying so far, the I.G. has found no case where a death was actually caused by the delays.
OBAMA: And the I.G. indicated that he did not see a link between the wait and them actually dying.
AVILA: Bringing another wave of anger to Sally back in Phoenix.
BARNES-BREEN: He's lying, and that's why I'm angry – 'cause, in fact, they're responsible for his death.
AVILA: Still, the President tonight vowing to fix whatever is wrong at the V.A.
The ABC report on the V.A. lasted a minute and 54 seconds. By contrast, correspondent Cecilia Vega's report on the new tactics of pickpocketing thieves took up two minutes and 26 seconds of air time. The evening newscast also concluded with a two minute and 20 second segment from journalist Devin Dwyer on how "tiny living has become a growing movement," and zeroed in on the do-it-yourself houses on wheels.
Both CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News led their broadcasts with their reports on the V.A. scandal. Each newscast devoted two full reports to the issue, with the CBS program setting aside four minutes and 26 seconds of air time, and the NBC show airing five minutes and 47 seconds of reporting.
CBS anchor Scott Pelley introduced correspondent Major Garrett's report by pointing out that "it was the President's first public comments in more than two weeks on the growing scandal in the Department of Veterans Affairs. But critics, including Senator John McCain, said not good enough." Garrett focused on how "congressional investigators have also identified more than half a million dollars in bonuses paid to V.A. supervisors accused of mismanagement or poor performance." He also included a clip of his hounding of the President on the bonus issue during the Wednesday press conference.
The CBS evening newscast also aired a report from journalist Wyatt Andrews on "the existence of hidden wait times has been documented in seven formal V.A. investigations going back more than four years." Pelley asked Andrews, "You said that the V.A. has known about this for about four years. What have they been doing about it?" The journalist replied that the V.A. "would fix the problem right where they found it. In other words, they would tell the local officials to stop the under-reporting there. But, for some reason, they never connected the dots to crack down everywhere."
On NBC, chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd actually underlined how "many veterans had high hopes for the Obama administration, after hearing this from candidate Obama in 2007." Todd then played a clip from a speech then-Senator Obama gave to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, where he promised, "When I'm president, building a 21st century V.A. to serve our veterans will have equal priority to building a 21st century military to fight our wars."
The journalist continued that "veterans groups are frustrated with President Obama today" and that "in Washington, Republicans agreed." He included a sound bite from Republican Senator John Tune, who blasted the Democratic chief executive: "This V.A. issue is a national embarrassment, and the President's response to it is an embarrassment."
NBC Nightly News also aired a report from correspondent John Yang detailing the poor treatment that a retired Air Force colonel received at a V.A. facility in New Mexico. Yang underlined that at the Albuquerque center, "current and former doctors and nurses tell NBC News of chronic under-staffing and management intimidation. The results, they say: delays and compromised patient care." He later featured a "current health care worker, who doesn't want to be identified for fear of retaliation, says some patients are assigned to doctors who don't ever see them."