NBC Touts Obama’s Promise to Fix the VA and IG Report Despite Concerns from Whistle-Blower

On Tuesday evening, NBC Nightly News offered a soft news brief on the scandal-ridden Veterans Affairs (VA) Administration by promoting President Barack Obama’s calls that the VA’s many issues will be fixed on his watch. In addition, substitute anchor Lestor Holt made quick mention of an inspector general’s report that the actions of the agency in delays in veterans waiting for care did not result in any veteran’s death. 

What NBC Nightly News failed to mention in their one-sided report was that skepticism surrounding the VA remains as both widows of veterans who died awaiting care and one of the whistle-blowers who brought the problems at the VA to light are publically raising doubts about the report’s findings. [MP3 audio here; Video below]

In a 45-second news brief, Holt reported that:

A report out today by the VA's inspector general found no conclusive evidence that delays in care caused deaths of veterans at the VA hospital in Phoenix. For his part, President Obama addressed the scandal again today. In a speech to the national convention of the American Legion, he promised a new culture of accountability. 

What followed was a sound bite from Obama’s speech in which he declared at one point that “we are going to get to the bottom of these problems” and “[w]e're going to fix what is wrong.

Over on the CBS Evening News, a one-minute-and-34-second segment also covered the findings of the inspector general’s report, but CBS News national correspondent Wyatt Andrews also reported that there are serious doubts about it as well and in particular from a key whistle-blower at the Phoenix VA hospital that first triggered the nationwide scandal.

After summarizing the report’s findings, Andrews pointed out that “[t]he report does not answer specific charges raised by widows of veterans...who say their husbands died waiting for appointments that might have made a difference.”

Further, he interviewed Dr. Sam Foote, who was one of the Phoenix VA employees who first reported on issues with delayed wait times and secret waiting lists (which are still being investigated at other VA facilities nationwide). Andrew reported that Foote believes that the inspector general’s report “went too easy on the VA.”

Foote said that he “find[s] it very hard to believe that they are saying that timely care would not have helped any of those 40 patients” that died while awaiting care and he “just can't accept” the report’s conclusion that the wait times did not affect their life-or-death status.

The remaining major broadcast network, ABC, completely ignored the story all together in its evening news program, World News with Diane Sawyer. Instead, it relegated the story to an article posted Tuesday evening on its website that included quotes from Foote and a widow of a veteran who died while waiting for care from the Phoenix VA.

However, in lieu of discussing this issue on its Tuesday night newscast, World News chose to mention that music fans have voted the guitar riff in Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” in a recent survey. 


The complete transcript from the segment on the VA on August 26's CBS Evening News is transcribed below.

CBS Evening News

August 26, 2014

6:38 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: VA Scandal]

MAURICE DUBOIS:  A long-awaited report on the problems at the VA hospital in Phoenix was released today. Revelations about the treatment of veterans there rocked the agency and triggered a nationwide scandal. Here's Wyatt Andrews. 

WYATT ANDREWS: After a four-month investigation, the VA's inspector general denied the most explosive allegation driving the scandal in Phoenix that up to 40 veterans may have died because they were on secret wait lists for care. "We are unable to conclusively assert," the report says, "that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans." Some 20 deaths are blamed instead on the "poor quality of care." The report does not answer specific charges raised by widows of veterans, like Debbie Valle, who say their husbands died waiting for appointments that might have made a difference. 

DEBBIE VALLE: It took two month to see his prostate –  his cancer doctor when they found out he did have cancer. 

ANDREWS: The lead whistle blower in Phoenix, Dr. Sam Foote, said the report went too easy on the VA It was Foote who first raised possibility of 40 patient deaths. 

Dr. SAM FOOTE: I find it very hard to believe that they are saying that timely care would not have helped any of those 40 patients. I just can't accept that. 

ANDREWS: This report still makes clear that the Phoenix investigation is just the beginning. It reveals that 93 separate VA investigations nationwide remain active and, Maurice, in some of those places, the F.B.I. is now involved and might bring criminal charges. 

DUBOIS: Wyatt Andrews in Washington, thank you. 

The full transcript from the news brief on NBC Nightly News on August 26 can be found below.

NBC Nightly News

August 26, 2014

7:10 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: VA Investigation]

LESTER HOLT: New developments today in the scandal involving treatment, delays and misconduct at this country's VA hospitals and clinics. A report out today by the VA's inspector general found no conclusive evidence that delays in care caused deaths of veterans at the VA hospital in Phoenix. For his part, President Obama addressed the scandal again today. In a speech to the national convention of the American Legion, he promised a new culture of accountability. 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are going to get to the bottom of these problems. We're going to fix what is wrong. We’re going to do right by you and we're going to do right by your families and that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I'm making to you here. 

HOLT: The president promised better health care for veterans, including greater access to mental health care. 

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is a news analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division