ABC's Jon Karl Grills WH Press Secretary, ABC World News Ignores It

Yesterday morning, President Obama made an overdue statement regarding the widening VA scandal. That afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held his regularly scheduled Press Briefing. Understandably so, the briefing dealt primarily with the president’s statement and handling of the aforementioned scandal.

The real fireworks took place about halfway through the briefing when Jay Carney took questions from ABC Chief White House correspondent, Jon Karl. Karl spent roughly five minutes grilling the press secretary on the President’s handling or lack thereof of the recent events. For this the reporter was rewarded by his network with no air time on the Wednesday edition of World News.

Karl began by asking if people will be fired if the president wishes to, as he said, “hold people accountable.” Carney replied that issue is yet to be determined and will be revisited upon further review based on the results of the coming investigations.

Karl then wondered if President Obama’s support of Secretary Shinseki is “wavering” as it seemed the president was “less than full-throated” in his confidence in the secretary. Carney acknowledged that the president expects a lot of those in his administration, but noted Obama’s praise of Shinseki’s work he has done on a host of issues that have improved programs within the VA.

The ABC correspondent saved his best question for last by pressing Carney even further asking:

What was the President's reluctance in speaking out? I mean, these stories first started emerging a month ago. I know he was asked a question like three weeks ago by Ed and talked about it. But since then, the American Legion called for Shinseki to resign; that was about two weeks ago. There has been story after story. What was the President's reluctance in coming out to speak before today?

This seemed to agitate the Press Secretary who offered a rather long answer to a relatively simple question. Still displeased, Karl retorted:

But I mean, what was his reluctance to speak out on this? Did he want to wait for these investigations to be done? Did he think it was going to be counterproductive?

A visibly frustrated Carney shot back:

Jon, I just listed to you the actions that he took.

Unfortunately, Karl’s question was not “what actions did the president take." Instead, he merely wanted to know why the president was reluctant to speak out sooner. He reminded Carney:

I'm not talking about action. This story has been a big story. It's been front-burner for at least a couple of weeks now. And the President hasn't come out -- obviously, he feels very passionately about it; we heard that today. Why didn't we hear that from him before today?

The press secretary simply referred Karl back to the remarks made by the President earlier that day.

Unfortunately, Jon Karl’s grilling of Jay Carney will go largely unnoticed by the public. His network did not see fit to air any of the back and forth between Carney and their correspondent, Jon Karl. Obviously there are time constraints on an evening newscast, but a brief excerpt could have been aired and viewers alerted to where, online, they could find the full exchange.

As my NewsBusters colleague Matt Balan pointed out; last night’s coverage of the VA scandal on ABC’s World News totaled 54 seconds.

The 54-second segment continued the network's attempt at touting Obama's "toughness" on the scandal. The network instead, devoted more air time to pick-pocketers.

Sadly for ABC News viewers, the alphabet network is robbing them of a compelling story about how the White House's press secretary stonewalls the press about an unresolved Obama administration scandal

The Press Briefing can be viewed in full on CSPAN.org, by clicking here. Below is the full transcript from the exchange:

White House
Press Briefing
May 21, 2014
1:05pm ET

JON KARL: Jay, the President said "there is going to be accountability." Does that mean that people are going to be fired for this?

JAY CARNEY: If the allegations that have been proven -- that have been made prove true, he expects people to be held accountable. And how they're held accountable will obviously be determined. But if they prove true, he pretty much sticks to the faith that allegations need to be proven true before folks are punished for conduct, but that if they are proven true -- if people covered up wait times, engaged in other kinds of misconduct, that they ought to be held accountable and will be.

KARL: Is there some wavering in his support for Secretary Shinseki? It seemed less than a full-throated confidence. It seems like he's going to want to see some results and some answers.

CARNEY: The President expects results from his people that he appoints to high office. And he believes, as he cited, that Secretary Shinseki has poured his energy and his heart into his work on behalf of veterans, just as he did when he served so admirably in the military. And the President noted the progress that has occurred in terms of veterans homelessness and reduction of the disability claims and expansion of education benefits for our veterans because of the work that General Shinseki has done. But when it comes to this matter, the President wants to see the review and he wants to know what happened, and he wants to understand the management decisions that surrounded these issues and whether or not there was misconduct or mismanagement.

CARNEY: Look, I think everyone in high office in an administration serves at the pleasure of the President.

KARL: When the President referred to the IG report and said that the IG indicated there did not seem to be a link between the wait times and veterans actually dying, was he referring to the testimony last week, or does he have new information from the IG?

CARNEY: I believe he was referring to the testimony last week that we've talked about in this room and that others have reported on that -- again, this is independent IG investigation, and the public testimony he gave that preliminarily and as far as he got down the list of 40, as I understand it, he had not seen a link. But as the President said, that --
KARL: So a preliminary finding.

CARNEY: -- that needs to further investigated. We don't know what the final results of that investigation will be, and we want those results. And even if it turns out that there's not direct link established, that doesn't excuse some of the other conduct that's been alleged. If that proves to be true -- if folks covered up wait times, if they falsified documents and records -- those are serious offenses and there should be accountability for them.

KARL: So finally, my last question is, what was the President's reluctance in speaking out? I mean, these stories first started emerging a month ago. I know he was asked a question like three weeks ago by Ed and talked about it. But since then, the American Legion called for Shinseki to resign; that was about two weeks ago. There has been story after story. What was the President's reluctance in coming out to speak before today?

CARNEY: The President is focused on getting things done, Jon. When he first learned of these specific allegations regarding the Phoenix office, he made clear to Secretary Shinseki and to the public through that news conference and those answers that he wanted to get to the bottom of it. He endorsed the recommendation by Secretary Shinseki to have the independent inspector general conduct his own investigation into these allegations. He dispatched his very trusted and senior advisor, Rob Nabors, to the VA to add capacity to that effort in reviewing what happened and providing information back to the President so that he can make judgments about accountability.
So I think that his record demonstrates his commitment to our veterans, and what you heard from him today reflects the passion he feels on this issue.

KARL: But, I mean, what was his reluctance to speak out on this? Did he want to wait for these investigations to be done? Did he think it was going to be counterproductive?

CARNEY: Jon, I just listed to you the actions that he took.

KARL: I'm not talking about action. This story has been a big story. It's been front-burner for at least a couple of weeks now. And the President hasn't come out -- obviously, he feels very passionately about it; we heard that today. Why didn't we hear that from him before today?

CARNEY: Jon, all I can say is that you heard from him today, you heard from him on his foreign trip, and he has taken actions in the interim. And he eagerly awaits the results, both of the review that Secretary Shinseki has initiated and of the investigation of the independent IG.

Jackie Seal
Jackie Seal is a 2014 summer intern with the MRC's News Analysis Division.