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Where in the (online) world is the NPR story on VA hospital scandal?


NPR’s Ari Shapiro did two great* stories today continuing his investigation into a report that Army officials told the VA hospital at Fort Drum last year to stop giving veterans advice on filling out their disability forms, with the result that many didn’t get the benefits they deserve. And (statistically speaking), no one (in vast, multifaceted, all-powerful cyberspace) noticed.

Today’s stories in Morning Edition and All Things Considered follow up the Jan. 29th Morning Edition story on the same event, with the Army denying flatly that it was true. Today, they produced a memo describing the meeting at which the Army “tiger team” told the VA to stop advising vets. Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker was forced to go on record saying there had been a “miscommunication.” You go, NPR!

But will this latest Walter Reed-like story reach anyone who didn’t have the radio on today? Not so much. It doesn’t come up in the “top news” anywhere on the web; the other mainstream media are too proud to repeat someone else’s investigation (note that there were supposedly other reporters at the briefing with Schoomaker, where are their reports?). You can find the NPR story by searching for “fort drum” on google or yahoo news, but only if you’re looking for it. I found exactly one reference to the NPR story on a blog called prairieweather.

I thought maybe it wasn’t fair to expect the blogs to react so quickly, the story was only on today after all. So I went to look for the earlier story. According to Technorati, the original (equally disturbing) story that came out 9 days ago was picked up by:
One blog called Main St. USA where it got 1 comment
One blog called ‘Imagine’ A World of Peace, Tolerance, Understanding no comments
WWTI, the local TV station’s site in upstate New York comments not allowed
and Veterans for America comments not allowed

Not what I would call a firestorm of moral outrage.

Does this mean that none of the contributors to any of the “big” blogs listens to NPR? That none care about veterans’ issues (although to me, the Army possibly covering anything up is significant beyond that which is being upcovered)? If NPR allowed comments on their website would people comment there and would that create any resonance?

For me, this is where the “cream will rise to the top” theory crashes and burns. In addition to being well-reported by an award-winning reporter at a reputable news organization, this story has everything: it’s political, it’s potentially useful to vets who might have been denied benefits unfairly, it builds on the Walter Reed story, it’s ideally suited to citizen journalism (someone needs to find the other 10 hospitals visited by the deserves-to-be-infamous Col. Becky Baker and find out what she said there). But except for the Army’s public clarification with regards to Fort Drum, I’m betting it sinks without a trace into the blood-dark sea of election horse-race commentary. I hope someone proves me wrong.


*Actually I didn’t think it was a perfect story because they let Army Surgeon General Eric B. Schoomaker off the hook with saying “it was a misunderstanding, we never meant for them to think that” even though it seems very likely he’s lying through his teeth, but that’s nitpicking.

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1 Comment

  1. Jon Garfunkel

    February 19, 2008 @ 10:06 pm


    Where in the world indeed– welcome to the blogosphere. I’ve been studying this phenomenon for years. Is that what you plan to be studying at the Berkman Center?