The Walter Reed Phoney Baloney Dance

by Jeff Siegel

"The war in Iraq has divided our nation but the cause of supporting our troops unites us," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We will do everything we can possibly donot as Democrats or Republicansbut as grateful Americansto care for those who have served our nation with such honor and distinction."

Wonderful words from Sen. Levin, who is another one of those who spend much of their time fighting the good fight. But this time, as a practical remedy for the Walter Reed scandal, what he says means very little. Where was Sen. Levin – or his colleagues in the House and Senate – when the Administration asked to cut the Veterans Affairs (VA) budget for this year? Where have they been since this mess started, which was at least three years ago?

Last week, I wrote about the empty rhetoric surrounding the phrase “support our troops.” This week, a few more examples of how hollow the phrase truly is, and how politicians and the media use it to cover their inadequacies.

The Washington Post’s reports last month about the hideous conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were not the first time this had been reported. The Army Times, which covers the military, has been writing much the same thing, and for even longer. You may not know what the Army Times is, but everyone on Capitol Hill does.

• A variety of ex-military, whistleblowers, and even the General Accounting Office have been trying to make people listen since at least 2004. The Army Times reported that retired Army Lt. Col. Mike Parker has filed complaints with lawmakers, the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission, the Walter Reed inspector general and the Army’s Human Resources Command.

The Post investigation broke around Feb. 18. Where was the rest of the media during that time? Take your pick – Anna Nicole Smith, the presidential campaign, even though it’s still almost two years away, and the Oscars. The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which tracks these things, says that the week the story broke, Walter Reed was the fourth most reported story, and only when it was lumped into something called the Iraq homefront. That’s the kind of crap that makes me ashamed that I was ever a newspaperman. It took my local NBC affiliate in Dallas three weeks to mention it on the morning news at all.

Mel Brooks, the eminent political philosopher, noted in Blazing Saddles: “We’ve gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen.” Sadly, that’s what’s going on now. As horrible as the Walter Reed scandal is, it was preventable. It didn’t have to happen. So now everyone is trying to protect their phoney baloney jobs.

(The photo of Sen. Carl Levin is courtesy of the Senator's press office and is in the public domain. Check below to see Staff Sgt. John Shannon testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week about conditions at Walter Reed.)

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