Media headlines minimized veteran mistreatment by VA

At a time when studies show that only 40 percent of Americans who read the news actually make it past the headline, the mainstream media has an even greater civic responsibility to tell the whole story from headline to conclusion.

After a report by the Veteran’s Health Administration Office of the Inspector General surrounding the most recent Department of Veterans Affairs scandal cited poor quality of care for veterans through Phoenix Healthcare Systems, media outlets such as the New York Times reported on the findings with the headline, “No Link Found for Deaths and Veterans’ Care Delays,” omitting any and all implication of wrongdoing on the part of the VA.

The nationally recognized media outlet’s headline seemed to completely ignore the findings summarized in the first paragraph of the Inspector General’s report which stated, “We have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility.”

Unfortunately, the New York Times wasn’t the only offender. Headlines absolving the VA of wrongdoing were abundant in the hours and days following the release of the report. After picking up an incorrect wire report from the AP, other mainstream outlets like NPR and Politico followed their lead with similar headlines like “Probe: No Proof VA Delays Caused Phoenix Veterans To Die” and “VA report: Deaths not linked to wait times,” claims largely disputed for their inaccuracy as well.

Instead of focusing on the problems identified by the report and using the power constitutionally afforded to the mainstream media to effect change for our veterans, outlets such as the New York Times, NPR, and Politico gave the VA a proverbial pat on the back for not killing their patients.

Although many media outlets got it wrong, a few seemed to touch closer to the real story with their headlines than most. While The Washington Post opted for the slightly more succinct leader, “Inspector general’s report confirms allegations at Phoenix VA hospital,” it still stopped short of naming any specific failures within its headline, again masking the issue of substandard care for veterans by the VA.

Despite the well-documented history of missteps, abuse, and negligent care of some of our most valuable citizens, few media outlets seemed interested in exposing the ugly underbelly of medical care for American veterans. Is this the new status quo for veteran care in the U.S.? Quality of care and standard of living are secondary to simply maintaining life?

As headline-only readers followed the VA scandal from day to day or week to week, it is possible that Americans are now under the impression that the allegations against the VA were unfounded and they were subsequently exonerated of any wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, the real failure of the mainstream media surrounding this scandal is not its inept headline writing and inaccurate interpretation and reporting on the events, but how the failure to report accurately will affect the speed at which the issue is resolved, adversely affecting the approximately 5.7 million veterans who are cared for in the U.S. each year.

It would seem obvious to most that quality of care not only entails the ability to maintain life, but also the quality of life. Perhaps the mainstream media is redefining quality of care — or perhaps headlines about death are just more sensational than those about the quality of life.

Reach the columnist at dprobst1@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @DonnellProbst

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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