Veteran Affairs officials are backtracking after having illegally confiscated a reporter’s sound card during an interview with a veteran last week.
On Friday, they returned the sound card after receiving letters of protest from at least two journalism organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
On Monday, the Department of Veteran Affairs will begin a “top to bottom” investigation of the incident, according to The Washington Post.
“We want to do a top to bottom review in order to learn what happened, why it happened, and what lessons can be learned from the experience,” VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said in a statement Sunday.
“We need to grow from this incident in order to determine how we can better provide media access while supporting the privacy of our Veterans.”
The incident occurred Tuesday after VA public affairs officer Gloria Hairston accosted WAMU reporter David Schultz with four armed guards as he was interviewing veteran Tommie Canady, who was describing the dismal and dangerous care he was receiving at the hospital.
Hairston demanded that Schultz hand over his equipment and when he refused, she had the four armed guards restrict him from leaving the hospital, which sounds like kidnapping to me.
Schultz called WAMU news director Jim Asendio, who told him to hand over the card in a decision he should never live down.
In her letter Friday, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee, called the VA’s actions clearly illegal. She noted that Tuesday’s episode was similar to a 2004 incident involving Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in which federal marshals in Mississippi seized the digital recorders from reporters for the AP and the Hattiesburg American.
After the AP sued, the government conceded that the Marshals Service had violated federal law when it ordered the reporters to erase their recordings of Scalia’s speech at a Hattiesburg high school. Scalia also apologized, calling the incident a misunderstanding.
So let’s hope Asendio makes up for his initial blunder by suing the Department of Veteran Affairs.