AWOL in covering a scandal Right-wing media have ignored the mistreatment of veterans at Walter Reed.

Posted: March 06, 2007

The Walter Reed scandal was a story years in the making. A story that up until last week had been downplayed - censored, really - by the government and the military. A story kept from American voters by our pro-troop, pro-surge broadcasting Lords of Loud.

If the right-wing media had broadcast the story, hidden in plain sight, with half the energy they use to excoriate the ACLU, the right's water-carriers could have helped avert years of misery for many of our veterans.

Certainly the information was out there. All they had to do was talk to the minority Democratic Congress members on the Veteran Affairs Committee, who watched helplessly as House Republicans voted to increase veterans' medical fees and reject increased funds for veterans' health care, which, in effect, cut their benefits. How easy would it have been for, say, Bill O'Reilly, to expose this national embarrassment? Very. So why did the right's echo chamber choose to ignore this disgrace? A tough one to answer, especially when they spend so much time characterizing the left as the anti-soldier cult.

On talk radio or Fox News, it's been all Anna Nicole Smith, Britney's hair or lack of same, American Idol nudie pics, Al Gore's perfidious hypocrisy, Obama's connection to racist churches, Hillary's connection to Satan.

Do you see anything on that list that mentions the national shame that is Walter Reed Army Medical Center? Not when there was righteous indignation to be vented over Melissa Etheridge calling her partner wife at the Oscars.

To his credit, new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates didn't bring charges against some Army private but instead felled the Walter Reed commandant and a secretary of the Army. Perhaps Gates should have been in charge during Abu Ghraib and Katrina. But you heard nary a peep of indignation from O'Reilly against the Republican Congress, which, for the last six years, not only stood by and allowed Walter Reed to happen but actually conspired in the abomination.

It was House Republicans who ousted conservative Republican Chris Smith as the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee when he sought higher funding for veterans services than the Bush administration desired. Any word of that in the rightward media? Not from Rush Limbaugh.

Would Fox News scroll the comments of Veterans Affairs Committee member Lane Evans (D., Ill.) that "the Republican budget resolution will decrease critical services and inflict real pain upon service members, veterans and military families during a time of war," and that "Congress should be ashamed"? Not when Brit Hume needs to question John Murtha's sanity in demanding our soldiers be armed and trained properly before being sent into the middle of someone else's civil war.

Instead of the truth behind the enormous disservice to our men and women, we hear of left-wing scapegoats and anti-global-warming red herrings run (or swam?) amok. Perhaps our veterans would receive better treatment if we burned one more Dixie Chicks CD. Or Swift Boated one more war hero.

I don't know how long it will take Republican voters to realize that they have been Swift-Boated by the very leaders and mouthpieces who swear themselves in support of the troops. Perhaps this unfolding scandal will finally stop Republicans from voting against the American soldier's best interests.

Expect to hear feigned indignation hit the airwaves this week. Anna Nicole's been buried, and the secretary of the Army is now collateral damage. The right's demagogues cannot ignore it any longer, but don't be shocked to find that it's all been the fault of Nancy Pelosi's first 60 days or of some skip of the Bill Clinton spacetime blame continuum. Certainly the Washington Post, the New York Times, the ACLU and Frank Rich will feel the wrath of an outraged O'Reilly for some imagined connection to the scandal.

But I implore the Republican and independent voter who truly cares for the well-being of those who continue to put their lives in jeopardy for this country not to be duped again. These TV and radio opportunists don't care one drop more than a crocodile tear what's in the best interest of the veteran. If they did, they wouldn't have failed to hold the president and the Republican leadership accountable for the veteran shortfalls.

The shame is not that snake-oil salesmen are allowed to sell their remedies, but that the buyers believe they will cure ills. In the case of Walter Reed and Building 18, we've seen the very tip of an iceberg that should make us all sick. The way we treat the ones we should treat the best is despicable.

And in that truth hides the bloody secret: Those who sent our kids into battle do not revere the soldier. They revere only his vote.

Steve Young is a TV writer, a veteran, and the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful."

Contact Steve B. Young at theeothersteveyoung@juno.com.

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