This story may have a familiar ring.
Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho starred in a New York Times story last week saying she urged the superintendent of West Point to withhold information from The Times regarding cadet concussions, as revealed in an Army document.
She told the superintendent to stall until after she could arrange a more favorable story on the matter from another news agency, the document said.
Horoho is the Army surgeon general. We have dealt with her command several times while trying to get information about local soldiers. It has not been easy.
She was surgeon general when we couldn’t get the Army to release an investigation into what happened with Oregon National Guard soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center in 2010. Their complaints about poor care after returning from Iraq drew congressional interest.
She was surgeon general when we were refused follow-up investigations on behavioral health issues at Madigan in 2012 and refused a report on the Madigan commander after a program she backed came under fire by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. (Horoho previously served as commander of Madigan and of the Western Regional Medical Command.)
Here’s a slightly condensed version of the Times’ story:
Two top Army generals recently discussed trying to kill an article in The New York Times on concussions at West Point by withholding information so the Army could encourage competing news organizations to publish a more favorable story, according to an Army document.
The generals’ conversation involved a Freedom of Information Act request that The Times made in June for data on concussions resulting from mandatory boxing classes at the United States Military Academy.
During a Sept. 16 meeting at the Pentagon, the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, recommended to the superintendent at West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., that the Army delay responding to The Times’ request, according to the document.
Horoho then suggested trying to get The Wall Street Journal or USA Today to publish an article about a more favorable Army study on concussions.
According to the document, described by Army officials as an executive summary of the meeting, the public affairs staff at West Point and the surgeon general’s office were instructed to promote that study, by a West Point sports medicine doctor, Col. Steven Svoboda, to the other publications.
“I recommend you let us publish this article BEFORE you release the FOIA to the NYT reporter,” Horoho is quoted as saying in the summary, using an acronym for the Freedom of Information Act.
“Timing is everything with this stuff,” she added, according to the document. Neither the Journal nor USA Today published an article about the Svoboda study.
Both generals acknowledged the authenticity of the summary, but said it misrepresented their discussion.
The Times obtained the summary from a military official who opposed the Army’s plans to delay release of the concussion information. The official said not being transparent with journalists “damages democracy.”
After learning last week that the document had been given to The Times, Horoho said in a phone interview that she had been misquoted. She said the document, created by West Point staff members, bore little resemblance to what happened at the meeting.
She said she had worked hard to increase care for concussions, adding: “I am flat-out angry about this. Of all the topics, this one is very important to me.”
In a statement last week, Caslen said the document had “inaccurately portrayed my discussion with Lieutenant General Horoho.”
After learning of the document, West Point quickly released concussion numbers.
Chris Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates transparency in government, called the details of the meeting as described in the document “disturbing.”
“Every level of the U.S. government should follow the spirit of the law and comply with FOIA, not use it as an opportunity for media manipulation,” he said in an email.
In the Sept. 16 meeting, according to the summary, Horoho cited having successfully undermined the news media in the past, referring to how she had manipulated coverage of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., last year.
“We were able to do something similar with the 4th ID when The Colorado Springs Gazette attacked them with treatment of wounded warriors last year — killed any scrutiny from the media and killed their story,” the document summarizes Horoho as saying.
The news coverage at The Gazette focused on an investigation into mistreatment of soldiers by psychologists at the Army hospital at Fort Carson in 2014, according to The Gazette’s military reporter, Tom Roeder.
The Gazette waited six months to receive a copy of the Army Medical Command’s completed investigation, Roeder said in an email.
The Gazette article found that “some workers in the hospital’s behavioral health department were demeaning, patronizing, foul-mouthed,” and that they felt pressured by commanders to push soldiers with mental illnesses out of the Army.
Soldier health issues are serious business. They are the public’s business.
It’s time this Army general, whom we entrust with our soldiers’ well-being, began acting like that mattered.