At inewsource, we have been writing for two years about the many ways the Veterans Administration has failed those who have served in the military. From medical experiments on alcoholic vets, to system failures regarding the coronavirus to — most recently — how the VA has stopped an effective treatment for suicidal vets without notice to the veterans or a straight answer.
We are not exaggerating when we say these latest stories are about life and death. One veteran who committed suicide cited the change in treatment as one of the reasons for her actions.
Friday, we published a story stating the VA “lied” about why it’s changing these treatments. Lie is a strong word, one that we did not use lightly.
There has been much discussion and debate about and within journalism organizations that tout themselves as politically independent and unbiased using the word lie. This has been centered especially around President Donald Trump.
The word lie, the debate goes, implies an intention to deceive, that we somehow can get into the head of the person accused of falsehoods to know their will. The reporter on the story, our managing editor, and I, as the editor of inewsource, discussed each incident involving the VA and agreed the term was accurately applied.
Here is the overarching reason why:
As laid out in the story, the VA supplied inaccurate information multiple times. That in itself is not a lie. Agencies often get things wrong and in no way does that imply an intention to deceive.
Giving out inaccurate information and then refusing to acknowledge or answer the falsehoods is a different matter.
For example, the VA originally told us they’d removed the vets from a private clinic offering ketamine injections — a treatment many of the vets attributed to saving their lives — because the agency could offer the same thing in-house. However, we obtained documents showing that wasn’t the case: The agency did not have the ability to give the ketamine treatments they said they did.
When we presented the VA with these facts, the agency’s spokespeople would not respond to them.
Here is a more egregious example: inewsource found out the VA gave another news outlet a different explanation for removing the vets from treatment. When confronted, the agency at first would not provide that new explanation unless we walked them through the details of the story we were working on. While we believe the subject of a story should not be ambushed and refused an opportunity to respond, asking for every detail of a story yet-to-be-published goes beyond that practice. We refused the VA’s request..
They finally gave us a statement that said the method of ketamine delivery at the private clinic was administered as an injection, and that’s not what the VA had authorized. They said the VA authorized the treatment through an IV.
We told the VA we had evidence that they did authorize injections — multiple times. They insisted that was not the case, and pointed to an agreement with the clinic as proof. That agreement made no mention of the method of ketamine delivery. In fact, it didn’t mention ketamine at all. It was a boilerplate contract for service.
The VA refused to answer further questions.
Those are just two examples we weighed in determining the language we would use in the recent ketamine story. There were more times where we repeatedly presented the VA with evidence that disproved their statements. In response, the agency’s spokespeople either provided more inaccurate information, or simply ignored the questions.
These spokespeople have one primary job: To provide the public with accurate and truthful information about the taxpayer funded agency. When they stick by inaccurate statements even after challenged with facts, we have concluded that is a lie.
We are sharing this discussion because one of our core values is transparency, which we believe builds trust.