I read a status update on Facebook the other day that a close personal friend of the family had posted. It read:
December 4th, 2014 : Currently inside a military medical treatment facility watching FOX news when a military member says “I am not allowed to let you watch this channel and have to change it to something more neutral”
After reading this, I messaged him and asked more questions regarding the incident and he was more than happy to discuss it. I asked permission to post the story on this blog and permission was given. He is a retired Major with the USAF, as well as retired Law Enforcement and has asked to remain anonymous so I will not release his name.
The Major was sitting in a waiting area at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland A.F.B. in San Antonio, watching Fox News (the TV was already on the channel when he arrived). At around 9:00 am he was approached by two junior military members; a Tech Sargent (E-6) and a Staff Sargent (E-5). One of them said to him
“I am not allowed to let you watch this channel and have to change it to something more neutral”
When questioned why the channel needed to be changed from the Fox News Channel the reply was that they would
“get in trouble like last time a senior officer saw it on their TV in the waiting area”
The Major told the two non-commissioned officers that if any senior officers walked into the waiting room to see Fox News on the TV, for them to say that he changed it and that he would take the blame. According to the Major, this conversation was over heard by at least one other military member in the room. The Fox News Channel remained on in the waiting room, though he did not know what happened once he left that area.
When I saw his original post my first reaction to the statement “I am not allowed to let you watch this channel” was you have got to be kidding. The irony was not lost on me. Here is a man who spent most his life protecting the First Amendment rights of other individuals when in the Military as well as the community he served while as a police officer. Now he is being told he cannot watch a specific news channel. That’s irony. To give full disclosure on this, I do watch FOX on a regular basis, however, I would still be writing this post if it were CNN, MSNBC or any other news channel being scrutinized or “prohibited”.
The second word that stands out to me is “neutral“. Who is deciding what is neutral to watch? What “neutral” channel should the TV in the waiting room be on? Nickelodeon? QVC? How about the Food Network? The only channel out there that remotely can be described as neutral is The Weather Channel. If they are talking a “neutral” News channel, guess what, that animal does not exist.
I personally wanted some clarity on this issue so I reviewed the centers website for any policies regarding this and have not been successful. I then reached out to the 59th Medical Wing Facebook page for comment regarding regulations on what may or may not be watched in their waiting rooms at the Wilford Hall Medical Center. My Facebook question was this:
To the 59th Medical Wing: I would like to know what your regulations are regarding what may or may not be watched on TV in your waiting rooms at the medical facility? I await your comment
I received a reply 3 hours later on Via Facebook:
Thank you of your interest in the 59th Medical Wing. Please contact our public affairs office directly via email at email@example.com for policy information.
I sent an email asking what is policy at their facility regarding what can and can not be watched in a waiting room? Is it up to the visitors and patients to turn the TV on, change the channel etc? Do they leave it up to those who use the facility to decide what is watched on the TV’s? I received a reply from Joe Bela, Director of Public affairs, 59th medical Wing, via Email and the entire exchange is below.
I have reached out to my military contacts on Twitter, Facebook as well as my personal friends to see if this is a common occurrence or policy at Military Medical Centers. It has been relayed to me, by more than a few individuals, that in the VA/Med Centers the waiting room TV’s are usually on the News, either tuned to CNN, FNC, or the local stations provided in their community. Wilford Hall facility at this time seems to be in the minority regarding viewing policy.
According to Mr. Bela’s email reply, patients were demanding news channels be shown based on their political beliefs and the facility administrators were getting complaints from all sides. So what was their solution? No News on the TV.
I understand attempting to please everyone by prohibiting news stations, however, this facility is funded by taxpayers and the policy should be reexamined. The news, though hardly ever neutral in nature, is the window to current and breaking events. In many cases, it disseminates information regarding emergencies and public safety announcements. If anything, your patients should be allowed to view these channels for just such situations.
Our current and retired military members are not only Heroes, but they are adults and should be able to make the decision for themselves what they wish to watch. It is insulting to their service and is reminiscent of the Orwellian ‘Thought Police’. They, of all people, should not be told what channels are permitted or what news channels should be or should not be viewed out of political correctness and/or appeasement.
With all due respect, I urge a better solution.
It is this Seal that represents ALL of us
In June 2014 a Fresno VA facility came under fire for blocking Fox News from its channel list in their waiting rooms. Reporter Erik Rosales with KMPH had an exchange with VA Hospital Public Affairs Director Sheryl Grubb. The questions and answers are very interesting. Here is part of that interview:
…Because the VA Hospital in Fresno and other VA Hospitals and clinic across the country operate with the help of your tax dollars, no matter what side of the fence you’re on it brings into question Freedom of Speech and censorship.
VA Hospital Chief of Public Affairs Director Sheryl Grubb says.
“Thanks to you, yes we found out that Fox News was blocked out from one of waiting areas. It was just a misunderstanding. We’ve had a lot of veterans with diverse personalities. A lot of veterans complaining about one news station or the other, so the intent was really to be fair and equitable and take all stations off.”
Reporter Erik Rosales says,
“At the same time with you guys receiving tax dollars, this VA hospital cannot censor things like that?”
“That’s right. You are very right. Obviously that was our mistake.”
Thank you to Grumpy Opinions for linking
Thank you Doug Ross@Journal for linking