The Pentagon Just Got Caught Trying to Spin Cadet Concussions
Leaked documents show the U.S. Army surgeon general attempting to manipulate the media
Concussions are terrible and science is only just beginning to understand the long-term negative health effects of these traumatic brain injuries. The damage caused by repeated concussions is a major issue in the world of sports, especially in American football, which has weathered its fair share of controversy over the topic in the past few years.
Now, journalists are starting to ask the U.S. military similar questions. Hand-to-hand combat still matters and most American military academies require students to take boxing classes. Those classes lead to a lot of concussions.
Since the summer, the newspaper has sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the Pentagon about student concussion records at the U.S. Military Academy, Naval Academy and Air Force Academy. Earlier this month, The Times ran a report on an annual West Point pillow fight that left 30 cadets injured and 24 concussed.
The stories upset the Pentagon and Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the Army’s surgeon general. “Next time when cadets are injured and it’s sensationalized please let me know ahead of time,” Horoho said. “I can help shape the reaction from my position as surgeon general. I actually learned of this incident from the news.”
The quote comes from a Sept. 16 meeting at the Pentagon. An unnamed military official leaked a record of the meeting. Horoho’s next statement is damning, as she suggests promoting a favorable concussion study written by a West Point medicine doctor and holding back military medical records from the Times.
“I think this is a great article,” Horoho said. “And I can publish it if you want. I do not think it should be published in a medical journal; rather, USA Today or The Wall Street Journal newspapers … highlighting the Grand Alliance study and releasing the FOIA data in this manner is better than releasing it to The New York Times outright.”
“I recommend you let us publish this article BEFORE you release the FOIA to the NYT reporter,” Horoho added. “Timing is everything with this stuff. We were able to do something similar with the 4th [Infantry Division] 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 Pentagon hasn’t been successful in spinning The Colorado Springs Gazette. Over the past decade the paper has been relentless in its pursuit of shedding light on Pentagon bullshit. Especially when it comes to the mistreatment of wounded soldiers. Last year, the paper won a Pulitzer Prize for such reporting.
But Horho either doesn’t know about that or doesn’t care. She seems more interested in muddying the waters. “With concussions,” she said in the meeting. “Look at other comparable universities as well as civilian institutions where boxing and football are big sports. The issue is ‘swirling’ right now.”
When the Times followed up with Horoho, she said the summary misquoted her. Pentagon staff members wrote up the minutes of the meeting and misconstrued what she had said. “I’m flat out angry about this,” she told the Times.
I know how you feel.