OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
President Joe Biden’s Pentagon is under intense scrutiny after it was announced that neither the president nor the media were informed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in intensive care in the hospital.
The 70-year-old was said to be in the ICU after complications from an elective procedure, the Pentagon announced days after it happened, which drew the ire of the media.
“We are writing to express our significant concerns about the Defense Department’s failure to notify the public and the media about Secretary Lloyd Austin’s current hospitalization,” the Pentagon Press Association said in a letter shared with everyone this weekend after the administration hid Austin’s hospitalization. “The fact that he has been at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four days and the Pentagon is only now alerting the public late on a Friday evening is an outrage.”
It came after Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder issued a press release announcing the Defense Secretary’s condition.
“On the evening of January 1, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” it said. “He is recovering well and is expecting to resume his full duties today. At all times, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required.”
That set off a firestorm in the media, where reporters were incensed that such a massive piece of news was hidden.
“First, all best wishes to Secretary Austin for his recovery and good health. And clearly there was a desire for patient privacy however…” CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr said to start a series of tweets.
“The lack of disclosure that Sec Def was ill is a huge strategic failure. As of tonight I do not see a way forward for believing the Pentagon tells the truth on anything. Reporters are always skeptics but this goes far and deep beyond that always professional skepticism,” she said.
“And yeah I have covered every Sec Def since Cheney. Always skeptical. But this is now a fundamental change in a DOD that claims it supports the press with disclosure and truthfulness. And again very best wishes to Sec Austin for his recovery,” the reporter said.
“Hoping SecDef of course now well enough indeed for full duties. Curious however if he remained in chain for any potential nuclear contingencies and if not was National Military Command Center and Congress notified he was unavailable? Don’t know the answer. NMCC and NSC routinely maintain constant list of precise whereabouts of national leadership,” she said.
“So the question remains. Was there a failure in NMCC capability if they did not know SecDef was hospitalized? We simply don’t have answers about the full implications for national security which is why this story is only increasing in importance,” she said before the Pentagon said he was still in the hospital but had “resumed full duties,” which brought even more questions.
“He is in the hospital but with full duties? Does that mean taking phone calls in the middle of the night, briefing POTUS on any needed strike options, being briefed on maritime tensions in Red Sea, talking to foreign counterparts.???Those are just some of the 24/7 duties…,” she said.
She was not the only reporter who was furious.
“The Pentagon waited four days to disclose that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was admitted to the hospital on New Year’s Day. That delay is unacceptable, especially given his crucial position in the national security establishment and world events,” CNN Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann said.
“This is an administration that talked a big game about transparency, and it failed this test. This is a member of the cabinet and the leader of the US military. He was hospitalized at a time with critical global national security issues. And yet the public knew nothing,” he said.
“Past precedent says the public – and the press – should know within 24 hours when someone in such a clearly vital position is not able to fill that role. We knew in advance when Pres. Biden transferred power to VP Harris before a colonoscopy.
“And we knew within 24 hours when Gen. Eric Smith was hospitalized following a medical emergency in late-October,” the reporter said.
“Yet the Pentagon waited 4 days to notify the public that Austin was not able to fulfill his obligations as the Secretary of Defense. Of course, there are privacy concerns, but those relate to his medical procedures, not the fact that he was hospitalized,” he said.
“Having said that, it absolutely needs to be said that we wish Sec. Lloyd Austin a speedy and quick recovery. We hope to see him back in the Pentagon as soon as possible,” he said.