The three-star generals at the center of a recent New York Times piece that alleges the service attempted to manipulate media coverage of medical issues have taken issue with the reporting — specifically, the Army's reporting.
Per the summary, Horoho recommended that Caslen not provide the newspaper with West Point concussion statistics requested under the Freedom of Information Act until her office published a related article that would include some of the data. She relayed an account of a prior media FOIA request where coverage was softened by a media event days before the data release. "Timing is everything with this stuff," the summary reads.
Through a spokesman, Horoho denied ever advising anyone to delay the FOIA request. Caslen, in a statement initially provided to The New York Times and excerpted in the initial report, said "a member of my staff inaccurately portrayed my discussion with Lt. Gen. Horoho" and took responsibility for allowing the document to be "distributed without my review."
The generals did discuss how to fulfill the FOIA request, West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker said in a Wednesday email, but chiefly because both USMA and Army Medical Command had received the same request and needed to determine "who actually had responsibility."
Any delays made to the FOIA process may have put the service in violation of laws requiring a response within 20 working days, said Scott Hodes, a lawyer who has worked with such cases since 1991 and maintains The FOIA Blog in addition to his private practice. However, that time limit is rarely enforced and can be extended for a variety of reasons — what the Justice Department calls "unusual circumstances."
Hodes did take issue with the Army's actions as they pertained to the spirit of the law, if not the letter.
"The primary purpose of the FOIA act is to find out what the government is up to," Hodes said. "Nowhere does it say the government should be spinning what they're up to. … The facts speak for themselves."
Army Times asked Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, the Army's chief of public affairs, whether public affairs personnel as a practice interfere with FOIA requests or strategically time their release. He provided this emailed statement:
"As the Chief of Public Affairs, I take great pride in the fact that the Army's public affairs professionals are transparent and responsive to the media and, more importantly, to their audience, the American people," Frost said. " Army public affairs professionals appreciate the important role the Freedom of Information Act plays in promoting transparency and accountability, and facilitate the processing of FOIA requests submitted by journalists by ensuring their requests are forwarded expeditiously to the appropriate release authority for review. However, Army public affairs does not have the authority to either release or delay such data."
'A scandalous story'
West Point attributed 97 concussions over the past three academic years to its boxing program, per The New York Times. The program is mandatory for male cadets, but boxing is also offered to women at the school.
"Given the new information available about traumatic brain injury, how can the military academies continue to justify a requirement that male cadets take a boxing class, which accounts for nearly one out of every five concussions at West Point?" Speier asked in her letter to Caslen.
The letter appears to provide an answer on the next page, saying that "it shouldn't take a scandalous story for the military to assess this outdated requirement."
Before the Speier letter was released, Horoho took exception to such a characterization of her actions.
A debate is underway whether boxing should remain a requirement at West Point.
Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff
Horoho also disputed claims in the summary that she'd pushed out information in advance of fulfilling a FOIA request from a Colorado Springs Gazette reporter on the treatment of patients at a Fort Carson mental hospital, with the intent of shaping coverage on the issue.
A media roundtable hosted by the surgeon general in early February included discussion of the allegations; the Gazette's piece, citing a 775-page report, came out days later. That arrangement, according to a summary of Horoho's remarks during the meeting with Caslen, "killed any scrutiny from the media and killed their story."
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.