There are about 350 television sets at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Fresno, Calif. — many for inpatients and several for the facility’s various waiting rooms. One of them last week stopped showing Fox News.
That’s always newsworthy.
Sheryl Grubb, chief of public affairs and acting associate director of VA central California, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the TV set in the pharmacy waiting area of the Fresno facility stirred an argument among veterans last Thursday. There were three people involved in the set-to, according to Charlie Waters, who served in the Korean War and works as an advocate for veterans. “I believe one of them wanted [Fox News] on, another one wanted it on another one and another one wanted a movie,” says Waters, who says that veterans can be “cantankerous old farts.”
Following this version of the American classic “Hey, change the channel,” an employee of the VA facility took drastic action, according to Grubb, programming Fox News out of the television set’s channel offerings. That move created even more problems, as someone tipped off local station KMPH Fox 26, which showed a great deal of humility in writing about its reportorial efforts:
Veterans are outraged after a KMPH FOX 26 News investigation reveals the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fresno was caught blocking the “Fox News Channel” from a hospital waiting room.
Some key points about this incident:
*Only Fox News received the blocking treatment from the VA employee.
*The blocking affected only one television set in the entire building.
*After the blocking was raised with VA superiors, Fox News was restored to the waiting room.
*The pharmacy waiting area is unique in that veterans can change the television’s channel. “In most of our waiting areas we have only one station on to promote a quiet, healthy, nurturing environment,” says Grubb.
*The action against Fox News was a mistake. “This has never happened before and it will never happen again,” says Grubb.
So will the employee who singled out Fox News for censorship face disciplinary action? Grubb says that officials are in a “fact-finding” phase and doesn’t have an answer to that question just yet. Based on an “initial fact-finding” action, what triggered the blocking of Fox News “was kind of a verbal, loud dispute,” says Grubb, who stresses that this was an “isolated incident.”
Health facilities tuning out Fox News — that’s not yet a trend story, but it’s getting close. In addition to this Fresno thing, news surfaced in February that a Michigan health-care provider had blocked the network from its waiting rooms. By charter, the Erik Wemple Blog fully investigates all incidents of cable-news blocking.
Public facilities wishing to exile Fox News from their dials may have their reasons for doing so. Yet they should consider the likelihood of backlash. Fox News, after all, has a fierce and loyal viewership that knows how to contact their local news station.