David Schultz, DC Reporter, Harassed By Veteran Affairs Official

UPDATE 11:45pm

The AP is reporting that the Veterans Affairs Department has agreed, following protests from various journalism groups, to return the recording equipment it seized from reporter David Schultz:

In a written statement to The Associated Press, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said the department "regrets this incident occurred" and as a result would hand back the flash drive that it took from WAMU reporter David Schultz at the VA Medical Center in Washington. WAMU is a National Public Radio affiliate in the capital.

"After reviewing all the facts surrounding the incident of April 7th and actions since, VA has arranged the return of the flash drive to WAMU," Roberts said. "We make every effort to protect the privacy of our patients and to ensure that they are able to make informed decisions about what information they release or discuss with the public while in a VA facility."

"The Department of Veterans Affairs regrets this incident occurred as we appreciate the interest of the press in covering veterans' issues," she added.

A troubling story has emerged this week regarding what many are calling unprovoked harassment and robbery of WAMU 88.5's David Schultz, an NPR-affiliate reporter, by a federal official at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center forum. The official -- an internal communications specialist named Gloria Hairston -- is said to have interrupted Schultz's interview with a veteran about the inadequacies of VA medical treatment. Hairston demanded that Schultz cease the interview and turn over all of his recording equipment. When Schultz refused, Hairston sicced armed police on him. WTOP's Mark Segraves has more details of the incident:

"She said I wouldn't be allowed to leave," Schultz tells WTOP.

At first he refused. But after being surrounded by armed police officers who stood between him and the exit, he looked for a compromise.

"I became worried that I was going to get arrested," Schultz says.

Schultz convinced Hairston that all she really needed to confiscate was the memory card to his recorder, rather than all of his equipment. While this was going on, many of the veterans from the meeting had come out to watch the confrontation.

One of those veterans, an amputee in a wheelchair, approached Schultz and asked him for his phone number.

"I started to give it to him and then the woman {Hairston} became irate, she said you can't give him your phone number. You have to give me all of your equipment or I'm going to get ugly. She used the phrase 'get ugly,'" Schultz says.

It is not yet clear what exactly Hairston meant when she threatened to "get ugly." And as it turns out, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), Schultz was able to complete the interview the next day. More from the RCFP:

Since the veteran Schultz had interviewed gave him his telephone number, Schultz said, he was able to finish up the talk with the patient the following day; Schultz's story aired on WAMU on Wednesday.

Roberts, spokeswoman for the VA, said the reporter "took advantage of the patient" in approaching him for an interview, causing "total disorientation." In addition, she said, Schultz did not identify himself as a reporter.

Schultz maintains that he told the interviewee and VA officials he was a reporter.

Schultz's tape will be returned if the patient signs the consent form, Roberts said. The VA is willing to accommodate media requests, she said, "but [WAMU journalists] just refuse to talk with us about the consent form process."

What's the VA trying to hide? According to 56 year-old Tommie Canady, the veteran who Schultz was interviewing when Hairston entered the picture, the issue is race. From Schultz's WAMU reporting:

A former soldier from Prince George's County is accusing the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Washington of mistreating him and other minority veterans.

Tommie Canady is admitted to the hospital several times a year for treatment of a terminal pancreatic disease and he claims the care he receives is atrocious. On two occasions, he says the same nurse administered an overdose of morphine to him and is still working at the VA.

He says he's alive because he's developed a high tolerance to pain medication. He also says he's been denied disability benefits because he is black.

ABC's Jake Tapper has also been following the story, and highlights the same pertinent questions: why did Gloria Hairston get ugly? And what is the VA Medical Center trying to hide? From Jake Tapper:

"What I mostly feel bad about is Mr. Canady," Schultz told WTOP-AM radio here in DC. "He was trying to tell his story, he has an amazing story and he was denied a chance to tell his story to the media because of these tactics."

He added that "the story is not about me versus the hospital. It's about why is the hospital taking these measures to prevent Mr. Canady from speaking. What are they trying to hide?"