Pentagon facing backlash over failing to disclose Sec. Austin's illness: 'Harms credibility'

Several members of the media called out the Pentagon, calling it an 'unacceptable' move

The Pentagon is facing mounting backlash from members of the media and more over their failure to immediately disclose that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized on New Year's Day. 

Several reporters were outraged over the Pentagon's failure to disclose the fact that Austin was hospitalized until Friday, Jan. 5. Austin was admitted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday for complications following a recent elective medical procedure, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Friday.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann said the delay was "unacceptable," given his position in national security. Ryder said the news was kept from the press due to "medical and personal privacy issues."

"This is an administration that talked a big game about transparency, and it failed this test," Liebermann wrote.

Neither the National Security Council nor President Biden were aware Austin was hospitalized for multiple days, according to reports. 

The Pentagon, Sec. Austin

The Pentagon is facing mounting backlash from reporters on Sunday after failing to disclose Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in the hospital.  (Left:  (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images), Right: (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images))


Former CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr said the lack of disclosure was a "huge strategic failure." 

"As of tonight I do not see a way forward for believing the Pentagon tells the truth on anything," she wrote on X.

Courtney Kube, an NBC News correspondent who covers the Pentagon and National Security, agreed and said it "harms the credibility of Pentagon public affairs." 

Austin was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for several days and is now recovering. He resumed his full duties on Saturday. 

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder arrives for a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


CNN's Haley Britzky reacted to the news that the Pentagon failed to inform the NSC until Thursday, three days after his initial hospitalization, and said, "this is so beyond absurd."

Britzky also noted that the Pentagon held a press conference on Thursday and failed to disclose it to the press during the briefing.

Austin released a statement on Saturday, addressing concerns about "transparency."

"I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon," he said. "I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure."

Sec. Lloyd Austin

Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, speaks during a news conference at Queensland Government house at the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in Brisbane, Australia, on Saturday, July 29, 2023.  (Ian Waldie/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


The Pentagon Press Association sent a letter to the Pentagon's press team on Saturday. 

The press association had "significant concerns" about the Pentagon's failure to notify members of the media of Austin's hospitalization until days after it happened.

"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," the letter read.

"It falls far below the normal disclosure standards that are customary by other federal departments when senior officials undergo medical procedures or are temporarily incapacitated," it continued.

Politico's Kevin Baron said it was "jaw-dropping news," and added that he's "never heard of a top Pentagon leader disappearing like this into a hospital for an entire week without disclosing it to the public."

Others questioned the move as well, including the vice president of the Heritage Foundation's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, Victoria Coates, who wrote on X that the "acting" secretary "remained on vacation in Puerto Rico."

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