The Real Story of David A. Fahrenthold

David A. Fahrenthold
David A. Fahrenthold

By Mark E. Smith

When David A. Fahrenthold, reporter for the Washington Post, asked me on July 21, 2014, “How do you explain the Russian mafia, then?” he finally had me stumped. Up until that point of the interview, I held my own when it came to explaining the challenges that many with disabilities face in obtaining life-sustaining power wheelchairs through Medicare. But, the Russian mafia? Well, he had me on that one.

“I don’t know anything about the Russian mafia,” I replied. “Again, David, those of us with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis have to fight bureaucracy and cutbacks to such a degree that it takes some a year to get a vital power chair – and even then it’s often not funded to the fullest extent of technology needed. Medicare’s policies continue harming those most in need….”

See, all this started when Fahrenthold sought to interview me for a story he was striving to flesh out for the Washington Post. As he put it, “I’m looking to do a story on people with disabilities defrauding Medicare to get motorized wheelchairs.”

I took the absurdity of his premise seriously, seeing the interview as an opportunity to educate him. Of course those of us with disabilities aren’t looking to defraud anyone. We use our power chairs out of medical necessity, wishing to live socially-inclusive lives, where obtaining funding for a power chair is a lengthy, difficult process that, by its inequitable nature, harms many in need, depriving vital mobility. I explained that no one chooses disability or wishes to fight lengthy insurance battles to obtain the mobility needed to pursue education, family, career or community – it’s among the unjust challenges that often come with disability. I even explained the medical documentation trail, required supplier certifications and standards of practice, and why pending legislation to sustain access for complex rehab technology is vital to my peers.

“I’ve had cerebral palsy my entire life, and worked in the mobility industry for 17 years,” I told Fahrenthold. “Never have I met anyone using a power chair who hasn’t needed it out of medical necessity. It’s simply illogical to think that those of us with disabilities are defrauding anyone. To the contrary, we continue struggling to obtain the technology that allows full social inclusion.”

Fahrenthold became more insistent that those of us with disabilities had to be defrauding the government to get power chairs, and when I asked what incentive there was for me or my peers to perpetrate such a supposed crime, he had no answer.

“If I offered you a free power chair, would you take it?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I don’t need one,” he said.

“Exactly,” I replied.

He paused, then stated, “But, I’m not a crook.”

No, Fahrenthold wasn’t a crook, but he wasn’t being an ethical journalist, either. He continued pressing me to somehow say something that would substantiate that those of us with disabilities are defrauding the government to get power wheelchairs. It was at that point that he asked me to explain the Russian mafia.

Now, my back story is intriguing, but the whole story gets more disturbing for those of us with disabilities. On August 16, 2014, the Washington Post ran Fahrenthold’s story, the headline reading, “A medicare scam that just kept rolling: The government has paid billions to buy power wheelchairs. It has no idea how many of the claims are bogus.”

And, neither does Fahrenthold. He interviewed me and several other advocate-experts who told him the truth and reality of power chair funding, and he blatantly omitted us and the truth entirely. Fahrenthold got his story – but wrote it ignoring all facts.

So, what was in Fahrenthold’s story? Conjecture, the Russian mob and, indirectly, a sitcom as his source.

In his article, he pieces together a crazy cast of characters from the 1990s and early 2000s who round up immigrants, steal dead doctors’ identities, and then the Russian mob and others somehow convert it all into a scheme to prescribe those who are able-bodied wheelchairs, whom then use them to, in one case illustrated, hold giant, stuffed teddy bears. After interviewing me and other advocate-experts, this is the literal story Fahrenthold came up with.

Yet, Fahrenthold didn’t stop there. Because there’s no evidence of power chair fraud in the real world of present, he speculates on what criminals will target in the realm of Medicare fraud: “In Puerto Rico, the next big thing seems to be arms and legs.”

After going through this experience, and wondering why Fahrenthold would go through such lengths to try to create a public stigma that paints those of us with disabilities as crooks because we need wheelchairs, I did some research on him. On his professional Twitter page, in promoting his “story” on power wheelchair fraud, guess what he retweeted to support his case…. A YouTube clip of the Seinfeld character, George Costanza, using a mobility scooter. By his own tweeting admission, Fehrenthold’s inspiration and indirect source was a sitcom.

Yet, unlike David A. Fahrenthold’s farfetched account published in the Washington Post, life for those of us who rely on life-sustaining power wheelchairs isn’t “bogus” or a sitcom. It’s very real.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

15 thoughts on “The Real Story of David A. Fahrenthold”

  1. My diagnosis is M.S,. and following a disease flare in 2008, I have been living life LARGE in a chair. I have found your site an incredible read, full of insights and pointers. Thank you. While I have a handy manual that more and more I am able to propel independently, I am primarily still dependent on the attendant, my husband, to push. I have a power chair of sorts issued during my hospitalization. It is now in need of a repair, I believe on its “balance sensor”. Would you be able to suggest where to find such a repair? I really am not all that interested in contacting the supplier as they sued us over billing and my husband is bitter. Oh, I’m in the Chicago Loop. Again, thank you.

  2. This is just about the worst scenario/story this person who supposedly is called a reporter could do to all of us having to live day by day with severe disabilities.His editor/management of this renowned news paper should be fired for betraying not only his profession, but also their reading public. Shameful is too small a word for this!

  3. David A. Fahrenthold is a jerk. How could the Washington Post print such crap. Thank you Mark E. Smith for exposing his article for what it is, fiction from a sitcom. People with disabilities do not defraud the government. I would do anything not to have the need for a motorized wheelchair. Why would we want a wheelchair if we had no need for one?

  4. Ok..lets see…

    What David A Fahrenthold needs to do is get a life beyond sitcoms…


    he needs to be dealing with early onset arthritis and bulging spinal disks, and be walking across the yard and have a fall that results in a catastrophic, life changing accident that requires extensive reconstructive surgery, extensive physical therapy, but still results in one leg being shorter than the other, and having real issues with being mobile…

    Then he has to go through getting his disability approved, and then deal with a VERY limited income..and then have to put out the cash and time to get the dr’s ( or several dr’s) approvals to start the process to qualify for a mobile chair..and then have to deal with the insurance company as well…and then, once you have that approval, then have the company that the insurance company worked with to GET him the chair suddenly be under Government investigation and be shut down, go bankrupt and offer NO tech support for his chair….and he is on his own to find tech support and, when he DOES find it, HOPE that his insurance company will at least pay for the parts…and then he will have to worry about paying for the labor because the insurance company won’t pay for that…….

    Umm..yeah…lets see HIM deal with that..and then turn around and ask such a stupid arsed question…*SMH*

  5. Apparently it’s part of a pattern. Mr. Fahrenthold currently has a story running about the Mississippi Monstrosity (Space Shuttle engine vacuum test stand) that Congress forced NASA to complete. If you just read the bold print in the story, you’d assume NASA was out of control and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars. Not until you read the fine print do you find out the true story of how the Mississippi congressional delegation forced completion of the tower for an already cancelled program.

  6. Thanks for the background on Mr. Fahrenthold. I got here from a link on Common Dreams after Mr. Fahrenolld wrote an attack piece on Bernie Sanders. I appreciate your time in documenting this story. I plan to contact the Post also, as it seems this “reporter” has a history of shoddy work.

  7. I am a physician. I just watched Lawrence O., MSNBC, interviewing Brian A. Farenholdt

    Mr. Farenholdt came across as sincere, as if knowledgable, and obviously with Lawrence O.’s support and agreement.

    While I was impressed (perhaps naively) by Mr.
    Farenholdt’s presentation on the TV show, my later finding (e.g., please see above) re Mr. Farenholdt’s reported rigidity, self-serving manner of thinking in order to present a pre-concluded outcome to what he wishes to publish in the Washington Post , (e.g. his “boss”), needs very significant and in depth, credible examination by his supervisors at the
    Washington Post.

    At this point, he appears to be a “literary bully” who is determined to get the ” story he wants” rather than
    the “story that is there”.

    Sad. Despicable. Disingenuous.

    Tom Carter, MD

  8. Never had heard of him and not a Trump supporter but just saw him on CNN w/ Anderson Cooper and couldn’t believe that he wasn’t called out. Shocking to find that the Trump Foundation isn’t all Trump’s money as if the Clinton Trust is Clinton money. There could be a story here but this guy is skeezy.

  9. I listened to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air show with Mr. Farenholdt. He spoke so convincingly about how the Trump Foundation has been giving the impression of how generous Mr Trump is. The truth is Mr Trump has used the foundation to benefit himself Mr Farenholdt stated. This very knowledgeable reporter from the Washington Post gave names, dates, and many details to back up his claims? I thought since NPR was broadcasting this, it must be true. I was outraged that the public wasn’t being made aware of this information. The election is only weeks away and so many of us still don’t know who to vote for. So before I started passing on all these facts I’ve learned about Mr Trump to everyone I know, I needed to know the background of this reporter. That is how I found this website and several others that revealed unflattering details about Mr. Farenholdt. Is it even possible for the public to learn the truth about the Clinton and Trump foundations? If we can’t trust the “legitimate” news reports from the radio, TV, and newspapers to get facts, how do we get reliable information to make an informed decision . So many people still don’t know who to vote for. What a quandary the USA people are in. Both of these candidates are unpopular and we have to elect one of them.

  10. If the Washington Post is still throwing good money at just opinions like David Fahrenthold we all have one. Put me on the payroll. I want news, not slanted opinions like David Fahrenthold. Where is you spine Washington Post?

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