Network News in Denial

Network News in Denial

Why are the networks stonewalling revelations that their military analysts were actually selling the Pentagon’s Iraq War spin?


While most TV news organizations have refused to report or even comment on the bombshell Times article exposing a secret Pentagon propaganda campaign to sell Iraq policy, PBS just aired an important segment on the controversy. PBS’s Judy Woodruff kicked off the debate with a disturbing summary of the current media blackout:

“For the record, we invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and NBC to participate but they declined our offer or did not respond.”

John Stauber, coauthor of Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq, contended that the Pentagon’s “surrogate” program violated federal law against domestic propaganda and called for a congressional investigation. “This war could have never been sold if it were not for this sophisticated propaganda campaign,” he said. Former ABC correspondent Bob Zelnick largely defended the program as standard operating procedure–an odd claim since the administration went to court to prevent its disclosure. Zelnick did concede, however, that news organizations should disclose more about military analysts’ conflicts of interest when they provide commentary. Video:

Transcript excerpt from PBS:

JUDY WOODRUFF: John Stauber, let me begin with you. The Times spent two years investigating this story. They ultimately had to sue to get documents out of the Pentagon. In your view, what is the essence of the story? What does it say that the Pentagon did?

JOHN STAUBER, Center for Media and Democracy: Well, Judy, first of all, congratulations to the NewsHour for doing this report. And it’s a shame on the networks who were duped this way that they didn’t show up to defend or explain their actions.

What happened here was a psy-ops campaign, an incredible government propaganda campaign whereby Donald Rumsfeld and Torie Clark, the head of public relations for the Pentagon, designed a program to recruit 75, at least 75 former military officers, as your report said, most of them now lobbyists or consultants to military contractors, and insert them, beginning in 2002, before the attack on Iraq was even launched, into the major networks to manage the messages, to be surrogates.

And that’s the words that are actually used, “message multipliers” for the secretary of defense and for the Pentagon. This program continues right up to now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is the essence of this that what they did was–what the Pentagon did was illegal?

JOHN STAUBER: Yes, what they did was illegal. Now, the Pentagon might contest that, but we’ve had various laws on the books in our country going back to the 1920s. It is illegal for the U.S. government to propagandize citizens in this way.

In my opinion, this war could have never been sold if it were not for this sophisticated propaganda campaign. And what we need is congressional investigation of not just this Pentagon military analyst program, but all the rest of the deception and propaganda that came out of the Bush administration and out of the Pentagon that allowed them to sell and manage this war.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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