If you thought the US media had hit a new low with last week’s ABC Debate Debacle, read Sunday’s New York Times’s 10,000 (plus) word cover story, "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand."
Using 8000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records, accessed through suing the Pentagon, the NYT report exposes the Pentagon’s propaganda machine, its control over access and information, and its selling of the "war on terror" –beginning with the buildup to the Iraq war. As someone posting here put it, Goebbels would be proud.
This was an all out effort at the highest levels of the Bush Administration, continuing to this day, to dupe, mislead and lie to the American people– using propaganda dressed up and cherry-picked as independent military analysis. As one participant described it, " it was psyops on steroids."
In its rigorous documentation of the relationship between the government, the networks and retired military analysts, the lineaments of the corrosive structure and impact of a new military-media-industrial complex are exposed. This corrupt complex demands investigation by all relevant Congressional committees–from Intelligence to Armed Services. The networks must also be held accountable for their role in duping Americans. MoveOn, Media Matters, Free Press, FAIR and other media and democracy groups should demand that networks fire those analysts who concealed their links and then refuse to hire analysts, military or other, without full conflict of interest disclosures. (They should also open up the airwaves, which belong to the people, to a full range of views!) As for these military analysts-they should be hauled up before the judgment of the institution they claim to revere and represent. As one post put it, these corrupt men –all men, it seems–violated a sacred trust, putting their wallet, their access and the Pentagon above their duty and honor to the men and women they claim to revere.
Some of the key findings in the New York Times story:
*"Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they were asked to assess on air."
* "These business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves."
*"Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters."
"They have been given access to classified intelligence." (This revelation demands immediate hearings by relevant Congressional committtees.)
* Members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated…One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly ‘artificial’ that he joked to another group member that they were ‘on the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,’ a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had ‘brainwashed’ him into supporting the Vietnam war during a tour there in 1965."
*"Again and again, records show the administration enlisted analysts as a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents."
*"Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as ‘message force multipliers’ or ‘surrogates’ who could be counted on to deliver administration ‘themes and messages’ to millions of Americans in the ‘form of their own opinions.’"
* "Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called ‘information dominance.’ In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent."
* In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive environment–the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld’s private conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals of duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself."
* But "access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon."
* "Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN…Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways–either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, web sites, and newspapers."
"At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times."
* "Allard and other analysts said their network handlers raised no objections when the Defense Department began paying their commercial airfare for Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq- a clear ethical violation for most news organizations."
The selling of the war continues.
Just two weeks ago, General Petraeus, according to the story, took time out from testifying for a conference call with some of these analysts. Mr. Garrett, the FOX analysts and a Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told Petraeus during the call, "keep up the great work…anything we can do to help." Almost weekly, the Pentagon contunues to conduct briefings with selected military analysts.