Through rigorous documentation, Barstow revealed the incestuous relationship between the government, the networks and so-called “independent” military analysts, who echoed Pentagon talking points in order to gain access and, possibly, advantage for defense contractors to which they were tied. (The Times screwed up royally in the run-up to the war, think Judith Miller,but they got this one right. Read ombudsman Clark Hoyt’s story on the Times two-year battle with the Pentagon to obtain this information.)
According to the Times, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired military officers as its “message force multipliers” or “surrogates,” and they in turn passed along Bush Administration “themes and messages” to Americans in the “form of their own opinions.” Participants were not to disclose their contacts with the Pentagon, and networks rarely disclosed their “analysts'” ties to defense contractors with vested interests in the war policies under discussion.
As I wrote, this is the essence of a new military-media-industrial complex that cuts right to the heart of what Americans can expect from our mass media, our government, and what passes for “news” on the most important political issues of our time. The reaction of the mainstream media only serves to drive this point home even further, as Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald noted, “But what is most extraordinary about all of this is that huge numbers of Americans who were subjected to this propaganda by their own Government still don’t know that they were, because the television networks which broadcast it to them refuse to tell them about it, opting instead to suppress the story and stonewall any efforts to find out what happened.”
Politico reported that in the week after the Times story ran, within the mainstream media only PBS’s NewsHourran stories – two of them – examining the issues raised. The Nation featured the scandal in its lead editorial and will stay on this until it gets the attention it needs and deserves.
Four days after the Times broke the story, Representative Rosa DeLauro wrote a letter to NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, FOX News, and CNN News “to get specifics about each outlet’s policies surrounding the hiring and vetting of military analysts reporting on the Iraq War.” The arrogance of Fox is on full frontal display — only ABC, CNN and CBS responded to the Congresswoman. DeLauro and Representative John Dingell have now requested a Federal Communications Commission investigation into the propaganda program and the question of whether the networks or analysts broke any federal laws.
Senator John Kerry has also called for a Government Accountability Office investigation, asking people to sign onto his letter to the agency: “…when there’s no coverage of this issue on television, it’s hard to build the drumbeat you need sometimes to get results. We need to demonstrate that Americans care about the credibility of their government and the transparency of their media.”
While the blogosphere and The Nation have kept this story alive, it’s one that people need to see covered on the networks and cable news. The Pentagon has now suspended the propaganda program, but we still need a full investigation by relevant Congressional Committees to hold those who lied us into this disastrous war to account –and to ensure this never happens again.