A recent front-page story in the New York Times reveals that the Pentagon has gone far beyond paying Armstrong Williams. A whole gaggle of retired military leaders posing as neutral pundits turn out to have been under the sway of the Pentagon:
Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.
In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.
The Times stops short of accusing these military figures of taking money directly from the Pentagon. But they were, in a real sense, embedded, and these relationships were not disclosed to the electronic news outlets who hired them. Democracy Now reported two days later that the military flew some of these people to Iraq at its own expense and conducted one-sided briefings there.
Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, one of two commentators on the DN segment, says the media was completely lacking in due diligence, inviting these pundits without asking questions:
I think the extent of the briefings was somewhat shocking and the blase attitude from the networks. They didn’t care what military contractors these guys were representing when they were out at the studio. They didn’t care that the Pentagon was flying them on their own dime to Iraq. Just basic journalistic judgment was completely lacking here. So I think the story is really about a media failure, more than a Pentagon failure. The Pentagon did exactly what you would expect to do, taking advantage of this media bias in favor of having more and more generals on the air when the country is at war.
And when the commentators were in a position to refute the Pentagon, they stayed silent. Hart again:
One of the most shocking things in the story is that in early 2003, these guys got a briefing about WMDs, and the government said, “We actually don’t have hard evidence right now that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.” Did any of them go on the air and say that? No. The Pentagon, I think, had total control and total faith that these guys would deliver the message that they intended to deliver to the public, and that’s exactly what they did, and the media did very little to counteract this overwhelming propaganda campaign from the Pentagon.
And there were consequences to those who strayed from the party line:
Still, even the mildest of criticism could draw a challenge. Several analysts told of fielding telephone calls from displeased defense officials only minutes after being on the air.
On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the ”twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give ”a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox ”may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was ”not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.
Mr. Cowan said he was ”precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, ”simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.
And still, the Democrats won’t talk about impeachment. Considering the extremely bellicose noises this same government and its media allies are making about Iran, we had bloody well put that impeachment discussion “back on the table.”
And still, as Arianna Huffington points out, most of the mainstream media not only ducks responsibility for its many failures leading up to and continuing through the war, but doesn’t even acknowledge there’s a problem.