Back in April, the New York Times published a lengthy exposé about the Pentagon’s propaganda machine in which retired military officers, acting as independent military analysts, had for years been appearing on network news broadcasts mouthing Pentagon talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, etc.
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.
The Times also has a nice video presentation that elucidates the story in a way that would make 60 Minutes envious.
Call it: Propaganda, American-style. On the one hand, these guys dutifully receive their talking points from the Pentagon and parrot them out into teevee land. If they fail to push the message their warlords desire, they have their precious “insider access” cut off – making them worthless to the networks. This in and of itself is illegal behavior, and the Pentagon was subsequently forced to “suspend” its program once the story broke. (I know, I too was shocked to learn that propaganda is officially outlawed in America… could have fooled me.)
On the other hand, these “independent analysts” are in fact gainfully employed by the war machine – “either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants”. So aside from their cushy teevee gigs, they have a vested interest in promoting and popularizing our various military efforts. In other words, the propaganda doesn’t merely Make Benefit Glorious Nation, it also lines the ex-generals’ pockets. (Like Joe Dirt says to the fireworks-selling veterinarian: “Someone shoves an M-80 up a bullfrog’s butt, blows him to pieces…he comes back to you to fix it. You win twice, brother. It’s good biz!”)
Again, this story broke in April. It is now seven months later and none of the major networks has come clean to its audience about its complicity (unwitting or otherwise) in this journalistic disgrace. As for the “independent military analysts” – the NY Times has another story out today, this time focusing in solely on one of the most egregious opportunists: Barry McCaffrey.
But it was 9/11 that thrust General McCaffrey to the forefront of the national security debate. In the years since he has made nearly 1,000 appearances on NBC and its cable sisters, delivering crisp sound bites in a blunt, hyperbolic style. He commands up to $25,000 for speeches, his commentary regularly turns up in The Wall Street Journal, and he has been quoted or cited in thousands of news articles, including dozens in The New York Times.
At the same time, General McCaffrey has immersed himself in businesses that have grown with the fight against terrorism.
The consulting company he started after leaving the government in 2001, BR McCaffrey Associates, promises to “build linkages” between government officials and contractors like Defense Solutions for up to $10,000 a month. He has also earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defense industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, he is the chairman of HNTB Federal Services, an engineering and construction management company that often competes for national security contracts.
Sadly, none of this is news. The Nation did an article about Barry’s conflict of interest way back in 2003, and more recently, Glenn Greenwald has hammered both McCaffrey and Brian Williams over the same allegations. They reply that McCaffrey’s war wounds and patriotism somehow make him beyond reproach. Interestingly, McCaffrey defends himself by citing his harsh criticism of Rumsfeld. What was that criticism again? Oh yes, that he was trying to wage war “on the cheap”. In other words, not spreading enough money to his business interests. So sorry, General, how could we ever have doubted your integrity?
Bottom line: these clowns should not be allowed on television news broadcasts cheerleading the war. Let’s see how NBC ignores this report.