Pravda, Anyone?

In a long and stunning expose, today’s NYTimes chronicles the symbiosis between the Pentagon and the retired officers who serve as on-air military analysts for the various news organizations. The article is based on 8000 pages of email messages, transcripts, and other records they sued the Defense Department to obtain.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

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.”

Any true symbiosis requires that all parties benefit from the arrangement.

In this case, the Pentagon gained a cadre of credible characters who push the talking points favored by the military and the administration. This included supporting the initial justifications for invading Iraq, minimizing the importance and potency of the Iraq insurgency, and downplaying the lack of appropriate armor for the troops.

For the retired officers, the payoff was unprecedented access which they could parlay to the benefit of the military contractors for whom they worked or lobbied. Their pocketbooks were directly enhanced by the fact that most (although not all) were paid for their on-air appearances, while their vanities were stroked by being “consulted” by members of the Pentagon power structure, up to and including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

And most performed admirably. They dutifully swallowed any misgivings they may have had, and fulfilled their mandated roles as cheerleaders for the Pentagon’s actions and decisions.

“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

<snip>

“You can’t believe the progress,” General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.

To ensure that all of these retired officers “stayed on the farm” as it were, an outside contractor was hired to monitor and report on their various on-camera appearances. Punishment for any who happened to stray was swift and sure:

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.”

In perfect keeping with what we are seeing in other areas, as the Bush Administration winds down and the investigations ramp up, those who were complicit (with few exceptions) are either refusing to talk about it or are pointing fingers elsewhere. For their part, the networks claim that they had no idea about the conflicts of interest involving their analysts.

I would love to offer a snarky comment here, or say that I’m surprised by any of this, but I can’t. The Mafia could take lessons from these guys.

(all blockquotes are from the above-linked article; it’s an excellent, albeit thoroughly discouraging, read)

2 Responses to “Pravda, Anyone?”

  1. Ricardo Martinez says:

    But the sad thing is…nothing…will…change.

  2. DrGail says:

    I hear ya. There may be an investigation, and that would be good, but I agree that they’ll show not a shred of shame and keep flaunting it.

    I’ve started looking at each stunning new revelation as little more than an object lesson (of what NOT to do) for the next president. But even that’s a positive — it needs to be crystal clear to the next administration, administrations for years to come, and especially the American populace, just how much evil a corrupt administration can wreak.

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