By: Greg Mitchell
A major article by David Barstow in the Sunday edition of The New York Times rips the veil off a Pentagon effort to promote its views, and those of the White House, via the press by the use of so-called “military experts,” usually retired officers.
“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,” Barstow writes.
“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 article admits that the Times itself published nine op-eds by the “propaganda analysts.”
Although the article focuses on their TV work, the Times and every other major paper has long quoted some of these analysts in their news pages.
An excerpt from the lengthy piece, up at www.nytimes.com, follows.
Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse ? an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.
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.
A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.
?It was them saying, ?We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,? ? Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.
Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. ?This was a coherent, active policy,? he said.
As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.
?Night and day,? Mr. Allard said, ?I felt we?d been hosed.?
The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying they had been given only factual information about the war. ?The intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people,? Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
It was, Mr. Whitman added, ?a bit incredible? to think retired military officers could be ?wound up? and turned into ?puppets of the Defense Department.?
Greg Mitchell’s new book is “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.”