MSNBC’s Pentagon Pundit

A recent New York Times article (11/29/08) offers fresh documentation of conflicts of interest involving one of TV’s most famous retired generals, Barry McCaffrey, who continues to be employed as an NBC military analyst even as he rakes in profits from military contractors. The story of how McCaffrey and at least 74 other retired generals were receiving briefings through a secret Pentagon propaganda program was broken by the New York Times back in April (4/20/08); however, it received scarcely a mention on the TV news outlets that employed these Pentagon pundits.

One exception was Keith Olbermann’s Countdown on MNSBC (4/21/08). However, for Olbermann, McCaffrey’s short-lived stint as a skeptic of Pentagon tactics seemed to be a bigger story than the fact that McCaffrey had been participating in a Pentagon propaganda program and had a financial stake in selling war equipment. Olbermann stated:

Buying the news-gate. First Armstrong Williams and video news releases and Jeff Gannon. Now the New York Times report yesterday that so many of the supposedly ex-military figures you were seeing on this network and CBS and ABC, CNN and Fox, in ’03 and ’04 and ’05 still had business relationships with the Pentagon and were still being wined and dined by DOD brass.

The headline here is not that the administration was trying to corrupt the free press. It’s, A, how courageous were the likes of Barry McCaffrey, Monty Meigs and Jack Jacobs when they came on here and said, this is crack–the Pentagon misled everybody?

Indeed, McCaffrey had for a time strayed from his Pentagon talking points. However, as the recent New York Times article documents, he was quickly cut off from access to the Pentagon’s secret briefings as punishment, and rapidly reversed course:

Robert Weiner, a longtime publicist for General McCaffrey, said the general came to see that if he continued his criticism, he risked being shut out not only by Mr. Rumsfeld but also by his network of friends and contacts among the uniformed leadership.

“There is a time when you have to punt,” said Mr. Weiner, emphasizing that he spoke as General McCaffreyâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s friend, not as his spokesman.

Within days General McCaffrey began to backpedal, professing his “great respect” for Mr. Rumsfeld to Tim Russert.

Moreover, the Times noted that

For months to come, as an insurgency took root, General McCaffrey defended the Bush administration. “I am 100 percent behind what the administration, what the president of the United States, is doing in Iraq,” he told Mr. Williams that June.

Even McCaffrey’s own people seem to agree that his role as a TV analyst was inherently compromised, according to the Times:

Mr. Weiner, the general’s longtime publicist, said General McCaffrey worked with clients “to get your mission achieved in the media.” General McCaffrey, he said, often speaks out with the twin goals of shaping policy and generating favorable coverage for clients with worthy products or ideas.

McCaffrey’s latter allegiance to the Bush administration line was something Olbermann conveniently seemed to forget.

However, MSNBC‘s noted liberal host did caution, the day after the New York Times exposed the Pentagon pundits program, that such journalistic improprieties might be ongoing–at least at one cable network: “What makes anybody think this still isn’t going on at Fox?” he demanded.

As it turns out, McCaffrey has in recent months been cropping up as an “analyst” much closer to home. And not just on NBC (where heâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s appeared seven separate times, offering his expertise everything from the Afghanistan War to the Iraq War to the Colombian hostage rescue to the “drug war” in Mexico); he’s also appeared twice on MSNBC–including on the show of Olbermann’s fellow liberal MSNBC host, Rachel Maddow (9/9/08).

But then that should come as no surprise. After all, it was on MSNBC that McCaffrey delivered his hallmark line: “Thank God for the Abrams Tank…and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle!” As a FAIR Action Alert pointed out, at the time of that statement,

unbeknownst to viewers, McCaffrey was sitting on the board of a company called IDT, which received multi-million dollar contracts related to both of those pieces of military hardware.

Also since the Timesâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢ broke the pentagon pundits story, CNN has run a story featuring McCaffrey as an expert (Situation Room, 8/4/08), as has PBS (NewsHour, 6/30/08).