Pentagon Investigates Pentagon Pundits Scandal

On December 25, New York Times reporter David Barstow filed this update on the scandal that he broke back in 2008:

A Pentagon public relations program that sought to transform high-profile military analysts into “surrogates” and “message force multipliers” for the Bush administration complied with Defense Department regulations and directives, the Pentagon’s inspector general has concluded after a two-year investigation.

Those who don’t recall Barstow’s original story can catch up by reading this FAIR action alert (4/22/08):

According to the Times, the Pentagon recruited over 75 retired generals to act as “message force multipliers” in support of the Iraq War, receiving special Pentagon briefings and talking points that the analysts would often parrot on national television “even when they suspected the information was false or inflated.” The Times even noted that at one 2003 briefing the military pundits were told that “We don’t have any hard evidence” about Iraq’s illicit weapons–a shocking admission the analysts decided not to share with the public.

The idea that the Pentagon has exonerated itself (again) isn’t all that notable.

Among the many serious problems with the Pentagon’s PR efforts was the idea that corporate media outlets would be so enthusiastic to put “experts” on the air who were basically acting in concert with the military. To that end, one anecdote in Barstow’s new report is worth singling out:

Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star Army general who worked as a military analyst for CNN, told investigators he took it as a sign that the Pentagon “was displeased” with his commentary when CNN officials told him he would no longer be invited to special briefings for military analysts. General Clark told investigators that CNN officials made him feel as if he was less valued as a commentator because “he wasn’t trusted by the Pentagon.” At one point, he said, a CNN official told him that the White House had asked CNN to “release you from your contract as a commentator.”

So CNN didn’t want an on-air analyst of the Iraq War who was too critical of the Pentagon? That would be astonishing–or, at least, it ought to be. As the FAIR alert noted, one former CNN executive spoke openly about vetting their war pundits with the Pentagon:

The Times likened the program to “other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism,” but that would seem to discount the fact that the media have for decades demonstrated a preference for featuring retired military officials in their war coverage, with little if any serious efforts to offer balancing perspectives. The run-up to the Iraq invasion was no different. As former CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan explained (4/20/03): “I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, ‘Here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war,’ and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.”

If Clark is telling the truth, it would seem that it was also “important” for CNN to drop an analyst if the Pentagon gave him a thumbs-down.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.