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You may have heard about the New York Times article published last Sunday that detailed the huge propaganda effort that the Pentagon engaged in by placing supposedly retired and objective generals on all the news outlets. It turns out that the generals weren't all that retired - they were still working for the Pentagon and additionally many represented "defense" contractors that had a vested interest in the US going to and remaining in a war. This revelation is outrageous - it is illegal for the Pentagon to engage in propaganda inside the US and it also shows either a complete failure of our media's ability to vet its "experts" or its lack of objectivity.

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.

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.
Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, "the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world." Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many - although certainly not all - faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.

I actually didn't blog about this because i thought this was such a big story that anything i'd write would be redundant. I (naively) expected some level of outrage among the cable bobbleheads - one would think that the 'Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world' would not appreciate being manipulated. At the very least, i expected some lame defense of their behavior from the press, and a flip denial of the scope from the White House.

Stupid me.

Instead, there has been a complete media blackout of this story; literally no coverage at all.

Questions by the White House press corps: None
Frontpage coverage in major newspapers: None
Discussion on T.V. talk shows: None
Questions to Defense Secretary Gates: One

Apparently Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer like being manipulated.

The fact that the media was complicit in this (and their silence lends to the impression that they were aware of what was going on, and not just incredibly incompetent) may be part of the reason why they have been unwilling to comment on this. But even ignoring their own involvment, this is part of a larger pattern of self-censorship within the media in support of government policies. Glenn Greenwald discusses this at length in several posts on his blog. I think his Kremlin allusion is powerful; the issue here is the media's ability to be silent and effectively prevent people from finding out about this.

And now we have what is by all metrics a huge new story regarding more fundamental media failures (at best), and they collectively invoke the Kremlin-like methods of Dick Cheney -- they refuse to comment, refuse to reveal even the most basic facts about what they did, and do everything possible to hide behind the wall of secrecy they maintain. They don't even feel the slightest bit obligated to say whether they have any procedures to prevent manipulation of this sort in the future. And those classic information-suppressing tactics are all being invoked by news organizations -- which claim to be devoted to disclosing, not concealing, scandals, corruption and facts about how our political institutions function
The fact that they simply refuse to account for their behavior -- hiding behind "no comment" walls of obfuscation or issuing cursory, empty statements -- demonstrates rather conclusively that they are in the business of doing everything except revealing relevant news to their audience. It's really the height of hubris, and unmistakable proof of their core corruption, that not even a front-page, lengthy NYT expose can cause them to address their central, ongoing role in uncritically disseminating government propaganda about the weightiest of matters.

As a footnote, here is a relevant interview between then CNN Anchor Aaron Brown and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now radio from 2003:

JEREMY SCAHILL: Aaron, will you consider hiring a paid antiwar analyst for NewsNight?

AARON BROWN: I honestly don't think it's a particularly relevant question. I mean, it's not - it's - we're in a war. There's going to be times after the war when we're going to have to talk about how that - how the occupation is being run and whether it's being run appropriately by the right people, and in a fair and smart way, and what the implications are of an American occupation of an important Arab capital. And at that point, by and large, the generals go away because there's no war to cover. Or there's a different war to cover, a different kind of war to cover. And we'll look for a range of people to talk about those issues.

AMY GOODMAN: But right now?

AARON BROWN: But again, no, because I think it's a red herring issue.

AMY GOODMAN: To have an antiwar analyst onboard, paid to be at your beck and call, like the generals?

AARON BROWN: I think -- yes. As my daughter would say, I'm not sure what part of that answer was confusing. But yes, I don't think that's the question, and I don't think it's how we use the generals at all, period. I mean, I don't know how many times we're going to go over the same thing. I just don't think we use the generals to argue the war. We use the generals to explain what is happening on the ground and why. That's an important thing to do, and that's the role they play.

In addition to Brown's seeming ignorance as to what the generals were being used for, note also Brown's built-in assumption that we may not hear from war critics while we are at war, and his snarky outrage that Goodman would continue to press him on that topic.

We need a better media.

By fnord12 | April 25, 2008, 9:29 AM | Liberal Outrage


The Daily Show covered this story. I think that counts as major media.

At least in my world. It's the only media I pay attention to. That's pretty major!