By now you have probably heard about what might be the mainstream news article in recent weeks, the front-page David Barstow epic in today's New York Times on how the Pentagon, starting in 2002, assembled a crew of retired military officers to disseminate propaganda via all-too-willing network and cable news outlets. I can't begin to summarize or do justice to this report here, you will simply have to follow the link below. Barstow aptly refers to this as "a kind of media trojan horse."
Even if it confirms what you have already sensed -- you are no dummies -- the details are truly damning and shocking. (More Orwell than oh, well.) And it continues up to the present day, with the revelation that Gen. Petraeus met with members of this propaganda group just two weeks ago -- he had met with them previously, as well. "Anything we can do to help," one analyst described this most recent meeting.
No wonder the analysts were considered "message-force multipliers."
But to get you started, a few points to keep in mind:
-- The article has at least three tracks: One, the Pentagon deploying the analysts (some 75 in number) and the TV outlets happy to run with them; two, the analysts' further conflict-of-interest in being tied to defense contractors with billions of dollars invested in the war effort; three, the complete lack of interest by the TV outlets in either of the first two connections, or ignoring what they did know. In fact, the networks raised no objections to the Pentagon paying for trips by the analysts.
-- The effort began in "selling the war" -- going where even Judy Miller feared to tread -- and there are some startling admissions by some team members that they knew they were being sold a fairy tale on WMD, but went along with it anyway. The moral bankruptcy is truly disgusting.
-- One analyst who did dare to criticize the Pentagon in one TV appearance was summarily kicked off the propaganda bus. In fact, the others followed the Pentagon talking points to the letter -- almost to the word. Some analysts doubted what they were told, or knew certain facts were wrong, but never shared this with viewers. The Pentagon kept amazingly close tabs on everything the analysts said, from small radio outlets to Fox News, and let them know when they started to stray.
-- The Pentagon helped two of them craft a Wall Street Journal piece. Barstow calls the overall program "a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated."
-- Besides helping the companies they were tied to, some of the analysts also got $500 to $1000 per appearance on TV. Rest easy, Gen. Wesley Clark was not on the official Pentagon team.
-- While the focus of the article is very much on the TV propaganda (Fox News, of course, way in the lead) the New York Times admits that it published "at least" nine op-eds by the propagandists. And that paper, and all the other leading newspapers, quoted members of the group often. I'll be looking into that angle myself starting now, as a natural sequel to my book on Iraq and the media. Here's my first take: http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003791666
-- The Pentagon briefings for the propaganda crew are still going on, weekly.
-- Don't miss the Times' lavish "interactive" features with the piece online.
I'll leave off here so you can actually go to the article.
Click here for the NYT piece.
UPDATE: Barstow is answering questions at Times' site right now (Monday).
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and has been hailed by, Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald, Arianna Huffington and others.