Hillary Clinton's campaign finally came out against the Bush administration's secret program to promote Iraq policy through television analysts on Monday, saying it raises questions of "credibility and trust at the Pentagon" and calling for an Inspector General investigation, in a statement provided to The Nation. The program, first reported by the New York Times on April 20, drew criticism from media watchdog groups and some Democrats, but none of the presidential candidates had previously addressed it. Barack Obama's campaign also finally weighed in on the controversy, telling The Nation that the Illinois Senator was "deeply disturbed" that the administration "sought to manipulate the public's trust," and saying the program "deserves further investigation to determine if laws or ethical standards were violated." Senator McCain's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
A Pentagon official announced that it would "suspend" the program for "retired military analysts" pending further review, in an interview with the military's Stars and Stripes newspaper on Thursday. The Pentagon added that the suspension is "temporary" on Monday.
The Clinton Campaign said that given the Bush administration's record on intelligence and misinformation, an investigation is critical to determine how the Pentagon shaped the "commentary of putatively independent television military analysts" for "'selling' the Iraq war and our country's defense policy now." The campaign statement also flagged "serious questions about the potential linkage of government contracts to favorable public commentary by military analysts."
The Obama campaign called for "greater transparency to ensure that those who lobby the Pentagon are not rewarded for favorable commentary about the administration's policies." Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki also broadened the argument to indict the ongoing debate over war policy, saying "it's past time that we conducted an honest dialogue about the situation in Iraq." (Full statements here.)
McCain's refusal to comment on the program is unsurprising, given his staunch support for every major aspect of the president's Iraq policy. However, the Democratic candidates' delay in responding is more complicated. There has been a virtual blackout of the topic on television news, so the candidates have not been pressed in recent interviews, such as Obama's Fox appearance on Sunday. And the issue is politically delicate because it implicates the conduct of retired generals. The campaigns were careful to criticize the administration, not the generals, who hold a hallowed position in foreign policy discourse. The Clinton campaign even stressed that its criticism did not impugn "the honor and patriotism of our dedicated career military officers," and neither candidate advocated a congressional or independent inquiry.
The Chairs of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee have also called for internal investigations by the Defense Department. Carl Levin, the Senate Chairman, highlighted retaliation against analysts critical of the war in his letter calling on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate. Ike Skelton, the House Chairman, criticized the Pentagon in floor remarks for using retired generals "as pawns to spout the administration's talking points" and called on news organizations to "disclose potential conflicts of interest."
Most of the television networks, however, have repeatedly refused to comment on the story, let alone change their policies. Representative Rosa DeLauro sent letters to five network presidents last week, demanding details about their policies allowing analysts with financial and political conflicts of interest. Free Press, a media reform organization, has documented the networks' refusal to respond to several inquiries (or report on the program itself). The group is calling for a congressional investigation. Since the Times had to sue the Pentagon to obtain the original documents exposing the program, internal investigations and "temporary" suspensions are unlikely to generate any more useful information or accountability.
Full statements available at The Nation, where this article first appeared.