David Barstow's three-week-old piece in the NYT about the Pentagon propagandizing the news media by sending 75 analysts to spout the party line should have generated a firestorm of indignation. Instead, the media have buried this expose of the Pentagon's pro-Bush propaganda so completely that--for those whose media diet consists on only MSM sources--it may as well not even exist. Here's a primer on the scandal:
...a Pentagon information apparatus that has used [military] analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration's wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
What did the Pentagon do besides issue talking points to the analysts?
As it happened, the analysts' news media appearances were being closely monitored. The Pentagon paid a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour databases for any trace of the analysts, be it a segment on "The O'Reilly Factor" or an interview with The Daily Inter Lake in Montana, circulation 20,000.
Omnitec evaluated their appearances using the same tools as corporate branding experts. One report, assessing the impact of several trips to Iraq in 2005, offered example after example of analysts echoing Pentagon themes on all the networks.
What about the 8,000 pages of information released by the Pentagon?
These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as "message force multipliers" or "surrogates" who could be counted on to deliver administration "themes and messages" to millions of Americans "in the form of their own opinions."
This story has largely been ignored by the mainstream "liberal" media, except for PBS (h/t: Ari Melber at HuffPo), largely because of their complicity in disseminating the Bush administration's propaganda. Howard Kurtz's segment on CNN's "Reliable Sources" is another exception to the media's radio-silence rule (h/t: John Amato at Crooks & Liars).
How extensive has the news blackout been?
More than two weeks after the New York Times reported on the Penatgon's military analyst program to sell controversial policies such as the invasion of Iraq, the broadcast television news outlets implicated in the program are hoping to tough out the scandal by refusing to report it. Recently Media Matters of America (MMA) reported that, according to a search of the Nexis database, "the three major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have still not mentioned the report at all."
The Pew Excellence in Journalism project has a chart showing that " there was virtually no mainstream media follow up to The Times' expose" with the only national TV coverage being the introduction segment and live debate featuring CMD's John Stauber on the PBS NewsHour.
(John Stauber at AlterNet)
In the midst of a personal take on the scandal at HuffPo, Jeff Cohen points out that the cover-up is worse than the crime:
The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld or the Pentagon. It's the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism.
No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or smear weapons expert Scott Ritter. Or blacklist former attorney general Ramsey Clark. It was top NBC/MSNBC execs, not the Feds, who imposed a quota system on the Donahue staff requiring two pro-war guests if we booked one anti-war advocate -- affirmative action for hawks.
Taking an even broader view, the unsigned editorial "Our Lapdog Media" at The Nation notes that "the tendency of the corporate press is to serve as stenographer for the powerful rather than the muscular check and balance intended by the country's founders:"
Rapid consolidation has brought us dumbed-down media, with broadcast and cable networks that rarely challenge the status quo, even as they maintain their monopolistic stranglehold on the airwaves. What do the people get in return? A diet of "news" and commentary with retired generals telling us quagmire wars are going well, former CEOs telling us a sputtering economy is "basically sound" and former political aides telling us presidential campaigns are about lapel pins and made-up scandals.
Glenn Greenwald has written a series of excellent pieces on the scandal, the first of which observes that:
...what is most extraordinary about all of this is that huge numbers of Americas who were subjected to this propaganda by their own Government still don't know that they were, because the television networks which broadcast it to them refuse to tell them about it, opting instead to suppress the story and stonewall any efforts to find out what happened. As corrupt as the Pentagon was here, our nation's major media outlets were at least just as bad. Their collective Pravda-like suppression now of the entire story -- behavior so blatantly corrupt that even the likes of Howie Kurtz and The Politico are strongly condemning them -- has become the most significant and revealing aspect of the entire scandal.
Greenwald was even tougher on the media in this subsequent post:
Clearly, the principal reason the story has received virtually no coverage on the television networks is because the story reflects so poorly on them. [...] The public has long been inculcated with the notion that we have a "liberal media" that opposes and undermines whatever Republicans do, etc. etc. Yet here is mountains of evidence as conclusive as can be as to how the Government/media cartel actually functions -- media outlets and their corporate parents rely on the Government for all sorts of favors and access and, in return, do nothing to displease them.
Quote of the Day: Barstow wrote that Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, claimed it was "a bit incredible" that retired military personnel would be "wound up" and turned loose as "puppets of the Defense Department."
Really? Then how do you explain the big silver keys sticking out of their backs?
Mark Fiore's "General Happy Swellspin" at Truthdig is a sarcastic animated look at the issue
Eric Alterman and George Zornick at Center for American Progress
Diane Farsetta at AlterNet
John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton at AlterNet
John Stauber wonders "Will the Media Pay Attention?" at AlterNet
Also at HuffPo, Arianna Huffington asks "Why Won't the Media Pursue the Pentagon Propaganda Scandal?"