Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Spin Uncovered

More Spin Uncovered

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Last month, in a major exposé, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had created a domestic propaganda program that made use of more than 75 "military analysts" to disseminate favorable coverage of the Bush administration's war efforts. The program included, for example, private briefings with former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials, commercial airfare, and the distribution of favorable "talking points" to analysts prior to media appearances. Virtually all of the major networks were involved in the program, including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR. The retired military officials serving as media analysts often had contracting ties with the government but pushed the Pentagon line on air without revealing the conflict of interest. Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a major document collection in response to the Times's article, shining even more light on the magnitude of the operation. In a recent letter, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a "full investigation of this program and report its findings." Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) also wrote to the GAO, observing: "Allegedly, the Pentagon discouraged the analysts from publicly describing the nature of their relationship with the Pentagon. This clearly violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law."

An examination of the Pentagon's internal conversations confirms that the Pentagon created "a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage," as the Times put it. A July 6, 2006 e-mail from Pentagon official Jeffrey Gordon circulated "thoughtful" words by right-wing talkers Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin on Guantanamo Bay. In the Malkin column, she decried the "unseriousness and hypocrisy of the terrorist-abetting left" on Guantanamo. O'Reilly said there were only "minor cases of abuse" at the prison. A "talking points" document from the summer of 2003 pushed the infamous words "dead-enders" and "bitter-enders" to refer to Iraqis who attacked American troops. A later memo reiterated that "the dead-enders are not driving us out of anywhere." Other e-mails reveal a deliberate attempt by the Pentagon to cover up its heavy hand. In a Feb.16, 2006 exchange, Pentagon media staffers discussed coordinating with the Heritage Foundation for a speaker on Guantanamo. An anonymous staffer suggested retired Army Sergeant Major Steve Short because "he seems to be on message and very articulate." "Important to remember that heritage can invite anyone to present and that we don't really have an opinion on anyone," responded Allison Barber of the Pentagon. "[G]asp. are you telling me to tell a lie???? surely not ;)," the anonymous staffer responded.

WHITE HOUSE INVOLVEMENT?: Last month, reporter Eric Brewer asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about whether the White House was involved in the military analyst program. Perino responded, "I just said, no." But the Pentagon's document collection raises questions about the White House's role. A March 16, 2006 e-mail from Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence referenced "a closed call opened only to our retired military get them on message heading into the weekend on Iraqi troop strength, advances, etc." A follow-up from an anonymous e-mailer said he or she was "hoping to have Hadley brief these guys next week," referring to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Responding to this e-mail, Lawrence added, "Id love to see if we ocould [could] get them in with potus [President Bush] as well. (I think that was submitted to karl and company...last week)." A May 23, 2006 from Lawrence also references "karl." As Salon's Glenn Greenwald noted, the "karl" references strongly suggest that at least former Bush political adviser Karl Rove was involved.

MEDIA STILL QUIET: The media has been curiously silent on the Times's exposé, despite clear involvement in the program. "Did we drink the government kool-aid? -- of course," said CNN military analyst Don Sheppard in a June 23, 2006 e-mail about his government-sponsored trip to Guantanamo. In the week after the story broke, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that out of roughly 1,300 news stories, "only two touched on the Pentagon analysts scoop," both airing on PBS. "I can only conclude that the networks are staying away...because they are embarrassed about what some of their military analysts did or don't want to give the controversy more prominence," said Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. As Media Matters reported, the military analysts cited in the Times article have been quoted more than 4,500 times by a range of news outlets since Jan. 1, 2002. On April 24, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) wrote letters to the heads of the major networks on the "specifics about each outlet's policies surrounding the hiring and vetting of military analysts reporting on the Iraq War." As of May 8, only ABC and CNN responded.

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