Thursday, April 24, 2008

US War Bulletin: Corporate Media and Imperialist Propaganda

US news media's latest disgrace

By Robert Parry

Apr. 21- After prying loose 8,000 pages of Pentagon documents, the New York Times has proven what should have been obvious years ago: the Bush administration manipulated public opinion on the Iraq War, in part, by funneling propaganda through former senior military officers who served as expert analysts on TV news shows.

In 2002-03, these military analysts were ubiquitous on TV justifying the Iraq invasion, and most have remained supportive of the war in the five years since. The Times investigation showed that the analysts were being briefed by the Pentagon on what to say and had undisclosed conflicts of interest via military contracts.

Retired Green Beret Robert S. Bevelacqua, a former Fox News analyst, said the Pentagon treated the retired military officers as puppets: "It was them saying, 'we need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.'" [NYT, April 20, 2008]

None of that, of course, should come as any surprise. Where do people think generals and admirals go to work after they retire from the government?

If they play ball with the Pentagon, they get fat salaries serving on corporate boards of military contractors, or they get rich running consultancies that trade on quick access to high-ranking administration officials. If they're not team players, they're shut out.

Yet, what may be more troubling, although perhaps no more surprising, is how willingly the US news media let itself be used as a propaganda conduit for the Bush administration regarding the ill-advised invasion of Iraq.

Fox News may have been the prototype of the flag-waving "news" outlet that fawned over pro-war retired military officers and mocked anti-war citizens.

But the same imbalance could be found at the major networks, like NBC where then-anchor Tom Brokaw spoke in the first person plural as he sat among a panel of retired brass on the night of the Iraq invasion – Mar. 19, 2003 – and said: "In a few days, we're going to own that country."

The blame also goes far beyond the TV networks, to the most prestigious print publications. The New York Times famously promoted fictional stories about Iraqi aluminum tubes for building nuclear weapons, and the Washington Post editorial page remains to this day an ardent cheerleader for the war.

So, the real question is not how widespread the ethical lapses of the US news media were – both in palming off self-interested ex-generals as objective observers and for failing to demonstrate even a modicum of skepticism in publishing false articles that paved the way to war.

Rather, the urgent question is what must be done if the United States is to reclaim its status as a functioning constitutional Republic in which a reasonably honest news media keeps the public adequately informed.

Having spent most of my career on the inside at places such as the Associated Press and Newsweek, it's been my view for many years that the mainstream US news media can't be reformed, that it is beyond hope.

Though there are still good journalists working at major news companies – and the better news outlets do produce some useful information, like Sunday's story in the Times – the central reality is that corporate journalism is rotten at the core and won't stop spreading the rot throughout the US political process.

That's why for the past dozen-plus years at, we have called for a major public investment in honest journalism, so information can be produced that it is both professional and independent of the kinds of external pressures that have deformed today's mainstream press.

We must find new ways to tell the news.

The Reagan Era

The scope of the problem dawned on me in the late 1980s, as I watched the widespread criminality of the Iran-Contra and related scandals – ranging from money-laundering, gun-smuggling, drug-trafficking and acts of terrorism – get swept under the rug because they implicated senior US officials.

During those years, I witnessed the Washington press corps – which still basked in the glory of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers – rushing headlong toward becoming little more than a propaganda funnel for the powers-that-be.

Indeed, in 1992, my first book, Fooling America, argued that the Watergate-Vietnam-era press corps was undergoing a historic transformation into a snarky conveyor of ill-considered conventional wisdom.

The book also made the case that this transformation was not accidental, nor was it driven just by corporate greed and journalistic careerism (though there was plenty of both). There also was a powerful ideological component.

Behind the scenes, the Reagan administration had constructed a domestic framework modeled after CIA psychological warfare programs abroad. The main difference this time was that the psy-op took aim at the American people with the goal of managing how they perceived events, what insiders called "perception management."

From documents that I uncovered during the Iran-Contra scandal, it was clear that the motive behind this extraordinary operation was the bitterness that conservatives felt toward the mass protests against the Vietnam War and toward American journalists whose reporting supposedly had undermined the war effort.

So, Ronald Reagan's team made it a high priority to rein in troublesome journalists and to reverse the so-called "Vietnam Syndrome," the American people's revulsion over any more foreign military adventures.

The documents revealed that the domestic operation took shape in the early 1980s under the guidance of CIA Director William Casey, who even donated one of the CIA's top propagandists, Walter Raymond Jr., to manage the program from inside President Reagan's National Security Council staff.

Other factors fed into the success of this propaganda operation, especially the rise of a bright group of political intellectuals known as the neoconservatives. They proved especially adept at using McCarthyistic tactics to marginalize and silence dissent.

The crowning achievement of this decade-long effort came during the first Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. President George H.W. Bush believed that a successful US-led ground offensive could finish the job of bringing the American people back from their post-Vietnam malaise.

However, after months of devastating aerial bombings, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had persuaded Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to withdraw his troops from Kuwait with no more killing, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and other front-line US commanders favored the deal.

But Bush rebuffed the offer, instead ordering the ground attack that slaughtered tens of thousands of fleeing Iraqi troops during a 100-hour campaign.

When the ground war ended, Bush offered an insight into his central motivation. In his first comments about the US victory, he declared: "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all."

Amid the war euphoria, some American journalists who had thought a less violent solution should have been pursued – including conservative columnist Robert Novak – offered cringing self-criticisms about their mistaken doubts.

The only sustained criticism of President Bush on the war came from the neocons, like Charles Krauthammer, who complained that Bush should have let the killing go on, that he stopped the ground war too soon, that he should have conquered Baghdad and occupied Iraq.

In my book, Fooling America, I told the story of this decline and fall of the US news media, from its glory days of Watergate to its groveling days of the early 1990s. But 16 years ago, few people wanted to hear the story – or believe it.

The common view at the time was that the Washington press corps was still the aggressive watchdog of Watergate fame and, if anything, was too "liberal." Though I had a major publisher in Morrow, the book got little circulation and was trashed by key book reviewers, including one from the Washington Post.

The thought that the heroic Washington press corps was changing into something cowardly and reckless was an idea whose time had not yet come.

Repeating History

In the investigation of how the Pentagon used TV military analysts to sell the Iraq War – thus allowing George W. Bush to "complete the job" left unfinished by his dad – the New York Times also traced the administration's P.R. theories back to the Vietnam War and to the early days of the Reagan era.

"Many [TV military analysts] also shared with Mr. Bush's national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation's will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war," the Times reported in the article by David Barstow.

"This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from 'enemy' propaganda during Vietnam.

"'We lost the war – not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,' he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars – taking aim not just at foreign adversaries but at domestic audiences, too.

"He called his approach 'MindWar' – using network TV and radio to 'strengthen our national will to victory.'"

But the danger of "MindWar," aimed by the US government at the American people, is that it turns inside-out the concept of a democratic Republic in which a well-informed people exercise meaningful control over their government.

Instead, you end up with a duplicitous government using propaganda, fear and intimidation to whip the people into line. Rather than the government being the servant of the people, the people become the servant of the government.

Then, as undemocratic regimes have shown throughout history – with the voice of the people silenced – insiders get a free hand to carry out foolhardy policies and to line the pockets of their friends.

With the US taxpayers now looking at an open-ended Iraq War with the total cost possibly reaching $3 trillion, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out who the "winners" were in this "MindWar."

Often they were the same TV military analysts and news media pundits who were advocating for the invasion more than five years ago. Almost everyone of them has made out like bandits, many with fat stock portfolios and posh vacation homes, not to mention appreciative CEOs back at corporate central.

The "losers" should be equally apparent. Besides the fleeced American taxpayers, there have been more than 4,000 US soldiers dead, another 30,000 wounded, and hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis.

This bloody march of folly began some three decades ago when the US news media began surrendering its responsibility to keep the people informed and instead opted for the easier and more lucrative role of acting as propagandists for the powerful.

The New York Times article is just further proof of that sorry reality.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek.


Pentagon pundits: Media facilitate Iraq propaganda effort

Apr. 22- A lengthy Apr. 20 New York Times investigation of the Pentagon's program of feeding talking points to military pundits featured on TV newscasts raised disturbing questions about the media's role as a conduit for Pentagon propaganda.

According to the Times, the Pentagon recruited over 75 retired generals to act as "message force multipliers" in support of the Iraq War, receiving special Pentagon briefings and talking points that the analysts would often parrot on national television "even when they suspected the information was false or inflated."

The Times even noted that at one 2003 briefing the military pundits were told that "We don't have any hard evidence" about Iraq's illicit weapons-a shocking admission the analysts decided not to share with the public.

The Times also documented that many of the analysts had ties to "military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air" -- information that the media outlets did not disclose to viewers. The Times reported that the "analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants."

The analysts themselves told the Times that "the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests," and "were only dimly aware" of the special Pentagon briefings they were receiving.

While the Times article focused on the role of the Pentagon, the parties that arguably have most to answer for are the media organizations that relied on these Pentagon analysts and failed to disclose blatant conflicts of interest posed by their ties with defense contractors.

The military analysts' ties with military contractors and pro-war advocacy groups had been documented as far back as 2003, when the Nation (4/21) reported that prominent analysts like NBC's Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing were among the pundits who "have ideological or financial stakes in the war.

Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq." As the Nation reported, McCaffrey told MSNBC viewers early in the war, "Thank God for the Abrams tank and... the Bradley fighting vehicle."

Unbeknownst to viewers, McCaffrey was sitting on the board of a company called IDT, which received multi-million dollar contracts related to both of those pieces of military hardware.

As the Times story made clear, NBC was hardly the only offender. As a former Pentagon official told the Times, "CNN failed to disclose the fact that, "for nearly three years" on-air military analyst James Marks "was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq."

This is not to suggest that there are no ethical standards at the networks--at least one military analyst has been sanctioned for inappropriate behavior. In May 2007, retired Army Major General John Batiste was fired as a CBS News consultant for appearing in a VoteVets television ad that criticized George W. Bush. A CBS vice president justified Batiste's firing by invoking standards that seem to have been entirely missing in the case of the retired generals:

"When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers. By putting himself front and center in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling that everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn't seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss."

Of course, the Pentagon's propaganda plan would have little effect if not for the enthusiastic participation of the corporate media. As a former Pentagon official told the Times, "We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message."

The Times likened the program to "other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism," but that would seem to discount the fact that the media have for decades demonstrated a preference for featuring retired military officials in their war coverage, with little if any serious efforts to offer balancing perspectives. The run-up to the Iraq invasion was no different. As former CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan explained (4/20/03):

"I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, 'Here are the generals we're thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war,' and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.

Media executives have historically rationalized their disproportionate reliance on analysts from within the ranks of the military by claiming that they are on the air to share independent expertise about military affairs-something that need not be balanced. As former CNN vice President Frank Sesno stated to Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman in 1999, "Generals are analysts, and peace activists are advocates."

In light of the fresh documentation that many of the media's military analysts were Pentagon advocates, it is time for the media to rethink this assumption.

Source: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Pentagon's media manipulation on war extended to newspapers

By Greg Mitchell

Apr. 20- The New York Times on Apr. 20 published a massive piece by David Barstow on how the Pentagon for years has secretly deployed a large crew of retired military officers to flood the airwaves – network and cable – to offer pro-war talking points to the unsuspecting viewers.

The focus is on TV, not print, but Barstow does reveal that the Times itself published "at least" nine op-eds by members of the Pentagon's military/media cabal, and the Pentagon helped two of them craft a Wall Street Journal piece. What may go overlooked, however, is that all of the leading newspapers also frequently quoted the same cabal members, always in support of the war and the administration.

This is not to place the papers in the same category as the TV outlets which used these people 1) regularly 2) gave them true prominence and never asked questions and 3) often paid them per appearance. However, it will be interesting to trace how these same "analysts" got the talking points delivered via newspapers, as well.

What follows are just some examples identified so far, which happen to emerge from the pages of The New York Times. Other papers widely quoted the retired military officers, but the Times' archives is easier to search for this purpose. And, in fact, most of the "analysts" identified by name in the Barstow article were never quoted much if at all by the paper previously.

But the search finds, for example, that Gen. James A. Marks (a CNN analyst with deep ties to a contractor) wrote an op-ed for the Times on Nov. 10, 2004, offering an optimistic view of gains that might follow our attack on Falluja. He was quoted in numerous other Times stories.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who has often been critical of the conduct of the war, was quoted often in 2002 and early 2003 when he was major advocate of the invasion. He has also written op-eds for The Washington Post.

One of the prominent cabal members in Barstow's Times article is Thomas G. McInerney, a Fox News analyst with deep ties to contractors. He shows up in several Times articles since 2002 – as late as 2006 he is quoted as still believing Saddam had WMD and simply hid them in Syria and elsewhere. He co-authored that Wall Street Journal op-ed mentioned above.

But most prominently at the Times he figured as the counter voice when three generals, including Gen. Wesley Clark, raised questions about attacking Iraq at a key moment in September 2002.

Source: Editor & Publisher

A guide to NYT scoop on Pentagon's media propaganda

By Greg Mitchell

Apr. 20- 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 is drawing wide attention (see other story). Barstow aptly refers to this as "a kind of media trojan horse."

Even if it confirms what many have already sensed 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.

The Pentagon referred to the analysts as "message-force multipliers."

A few angles:

-- 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.

-- 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.

-- While the focus of the article is very much on the TV propaganda (Fox News 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.

-- The Pentagon briefings for the propaganda crew are still going on, weekly.

Source: Editor & Publisher

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