Flashback: Media Matters had documented conservative misinformation from military analysts with hidden ties to Pentagon

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

In an April 20 New York Times article, investigative reporter David Barstow reported that "the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform" media military analysts "into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks." He also wrote: "Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration's wartime performance." Prior to the Times' report, Media Matters for America had documented misinformation, falsehoods, and smears of progressives, including Sen. John Kerry in 2004 when he was running against President Bush, by several of the analysts identified in the Times article.

Following each analyst's name are excerpts from the Times report about that person followed by the Media Matters items documenting the analyst's misinformation, falsehoods, or smears of progressives.

Retired Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney

Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, "the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world." Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many -- although certainly not all -- faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.

"Good work," Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force general, consultant and Fox News analyst, wrote to the Pentagon after receiving fresh talking points in late 2006. "We will use it."

[...]

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business. James Marks, a retired Army general and analyst for CNN from 2004 to 2007, pursued military and intelligence contracts as a senior executive with McNeil Technologies. Still others held board positions with military firms that gave them responsibility for government business. General McInerney, the Fox analyst, for example, sits on the boards of several military contractors, including Nortel Government Solutions, a supplier of communication networks.

[...]

That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

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Retired Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely

Many 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.

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 at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach "MindWar" -- using network TV and radio to "strengthen our national will to victory."

[...]

Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. "They can't shoot, but then again, they don't," one officer told them, according to one participant's notes.

"I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south," General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.

"You can't believe the progress," General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be "down to a few numbers" within months.

[...]

On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the "Generals' Revolt" dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to "give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here," Mr. Rumsfeld's office insisted that "the boss" wanted the meeting fast "for impact on the current story."

That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

"Starting to write it now," General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. "Any input for the article," he added a little later, "will be much appreciated." Mr. Rumsfeld's office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.

"Vallely is going to use the numbers," a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.

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Retired Col. William V. Cowan

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the coalition.

"Those sheiks wanted access to the C.P.A.," Mr. Cowan recalled in an interview, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Cowan said he pleaded their cause during the trip. "I tried to push hard with some of Bremer's people to engage these people of Al Anbar," he said.

[...]

"We could not be more excited, more pleased," Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of the moment -- whether to send more troops -- the analysts were unanimous.

[...]

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

[...]

On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the "twisted version of reality" being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give "a heads-up" that some of his comments on Fox "may not all be friendly," Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld's senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O'Reilly that the United States was "not on a good glide path right now" in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Mr. Cowan said he was "precipitously fired from the analysts group" for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, "simply didn't like the fact that I wasn't carrying their water." The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines' deaths further erode support for the war.

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Vietnam Veteran Carlton A. Sherwood

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the coalition.

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Retired Col. Timur J. Eads

"We knew we had extraordinary access," said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.

Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that "some four-star could call up and say, 'Kill that contract.' " For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq's security forces. "I know a snow job when I see one," he said. He did not share this on TV.

"Human nature," he explained, though he noted other instances when he was critical.

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Retired Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling "very disappointed" after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being "manipulated" to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Despite their shoddy track record on Iraq analysis, O'Reilly trusts only "my military analysts, people paid by Fox News" for information on Iraq

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr.

Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

"Recall the stuff I did after my last visit," he wrote. "I will do the same this time."

[...]

In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they were described as reliable "surrogates" in Pentagon documents. And some asserted that their Pentagon sessions were, as David L. Grange, a retired Army general and CNN analyst put it, "just upfront information," while others pointed out, accurately, that they did not always agree with the administration or each other. "None of us drink the Kool-Aid," General Scales said.

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Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, MSNBC, The Washington Times
Stories/Interests
Media Ethics
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