Networks again refuse to go on the record about NY Times' military analyst exposé

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

ABC, CBS, and NBC have still not reported on any of their news programs The New York Times' revelations about the hidden ties between media military analysts and the Pentagon. Further, the major broadcast networks and cable news networks all reportedly declined to discuss the issue for an NPR report; the networks similarly reportedly declined to participate in an April 24 PBS NewsHour segment on the issue.

Continuing their silence, the major broadcast networks and cable news networks all reportedly declined to discuss the April 20 New York Times front-page article on the hidden ties between media military analysts and the Pentagon on the record with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Further, according to a search* of transcripts available in the Nexis database, the broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- still had not reported on the revelations in the Times story on any of their news programs through May 1. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's (PEJ) News Coverage Index, there were "only two related stories in the week of April 21-27, both of them in the April 24 PBS NewsHour broadcast." As Media Matters for America previously noted, the three major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- and the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- all reportedly declined to participate in a segment on the April 24 edition of PBS' NewsHour about "the role of military analysts on TV and in the Pentagon."

In a May 1 segment on NPR's All Things Considered, Folkenflik reported that "the New York Times story has stirred discomfort within network news divisions already bruised by the media's failure to challenge the administration before the invasion over claims Iraq had weapons of mass destruction" and that "[n]ews executives and consultants wouldn't comment for this story, but privately say their on-air comments were honestly held beliefs," an assertion disputed by several of the analysts quoted in the Times article. Folkenflik also quoted former CBS News president Andrew Heyward blaming the Pentagon: "There was a deliberate attempt to deceive the public by having analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance, were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and therefore to the public."

Folkenflik further reported that NPR managing editor Brian Duffy said, "We're reviewing our commentators agreement to basically tighten up the language on that so that we are asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we're paying as a consultant."

From the May 1 broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered:

ROBERT SIEGEL (host): From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. When news networks try to explain the state of things in Iraq or Afghanistan, they often interview their own paid consultants, retired military officers. But as a recent New York Times investigation found, in fact the Pentagon cultivated those former officers as a secret weapon to win over hearts and minds of the American audience. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, that revelation is making media executives squirm.

FOLKENFLIK: Think back to April 2006. A group of retired senior military officers surfaced to blast then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over Iraq. It became known as the "Generals' Revolt." Rumsfeld retaliated by rallying his own troops for a closed-door meeting. Fifteen retired senior military officers who were television commentators strategized with Rumsfeld on how to convince the public the military could succeed.

Retired Air Force Major General and CNN consultant Don Shepherd went on the air that very day to talk about the meeting.

SHEPHERD: Our message to them as analysts was, look, you have got to get the importance of this war out to the American people. This is a forward strategy. It is better to fight the war in Iraq than it is the war on American soil.

FOLKENFLIK: In fact, as The New York Times reported last week after getting 8,000 pages of Pentagon emails and documents, that meeting was part of an initiative stretching back to 2002 to co-opt those military analysts, carefully feeding them access to senior defense officials, arranging trips abroad, and issuing talking points. Some who strayed were dropped from the invite list. Others, including CNN's Shepherd, had other reasons to boast of access to Pentagon officials: They worked for, or on behalf of, military contractors.

Shepherd declined to be interviewed. But retired Army Major General John Batiste sure has strong feelings about all that coziness.

BATISTE: This is a very deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to shape public opinion.

FOLKENFLIK: Batiste commanded the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Iraq before leaving the military in 2005. He was briefly a commentator for CBS News, but has been outspoken against the Bush administration and did not get invited to the Pentagon briefing sessions. In all, 75 former flag officers were included in the Pentagon initiative, but not all were complete cheerleaders. Yet emails show some of them repeatedly sought to help military officials make their case, and Batiste says their upbeat comments often rang false.

BATISTE: And it also sounded to me as if they were parroting administration talking points. It sounded very much to me like I was up against an information operation. I had no idea that it was so extensive.

FOLKENFLIK: The Defense Department has suspended the so-called surrogates program while saying it did nothing improper. But The New York Times story has stirred discomfort within network news divisions already bruised by the media's failure to challenge the administration before the invasion over claims Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. News executives and consultants wouldn't comment for this story, but privately say their on-air comments were honestly held beliefs.

Andrew Heyward was president of CBS News until 2005. He says the networks relied on paid consultants for their expertise.

HEYWARD: They all had sources inside the military and often were able to get access to information that supplemented the information that our own correspondents were gathering. And based on their experience, they could also provide perspective on different aspects of the war as it unfolded, including policy.

FOLKENFLIK: But Heyward says the Defense Department exploited the network's hunger for military know-how.

HEYWARD: There was a deliberate attempt to deceive the public by having analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance, were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and therefore to the public.

FOLKENFLIK: Retired Army General Robert Scales was a Fox News channel analyst and a consultant for NPR from 2003 till 2004. Since then, NPR has interviewed him without pay. Scales' work for defense contractors has rarely been mentioned on our air. NPR managing editor Brian Duffy says changes are in the works.

DUFFY: We're reviewing our commentators agreement to basically tighten up the language on that so that we are asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we're paying as a consultant.

FOLKENFLIK: Duffy also says Scales did nothing wrong, and that a review of his remarks, in which he was often critical of progress in Iraq, found he wasn't unduly influenced by the Pentagon. But retired Major General John Batiste argues the media, like the rest of the country, was unduly uncritical of its military leadership for far too long. And that failure of scrutiny extended to its own consultants. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

*Media Matters previously documented that according to the Nexis database, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News had not covered the story through April 28. A Nexis search conducted on May 2 for "publication (ABC or CBS or NBC or Fox) and (Pentagon OR (Department w/2 Defense) OR New York Times OR (military w/10 analys!))" found no coverage of the military analysts story through May 1. Programs searched in the Nexis database on networks that didn't mention the Times report include:

ABC = Good Morning America, Nightline, World News with Charles Gibson

CBS = CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The Early Show, Face the Nation

NBC = Nightly News with Brian Williams, Today, Meet the Press

Fox = Special Report with Brit Hume, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence
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CBS, NBC, ABC
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Media Ethics
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