Post ignores DOD inspector general's repudiation of report the Post covered in Jan.

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

With the exception of brief online write-ups, The Washington Post has yet to report that the Defense Department inspector general's office has withdrawn findings exonerating the Bush Pentagon of allegations that it violated regulations in the conduct of its Retired Military Analyst program -- despite originally giving Section A coverage to the findings in January.

On January 17, The Washington Post reported on the findings of a January 14 report by the Defense Department's inspector general's office on the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst program, which found that, according to the Post, "The Pentagon did not violate internal policies or regulations in a program that gave briefings to retired military officers who served as news commentators on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did those analysts use their access to benefit their business interests." But with the exception of brief write-ups in two blogs and an online column, the Post has yet to report that the inspector general's office has withdrawn its findings. Reporting on a May 5 memo by Donald M. Horstman, the Pentagon's deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, New York Times reporter David Barstow wrote that "the report was so riddled with flaws and inaccuracies that none of its conclusions could be relied upon." Barstow added: "In addition to repudiating its own report, the inspector general's office took the additional step of removing the report from its Web site."

In his memo, Horstman stated:

We are withdrawing the subject report. Shortly after publishing the report on January 14, 2009, we became aware of inaccuracies in the data concerning retired military analyst (RMA) relationships with Defense contractors that appeared in Appendix K and elsewhere in the report. The discovery of those inaccuracies caused us to conduct an independent internal review of the report and its supporting documentation.

The internal review concluded that the report did not meet accepted quality standards for an Inspector General work product. It found that the methodology used to examine RMA relationships with Defense contractors (searches of publ ic websites) would not reasonably yield evidence needed to address the issue of whether the outreach program conveyed some financial advantage to RMAs who participated. Additionally, the review noted that report findings relied, in part, on a body of testimonial evidence that was insufficient or inconclusive. In particular, former senior DoD officials who devised and managed the outreach program refused our requests for an interview. Our judgmental sample of RMAs interviewed was too small (7 out of 70 RMAs) to allow that testimonial evidence to be used to support conclusions. As a result, no conclusion can be reached in the affirmative or negative regarding the relationship of the Retired Military Analysts and potential competitive advantage.

[...]

We are notifying you of the withdrawal of this report so that you do not continue to rely on its conclusions. The report has been removed from our website.

Although the Post mentioned the report's withdrawal in May 6 posts on its Washington Post Investigations and Federal Eye blogs and in a May 6 online column by media critic Howard Kurtz, the newspaper's print edition has not reported that the January 14 inspector general's report has been withdrawn.

From the January 17 Washington Post article, "Retired Officers' Media Role Deemed Appropriate":

The Pentagon did not violate internal policies or regulations in a program that gave briefings to retired military officers who served as news commentators on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did those analysts use their access to benefit their business interests, according to a report released yesterday by the Pentagon's inspector general.

The investigation was conducted after 45 lawmakers raised questions about the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst (RMA) program, after an April 2008 New York Times article reporting that the program was intended to generate favorable news coverage of the Bush administration's war policies and that it gave analysts unfair business advantages.

It found that the program -- one of several Pentagon "outreach" activities -- included more than 100 meetings, briefings, conference calls and trips with the military analysts between 2002 and 2006. "We determined that those activities were conducted in accordance with DOD policies and regulations," it stated.

"We found the evidence insufficient to conclude that RMA outreach activities were improper," the report said, basing that assessment on historic rulings regarding congressional prohibitions on the use of publicity funds for "self aggrandizement or puffery, partisanship and covert communications."

The report also found there was insufficient basis to conclude that the Pentagon's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs undertook a "disciplined effort to assemble a contingent of influential RMAs who could be depended on to comment favorably on DOD programs."

"With regard to RMAs who had ties to military contractors, extensive searches found no instance where such RMAs used information or contacts obtained as a result of the . . . outreach program to achieve a competitive advantage for their company," it added. Therefore, it said, no further investigation was needed.

The IG report examined eight allegations in the Times article, based on records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, which stated that the Bush administration "used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks."

The article noted that Pentagon documents referred to the analysts as "surrogates" who could be counted on to deliver the administration message to millions of Americans. It also said Pentagon officials and many of the commentators had strongly denied any improprieties. The investigation confirmed that the term "surrogates" was used and said that it learned of one instance in which a retired Army general who was a media analyst, Barry McCaffrey, was excluded from Pentagon briefings after making unfavorable comments about the progress of the Iraq war.

One of the military analysts named in the article, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, said the Pentagon IG report confirms how he has always viewed his activities as a commentator for Fox News and National Public Radio.

"My commentary has not been about business-related things; it's always been about [military] operations and trying to put current operations into simple English," Scales said yesterday in a phone interview. "This report supports the appropriateness of my role as a commentator on military operations and history."

Posted In
Government, Cabinet & Agencies
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.