Monday, April 21, 2008

Network TV War Analysts: Robots in Disguise

The Bush administration lied to the American people about Iraq, and then spent seven years and billions of dollars covering up that lie.

I know this is no longer a surprise to anyone, but it still makes me angry.

And yesterday's story in The New York Times made me especially angry because it involves television network news and I HATE television network news. Fox, CNN, NBC - you name it, I hate it. And here's just another example of why:
In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

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, an examination by The New York Times has found.

Reading on...
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.
We know the Bush administration flushed their ethics down the toilet long ago - but why these "journalists" allowed individuals - with not only known financial ties to contractors in Iraq but also close ties to the Bush administration - to act as independent voices on their "news" makes me sick.

In a Q&A related to this piece, NYTimes reporter David Bastow was asked if he discovered why the major network executives and news editors didn't vet their "analysts." Here's his answer:
Two networks, CBS and Fox News, declined to answer any questions about their use of military analysts, including what specific steps they took to vet them for business ties that could pose conflicts and what ethical guidelines they established for them. NBC would not allow any executives to be interviewed, but released a short statement saying it had “clear policies in place’’ to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. Spokesmen for CNN and ABC said that while their military analysts were expected to keep them informed of outside sources of income, neither network had written ethics policies governing potential conflicts of interest with their analysts.

But the question you raise – why didn’t the network news executives try to “close the gap’’ between what journalists were reporting and what some analysts were saying – is a good one. One possible answer: Several analysts said in interviews that network news officials tended to defer to their experience and expertise in military matters.
Are you as disgusted as I am?

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