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NY Times Outlines Cozy Relationship Between Pentagon and Television Military Analysts

Reported by Ellen - April 20, 2008 -

In a must-read article for those who care about American media, New York Times reporter David Barstow provides devastating details about the ways that television’s so-called “military analysts,” usually presented as the independent voices of retired officers, have vested but usually undisclosed interests in promoting the Pentagon’s messages. Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors who not only benefit from the war but from the access to high-level officials the analysts received as a result of their willingness to offer sympathetic mouthpieces. Furthermore, greater access to Bush administration higher-ups can translate to greater fees for the analysts, many of whom are paid network consultants, earning $500-$1000 per appearance. Not surprisingly, the Times reports that the largest contingent was associated with FOX News.

Barstow points out that although the analysts are often paid by the networks, their allegiance seems more to the Pentagon than to either news programming or its viewers:

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.”

It’s not just loyalty to a former employer or patriotism at work, either, but good business practices for the analysts:

John C. Garrett is a retired Army colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox News TV and radio. He is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including in Iraq. In promotional materials, he states that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Mr. Garrett’s special access and decades of experience helped him “to know in advance — and in detail — how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies.

In interviews Mr. Garrett said there was an inevitable overlap between his dual roles. He said he had gotten “information you just otherwise would not get,” from the briefings and three Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq. He also acknowledged using this access and information to identify opportunities for clients. “You can’t help but look for that,” he said, adding, “If you know a capability that would fill a niche or need, you try to fill it. “That’s good for everybody.”

At the same time, in e-mail messages to the Pentagon, Mr. Garrett displayed an eagerness to be supportive with his television and radio commentary. “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay,” he wrote in January 2007, before President Bush went on TV to describe the surge strategy in Iraq.

… 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.”

The American public, however, did not seem to participate in such profit-sharing:

“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on (a trip to Iraq), 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 (from Iraq). He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.

“We could not be more excited, more pleased,” (FOX News military analyst Bill) 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.

“I am so much against adding more troops,” General Shepperd said on CNN.

... On Friday, April 14 (2006), 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... 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.

When FOX News' Cowan ventured away from the script, he was punished:

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 Times reported that other branches of the Bush administration also made use of the analysts, including Alberto Gonzales’ Justice Department after the warrantless wiretapping scandal broke.