The hoodwinking of America

A new report lays bare a media as stenographer.

Since the run-up to the Iraq War, retired military officers have become nearly as ubiquitous on cable television news as the windbag hosts themselves. Because of their past membership in the military, many viewers have taken at face value the honesty and independence of their analysis of the war. So, apparently, did the television networks paying them to appear.

According to a report in The New York Times, 75 of these commentators were part of a Pentagon program designed to squash criticism of the war and the way it has been executed. These “military analysts” were presented to the public as neutral, expert observers, but had secretly met numerous times with senior officials in the Department of Defense, including former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and were mailed talking points to repeat when interviewed, including ones they knew to be false. Furthermore, many of them had financial ties to private contractors involved in the war, as brazen a conflict of interest as you could find, and some even admitted that they were told there was no evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war, but went along anyway.

It’s one thing to become a propaganda arm for the government by choice, but it’s another to do so out of sheer ineptitude. Most news organizations declined to comment on how these supposed experts were vetted, but those that did said that they relied on the honor system, that commentators were expected to volunteer the information on their ties to military contractors. Many were paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance, financing the Department of Defense’s disinformation campaign. Their opinions not only diverged from what these news organizations’ own journalists were reporting about Iraq, but discredited that reporting as being either ideologically biased or overly negative. We can call these propagandists morally bankrupt, as they no doubt sellout their country’s national interests as happy cogs in the military-industrial complex, but at least they did their job. It is too bad we cannot say the same for a supposedly independent, skeptical news media.