TV Military Analysts Co-opted by Pentagon
The NYT today runs an incredibly long feature by David Barstow entitled “Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.” The gist of the piece is that the retired military officers you see on television are often currently employed as defense contractors, and thus have a vested interest in the war machine, and are targeted by the Defense Department for special briefings and given talking points.
There are some damning quotes.
“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’” Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.
Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said. As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed. “Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”
It’s hardly surprising, though. Press briefings are quite naturally going to be aimed at generating the best spin, whether they’re run by the DoD or any other organization.
Moreover, the fact is that these analysts were all perfectly free to be critical of the Bush administration and its handling of the war. More importantly, they frequently were. Even though I don’t watch much television news these day, and really haven’t for more than five years now, I’ve seen enough to know that many of these retired generals have been second guessing the war strategy from Day One. Indeed, many conservative commenters — and Don Rumsfeld — were angry at them for using their status as retired generals to criticize their successors.
Despite the nefarious undertones of Barstow’s piece, this throw-away really explains much more than any Pentagon info-op:
Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends. “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army,” said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and ABC analyst. “It is my life.”
A retired colonel soldiered for a minimum of twenty-five years; a retired general, thirty or forty years. If you put them on television, they might second guess war planning and boast that things would be better if they were calling the shots. But they’re not going to be too critical of the brotherhood. You don’t spend the best years of your life in the profession of arms unless you love the institution and its people.