Behind TV "military analysts," the Pentagon's hidden hand

A damning piece by David Barstow in today's New York Times that chronicles "a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated." Snip:

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has 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.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“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.



  1. This has been happening for years, and not just with the military news. NPR did a special report a couple years back about how expert opinions are bought and sold by corporate and partisan government interests.

  2. Kudos to the NYT for going out and doing original reporting on a complex subject that doesn’t involve nude celebrities or inflammatory sound bites. Maybe genuine journalism isn’t dead yet after all.

  3. I watch a good amount of news and have never heard these analysts say anything too egregious and out of line with the rest of the discourse, both from major media and online. So maybe a line was crossed with this operation, but the effects have not been devastating like the article implies. This is the style of The New York Times: report on a problem and use subtle phrasing and language to lead the reader into feeling outraged without providing evidence to support the outrage.

  4. Yeah, we all have the NYT bookmarked. The story is right on their front page. What’s with the bait and switch on Boing Boing?

  5. “So maybe a line was crossed with this operation”

    Sort of sums up the attitude of the past 8 years. A bit more than that perhaps. A crime may have been committed. It’s illegal for the pentagon to do what they apparently did.

    From the video:
    Question: I’m an old intel guy and I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. The word is PsyOps. Now most people may hear that and they think oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash —

    Sec Rumsfeld: What are you some kind of a nut? You don’t believe in the constitution? [Laughter].

    Question: Well, he is. [Laughter].

    Later Rumsfeld complains “Every time we try to do something someone says it’s illegal or immoral.”

    Yeah, imagine that.

  6. The lazy mainstream media will gladly air or print an expert who is handed to them rather than going out to investigate the range of opinions on a subject. The White House cleverly exploits this opportunity by providing military analysts who support their positions. It’s a chicken/egg thing. They never seem out of line with conventional wisdom opinion because they’re part of the mechanism producing that conventional point of view. I don’t think there’s anything approaching criminality about this, except for the media outlets’ failure to disclose the military analysts’ commercial connections to defense contractors, which is a pretty serious breach of what used to be journalistic ethics.

  7. Regarding #6:

    Yeah, we all have the NYT bookmarked. The story is right on their front page. What’s with the bait and switch on Boing Boing?

    You’ve uncovered an expansive conspiracy to trick readers into thinking is! I smell a Pulizter.

  8. is anyone really surprised by any of this? the bush propaganda machine is the largest and most blatent since the third reich! even turdblossom is getting in on the action.

  9. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

    What is the value of “access” if all it gives you is access to lies?

    Why is it that they were more afraid of losing access to lies than they were of lying to the public and their employers?

    They weren’t suppressing doubts. They were having faith: faith that the administration was going to make it all better somehow.

  10. What is the value of “access” if all it gives you is access to lies?

    Access to paycheck. Don’t news organizations exist solely to make money? Is anyone still pretending to offer integrity? Katie Couric anchors the evening news. If that isn’t a sign of the apocalypse, I don’t know what is.

  11. “We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you”

    Yeah, “back”, that’s the word they used. I bet.

  12. Wow- from the look of those “analysts”, one might come to the outrageously far-fetched opinion that both the US Govt and its media analysis are controlled by middle-aged white men. No bias there!

  13. Well you can take what these gentlemen say with a grain of salt, or you you can drink the kool-aid. The difference between now and the past fifty years is that it’s a republican manipulating the news rather than a leftist.

  14. middle-aged white men

    That would make me a young adult at 50. Most of those guys look like they’re sliding into 70.

  15. Access to the White House is very valuable when you’re on the board of a defense contractor or paid as a consultant. They scratched the White House’s back by reinforcing the party line and the White House hooked them up with influential people to increase their status in the defense industry. It’s so simple it hardly needs saying.

  16. The author of this NYT article is David Barstow. Is the the son of amateur filmmaker Robbins Barstow in the previous entry?

  17. So maybe a line was crossed with this operation, but the effects have not been devastating like the article implies.

    I know probably a hundred people (friends and family) that have pointed to the experts on TV over the last seven years to support their views on the war. People that thing I’m a wingnut because I prefer to try and dig and analyze information for myself, instead of going “oh, he’s in a uniform, of course he’s telling us the truth.”

    Remember Powell’s big presentation at the UN about the germ trucks? Same thing. High ranking officials would never mislead us about something THIS important, would they?

  18. This is news because these commentators gave opinions on important military matters without revealing their dependence upon and most importantly their bias in favor of the White House and military contractors.

  19. It’s news because (a) its in a major paper of record, and not just on blogs, which means that the non-blog reading public is forced to confront it, because it’ll get other news institutions talking, because it’s well written and well researched, and because it’s going to cause trouble for lot of people.

    As much as I can diss the NY Times for occasional stodgyness, shoddy reporting, or other scandals, they do have a lot of well trained reporters who know how to put a story together, and they can put something like this together in a professional way.

    This was a hell of a story, and I hope it gets people to sit up and take notice that major media outlets are complicit in government propaganda.

    It’s easy for boingboing commentors to be blase about this, but I expect that this article is going to get a lot of attention.

  20. semi-seriously now folks, stupid people are easy to deceive and mislead. ANYONE can be MADE STUPID. Including, yes: YOU.

    For starters, let’s make you afraid about your livelihood (minus 2 IQ points), anyone in fear of not knowing if they will have a job naturally looses some processing power to fear. Next,let’s make you worry about your health: minus 5 IQ points- it’s a big thing not to have coverage. Next your daily security; child molesters, terrorists, bloggers; minus 10 points. Now the environment and food safety; minus 3 more IQ points. Add a few more obvious ones. Congratulations: you are now reduced to a quivering moron who will believe anything at all, simply because ITS TOO DAMN MUCH WORK TO KNOW WHAT THE BASTARD ARE UP TO.

    I defy you to prove me wrong.

  21. First, a quote:

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. […]Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

    This is Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, interviewed by Gustave Gilbert, author of Nuremberg Diary.

    Interesting, no? Bedside reading for the administration?


  22. Josef Goebbels would be proud. Government propaganda at its best. The amazing thing is for all of the money, corruption, unethical behavior, Americans turned on the war and that will never change. The BS only held up until it was clear “mission accomplished” was “mission failure.”

  23. I’m sure many of us already knew this, or at least suspected it, but the problem is that many Americans DON’T know it, and worse, many would DENY it or DEFEND it as “necessary in times of war”, not realizing that it sets a dangerous precedent (for example– ask your conservative friends/aquaintences if they approve of this, and if they say “yes” then ask them if they would approve of a Democrat-controlled controlled Pentagon [?!] doing the same.)

  24. I defy you to prove me wrong.

    I’m self-employed, so worry about my paycheque is built in to my life. I’m a Canadian, so no worries about health care as related to employment. I live in the “bad” area of town, which I’ve never been able to quite get my head around because everywhere here is so vastly much safer than where I grew up. So no worries about all the supposed degenerates out there. I live in a small town with relatively clean environment and eat mostly whole foods that aren’t a matter of concern. So not too worried about any of that either.

    Ergo, my stunningly high IQ is mostly intact.

    But I still gave tepid support to the invasion of Iraq because I could not believe that anyone would be so profoundly duplicitous as pursue a policy that would certainly kill thousands of young American men and tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians if there was not a clear and present danger to the United States. Particularly when it was obvious that the fraud would be exposed when no WMDs were found, and the perpetrators would obviously then be punished by due process of law.

    Which makes me think that having a stunningly high IQ is no barrier to being born stupid.

  25. “I could not believe that anyone would be so profoundly duplicitous”

    All Praise to the cruel and loving gods that you now have me in your life. Attend me well and I will teach you of just how deep the abyss of the human heart truly is. Really. I live there.

  26. #15

    Media-wise, the difference between now and then is that there aren’t a helluva lot of journalists around. Print, television and radio news staffs have been pared down to nothing. There are no reporters left to cover anything. What you are getting is McNews, produced cheaply at some central location and shipped out for mass consumption like so many batches of frozen fries.

    It bears no more resemblance to real news than the crap that is served at Applebee’s or Taco Bell does to real food. And it is for the same reason: corporate profits.

    And if the slant seems, well, rather Republican, go reread what I just posted and ask yourself why.

    Doubt me? Just pick one major magazine, say like Time, or your local paper, and look up the stats on how many people, how many reporters they employed five years ago,
    ten years ago,
    fifteen years ago,
    twenty years ago.

    It is happening in TV and Radio too. And the creeps in charge whine that profits are down. The profits are not down, they just aren’t increasing at the same crazy rate they had been.

    Because it’s getting to the point where there is no one left to lay off.

  27. #31: Yes, but they’re liberated dead Iraquis!

    A guy wrote to the local paper (The Oregonian) a month or two back. Paraphrasing: “The war wasn’t about oil or fighting terror, it was about liberating the Iraqi people! It’s called ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom,’ right? And we succeeded! Nyah! Nyah!”

    You can fool some of the people all of the time…

  28. 1 thats you or me say


    that’s dead Iraqis

    each “1” is a life.

  29. Just think in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are now burning through $6228 per second in direct costs, and its perhaps double that if you include indirect costs.

  30. I’ve been observing the phenomenon of Public Opinion Lag. The refresh rate for conventional wisdom appears to vary according to the subject. On the slow end we have abstract economic theory, which may take a generation to percolate into the consciousness of the average American. Your grandchildren will know that we weren’t on the side of the Laffer curve that the Neocons said we were. On the fast end of the conventional wisdom update cycle we have celebrity screwups. Let Britney have a fender bender at 11:00 AM and it’s lunchtime conversation in every office in the land.
    Wars fall somewhere in between. It’s taken 3 or so years since the obvious failure of the stated mission in Iraq and it’s just about sunk in to the public consciousness. The November election will be a referendum on the war, and it will be overwhelming shock and awe.
    Unless another celebrity sex tape surfaces three days before…

  31. Think of it as hand-crafted spam. I’ve gotten into the habit of announcing when I report spam ever since Teresa mentioned getting 72 e-mails on one spammer. I figure this way only one person has to report it and it cuts down on what she has to look at.

  32. Super! Say, you didn’t happen to see a public policy discussion around here, did you?…

  33. Super! Say, you didn’t happen to see a public policy discussion around here, did you?…

  34. ooooohhhhhh wowwwwww mannnnn!
    CU’s 4/20 pot smoke-out draws crowd of 10,000
    Police issue zero tickets during annual marijuana celebration

    By Vanessa Miller (Contact)
    Originally published 08:18 p.m., April 20, 2008
    Updated 08:18 p.m., April 20, 2008

    Students who wished to remain anonymous smoke marijuana just as the clock strikes 4:20 on the Norlin Quad on the University of Colorado campus on April 20, 2008. Every year, students gather to smoke, despite past attempts by police to control the crowds.
    related linksMore Breaking News

    A crowd of about 10,000 people collectively began counting down on the University of Colorado’s Norlin Quadrangle just before 4:20 p.m. today.

  35. @#42:

    Indeed. My mother, who pooh-poohs me as an angry young man (well, I am angry, but not so young anymore) when I tell her about things that are happening RIGHT NOW, will often come to me as much as a couple years later all in a huff about this terrible thing that happened TWO YEARS AGO and no one noticed.

    “Yeah, Mom, I know. In fact, I told you about it. You said I was being silly. Do you want me to dig up the email to prove it?”

    Even with all of the stunning developments in information dissemination and access, quite simply, the people can’t keep up. They never could; that’s why we have a republic with representatives. We trust the people we send to various governing bodies to represent our values and opinions. When they don’t, people don’t find out about it for a long time. When legislation goes as fast as it does these days, with so little time for public input, and no chance to fire people before they have a chance to vote on an issue the people don’t support, the government can have its way with the people and, just as Gorring said, drag them along into any crazy-ass misadventure, be it killing off the rich people and taking their stuff (the Final Solution) or killing off the poor people and taking their stuff (the Iraq War). These are things that, when examined by individuals, no sane or thinking person (without a stake, of course) could support. But that doesn’t matter, because they’ll be involved before they even notice.

    When this happens, you can’t really vote your way out of the trouble. When the governmental system becomes so septic and virile that it spreads beyond the hallowed halls into every corporate boardroom and from there into every living room in the land, when violence and death become its primary mode of discourse, it may become necessary to enter into debate with it in a language it understands.

    Just sayin’.

  36. I hope there’s no one out there still fooling themselves.

    We ARE a military state under military rule.

    The America our founding fathers envisioned is dead. Pray for rebirth and revolution.

    corporations=militiary=government > american people

  37. We have something that the general populous of the WWII era and the Vietnam era did not. We have the interwebs. We have BB. We can communicate with each other without having to know each other personally. We can know that we are not alone in our justified paranoia.

  38. It’s not all that uncommon for people to adopt the mindsets of those in power. For instance, if you want to speak for the administration you need to agree with the president. the Gray Area is not always an easy place to live in, but if you’re intelligent, that’s probably where you’re at.

  39. @60: In previous generations, people were not completely isolated from each other. In the present case, the New York Times had already been publishing for a decade at the time of the Civil War. Newspapers were widely read and vigorous discussions took place through the editorial pages and letters to the editor. It was slower but it accomplished much the same thing.

  40. @#55 “…septic and virile…”

    Now there’s a phrase that will stay with me for quite a long time. I’m sure you meant “vile”, but this version conjures up images of my “favorite” politicians still sexually harassing the interns while in the terminal stages of an STD. Which is a perfect metaphor for the state of the federal government.

Comments are closed.