By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The military-industrial complex

Retired generals and other high-ranking military officers get hired as defense contractors. Television networks pay them to offer analysis on the war in Iraq, both during the run-up and in the long aftermath. The Pentagon, which holds the power of life or death over said contractors, tells the generals what to say. And they do, despite secretly harboring doubts about the truth of what they’re being told about the success of the war. Eisenhower was more right than he ever knew.

This, folks, is as sickening a media scandal as we have seen in our lifetime. At least Judith Miller believed the lies Ahmed Chalabi was telling her about weapons and terrorism. At least Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher were harming nothing but their own reputations when they took money to promote administration policy in their columns or, as Gallagher has tried to argue, on the side.

The New York Times’ David Barstow lays it all out today in horrifying detail. Nor was the Times itself immune, having run nine op-ed pieces by these bought-and-paid-for opinion-mongers.

Take a look at this excerpt about Robert Bevelacqua, a retired Green Berets and former analyst for Fox News:

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.

” ‘We don’t have any hard evidence,’ ” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ “

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. [William] Cowan [another Fox analyst and a retired Marine colonel], had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”

What can you possibly say about the moral sensibility that informs Bevelacqua’s remarks?

The first major media figure who’ll be popping up today is Tim Russert, who’s pictured in the Times piece (above) surrounded by retired military officers on the set of “Meet the Press.” He ought to open by apologizing and promising a thorough investigation of NBC News’ use of this corrupt punditry. Next week’s show should be devoted to an hour-long self-examination. And every other network should do the same.

What’s so repellant about this is that it robs us of our ability to govern ourselves. Longtime Media Nation readers know that I’ve always been conflicted about the war — against it ahead of time, but, once we were in, hoping for a decent outcome.

I still haven’t abandoned that hope. But this morning I find myself wondering how much of that hope is based on paid-for lies that I mistook for honest analysis.

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  1. man who is an npr fan

    In a sense, this STILL isn’t the “real” problem.The real problem is exposed by a more simple question: why aren’t the alleged “news organizations” finding these guys out a helluva lot sooner than five or six years into the game?The simple answer is that they don’t want to. Our government does not need to censor our media, the media does it themselves. They’ve got too much of their own money at stake at the corporate level to risk rocking the boat. If you’re a SVP of CBS and you know there’s at least one story every week that could send your stock down five points…does anyone really wonder why this sort of subtle manipulation is going on?It’s really not that hard to fact-check, folks…the short way is that unless the guy telling you his story can provide a means of backing it up, YOU DON’T BELIEVE HIM. For too long Presidential administrations (this goes back to Reagan, arguably well beyond) have learned that “the media” is too willing to pounce on an unsubstantiated scoop than to hold off until some proof is provided. In that situation, you can get away with anything.On the positive side, I feel the need to point out that NPR was not mentioned in the article, I hope it was because they never used any of these bozos as “analysts”. Couple that with a 22 million listenership during Morning Edition and I almost have faith in humanity as a species.

  2. Boston Venerable Bede

    Finally, a story about first rate manipulation. This is what one expects from the NYT. The role of defense contractors is understated. During the last BRAC closures, intense pressure was applied by the defense industry to keep Hanscom AFB open. This was underreported in the BOSTON GLOBE. What occurred was an expansion of defense contracts around RT 95/128 belt. We have so few articles of substance about military matters. When was the last time that an article was written about the Massachusetts National Guard by the BOSTON GLOBE? Citizen journalist cannot do the hard work that this NEW YORK TIMES article shows.I also found it interesting that various new organizations had “no comment.” Something very wrong about that!

  3. Anonymous

    Russert is too scared to even think about dissenting or just can’t handle conspiracy theories people:“It’s a great country.”

  4. Anonymous

    It strikes me that however appalling these revelations are, there is nothing new here about the corruption of the media. Go back and read the short-lived Brill’s Content and note that from issue 1, Steven Brill exposed the bought nature of so many sources and reporters, as well as the unwillingness of people who get paid to stick their microphones and notebooks in people’s faces to answer even the simplest questions about their own practices. Will Tim Russert do what you suggest? Again, go back to June 1998 and watch as Russert meets his match in Mr. Brill and refuses to answer even the simplest question about his sources (because it would have forced him to reveal that he was in bed with Kenneth Starr and his office).

  5. Anonymous

    this problem goes well beyond the buy-and-sell bombardiers or Iraq war infamy. business news coverage on TV is essentially a bevy of specially interested talking heads from brokerages and banks shilling for their stocks and industries. oil and auto industry shills own the energy debate. etc …. etc … and on it goes. the tank is full and we are all in it. sad times indeed.

  6. md

    This is unsurprising to me; the danger of the military-industrial complex “has never been more clear and its presence has never been more imminent.” (JFK). Remember how The Times served the Bush administration in it’s complicity to cover-up the NSA wiretapping story:”The New York Times has known details of the secret program for more than three years, based on interviews with a range of American officials and nuclear experts, some of whom were concerned that Pakistan’s arsenal remained vulnerable. The newspaper agreed to delay publication of the article after considering a request from the Bush Administration, which argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons.” (NYT, Nov. 18)

  7. md

    Correction: In my last comment, I mentioned the cover-up of the NSA wiretapping story, but I was referencing the $100 million highly classified program to help Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, secure his country’s nuclear weapons. Although, the New York Times did hold on the NSA wiretapping story, too. The White House asked The New York Times not to publish the NSA wiretapping article, arguing that “it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny.” After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for A YEAR to “conduct additional reporting.”Their keeping all sorts of military-industrial complex secrets from us!

  8. Anonymous

    The most active guy in local media who may have been working in the stealth capacity that I recall is Colonel David Hunt, often applying equally liberal doses of White House war-happy – talk and tatar sauce on the Howie Carr show. For a retired senior officer to yuk it up for a few bucks with Howie always seemed strange but now I see they may have been a hand up his back. The NY Times Sunday article did not mention him by name, but it seemed to imply that there was quite a list of military – media wanna’plays and if someone was seen of Fox, chances are he had been co – opted by this Pentagon initiative. I have to wonder if Colonel Hunt traded his credibility and his honor for a few bucks and the chance to be a secret player on the secret team.

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