The corruption of Gen. McCaffrey — and NBC

To me, the most reprehensible aspect of retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s behavior, documented in a massive front-page story in Sunday’s New York Times, wasn’t that he used his military connections on behalf of his military-contractor clients, and then didn’t disclose those connections during his paid appearances on NBC News.

That’s bad enough. But what was truly the most corrupt about McCaffrey’s behavior is that he deprived NBC’s viewers of his honest opinion at a time when it might have mattered. Worst of all: NBC executives knew it and did nothing.

The story, by David Barstow, is a follow-up to a long piece he wrote last April about conflicts of interest among paid television commentators with military background. At the time, I called it “as sickening a media scandal as we have seen in our lifetime.” Unfortunately, it pretty much disappeared without a trace.

McCaffrey, a four-star general, may be the worst — or at least the most prominent — of them all, sucking up to the military in order to serve his clients among military contractors, and going on NBC News to offer his expert opinion. Most telling is what happened when he momentarily deviated from the official line, early in the war:

Only when the invasion met unexpected resistance did General McCaffrey give a glimpse of his misgivings. “We’ve placed ourselves in a risky proposition, 400 miles into Iraq with no flank or rear area security,” he told Katie Couric on “Today.”

Mr. Rumsfeld struck back. He abruptly cut off General McCaffrey’s access to the Pentagon’s special briefings and conference calls.

General McCaffrey was stunned. “I’ve never heard his voice like that,” recalled one close associate who asked not to be identified. He added, “They showed him what life was like on the outside.”

Robert Weiner, a longtime publicist for General McCaffrey, said the general came to see that if he continued his criticism, he risked being shut out not only by Mr. Rumsfeld but also by his network of friends and contacts among the uniformed leadership.

“There is a time when you have to punt,” said Mr. Weiner, emphasizing that he spoke as General McCaffrey’s friend, not as his spokesman.

Within days General McCaffrey began to backpedal, professing his “great respect” for Mr. Rumsfeld to Tim Russert. “Is this man O.K.?” the Fox News anchor Brit Hume asked, taking note of the about-face.

For months to come, as an insurgency took root, General McCaffrey defended the Bush administration. “I am 100 percent behind what the administration, what the president of the United States, is doing in Iraq,” he told [Brian] Williams that June.

There should be firings at NBC News for the failure to disclose McCaffrey’s work for military contractors. Then again, as Beth Wellington reminds us at NewsTrust, NBC’s corporate owner, General Electric Co., is itself a major military contractor, and thus had its own conflict of interest with which to contend (or not).

The FCC is investigating, although it’s hard to imagine that it will dig as deeply as it ought to.

“On the Media” recently rebroadcast an interview it conducted last spring with one of television’s compromised analysts, Maj. Robert Bevelacqua, formerly of Fox News.

7 thoughts on “The corruption of Gen. McCaffrey — and NBC

  1. Bill Baar

    ….about conflicts of interest among paid television commentators with military background…Keep this thought in mind on commentators with Medical backgrounds come the health care reform debates.

  2. O'Rion

    I read the April piece, I haven’t got to this one yet. But did anyone think they were getting the straight dope from this fraternity of retired military brass? They want that big, easy money! I just saw Col. Jacobs on NBC -again- plugging a book. This MOH winner is constantly on Imus and is particularly odious. The silence in Broadcast MSM has been deafening, after both the April piece and this one. Compromised, they are part of the 21st Century Military Industrial Complex.

  3. Brad

    No kidding, Bill. Seen this one?BTW, I’ll ask a pointed question: as sickening as this is, why is it any less sickening to “embed” reporters with the troops? It’s the exact same thing: journalists compromising EVERY journalistic principle so the military can tell them exactly what the military wants us to hear, let them see ONLY what the military wants us to see.Ever read “World War Z”? It’s an entertaining book on its own right, but there’s a great chapter where the “author” is “interviewing” the former Chief of Staff of the White House for the administration during the zombie outbreak; an administration that is never explicitly stated to be a close-copy of the Bush2 White House, but it’s pretty obvious…and this admin covered up the outbreak until it was too late, yadda yadda yadda. The Chief basically says that they didn’t have to cover up anything – the media, military and EVERYONE covered it up for them. Everyone had so much invested in maintaining the corrupt status quo that it nearly destroyed the human race.Thank God for George A. Romero, he really did give us the best tool for social commentary ever made, eh? 🙂

  4. Bill Baar

    We’re hardly getting overwhelmed with reports from embeds in Afghanistan.The problem is not biased reporting of any sort from there… it’s no reports what-so-ever…

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