General Conspiracy

This article from the New York Times should dispense the myth that military officers are paragons of virtue and honesty. According to the Times, the Bush Administration and a battalion of retired officers conspired to perpetrate a major fraud on the American people. In this effort they were abetted by a lax and pliant mainstream media, which treated their “military analysts” as unimpeachable experts. What they failed to reveal to their viewers, however, was that most of these so-called independent experts stood to gain financially from the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq.

That there was (and remains) a symbiotic relationship between the Pentagon (and Bush administration) and these so-called analysts is clear:

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

 … Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called “information dominance.” In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

And so even before Sept. 11, she built a system within the Pentagon to recruit “key influentials” — movers and shakers from all walks who with the proper ministrations might be counted on to generate support for Mr. Rumsfeld’s priorities.

In the months after Sept. 11, as every network rushed to retain its own all-star squad of retired military officers, Ms. Clarke and her staff sensed a new opportunity. To Ms. Clarke’s team, the military analysts were the ultimate “key influential” — authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events. What is more, while the analysts were in the news media, they were not of the news media. They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.

 A couple of conclusions from this article are obvious and no news to anyone who has been paying attention:

  1. The Bush administration systematically manipulated the media about the need for the invasion of Iraq and about the invasion’s progress.
  2. The media failed once again to provide even the smallest amount of oversight over the so-called experts they paid to comment on these issues.

But a third conclusion is also hard to ignore. There is no reason to trust a thing any military officer says simply because that person is or was in the military. These people are subject to the same, if not more amplified, influences of money and fame and access that everyone else is. That these men were all willing to trade upon the trust the American people have for the uniform they wear to selfishly pursue their own agendas speaks volumes about their lack of character.

And with that in mind, shouldn’t Patrick Leahy and Peter Welch — and all the other Washington legislators who voted last fall to condemn for daring to question General Petraeus’s integrity — offer that organization a sincere apology?


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