Rummy’s “Message Force Multipliers”

And you thought this administration had done no post-Iraq-invasion planning?

About those “military analysts” you’ve grown accustomed to seeing on cable and network TV, waxing authoritative on all things post-9/11:

[A] Pentagon information apparatus…has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found…

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air…

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….

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents [8,000 pages, to which the Times sued the Defense Department to gain access] 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.”

Might that Trojan horse description perhaps let the “major TV and radio networks” off the hook too easily?

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said.

It would be naive to think that any “military analyst” (or most any “analyst” or expert with “in the field” experience of any sort) might provide truly disinterested analysis but perhaps news producers should show a little more interest in what their interests might be? More interest, at least, than this:

Many analysts also said the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests, the nature of their work or the potential for that work to create conflicts of interest. Said [one former NBC “military analyst]: “The worst conflict of interest was no interest.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.