Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back to the Filter...

(A collage of retired military members working now as analysts on various newscasts. Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

The NY Times had an elaborate front-page look (over 5,000 words!) at a potential conflict of interest between an NBC analyst and opinion writer and the war on terrorism. This is the follow-up to the original story the paper ran in April about the same topic: the use of military analysts by the mainstream media and their relationships with the government and their personal investments in military conflicts.

The paper's latest report's particular focus is on General Barry McCaffrey. Currently, he is an analyst for NBC and a writer. What's the catch? He serves on various boards with direct ties to the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He sat on the advisory council of Veritas Capital (a company that acquires contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan), was a chairman of Global Linguist (a group that worked out a multi-billion dollar deal to provide translation services in the war-torn areas) and has consulted for Defense Solutions, a military contracting organization. (Thanks, Politico.)

On his own personal website, McCaffrey does list some of his associations. But not all. In particular, he doesn't mention his relationship to the second largest contracting firm in Iraq: Veritas Capital, or his clients. And on NBC, the organization has never once mentioned any of these potential conflicts of interest.

In December of 2006, when the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group advocated for a 2008 withdrawal from the country, General McCaffrey couldn't have been clearer in his dissent for the finding. On NBC, he said, were the US to leave Iraq, the country would be a "Pol Pot's Cambodia." McCaffrey also rejected the idea that the White House was too isolated and that in fact, Cheney and Bush were both still objective and alert to the conflict.

The question here is: is McCaffrey voicing his very public opinion about the war on terror and his advocacy for a prolonged military presence there because he believes it's what's best (he's showed up almost 1,000 times on NBC over the course of the conflict!), or on the flip side, is he looking for the quick buck that's assuredly going to him as the US continues to fight?

Perhaps the bigger problem here, is that the NY Times has been practically the only major member of the media that has covered this story. Politico (it's where I came across this information), to its credit, has reported on each of the Times's two long pieces. But where's the rest of the media? Senator John Kerry has called their response to the story "deafening."

So, if I've got it correctly...NBC (and others) is using military analysts with clear stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide us with their opinions about the war. No one's talking about who these people are connected to. And other news organizations aren't even covering this story. In fact, big-shots like Brian Williams and Steve Capus, president of NBC News, have even defended people like him and their impartiality.

This isn't good news for us, that's for sure. Isn't this what Noam Chomsky's so worried about---who's talking to who and why (aka sourcing)?

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