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I was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday to discuss the recent New York Times story about the Pentagon’s use of retired military officials “to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.” The Times reported that internal Pentagon documents routinely referred to its “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’.”
Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard was also on the show. His view was that the Times’ story was a big “nothing burger” and that it’s no surprise that–as he has written on the Standard’s website—the Pentagon “provides special access to retired generals” and that “many retired generals have business interests in the defense industry.” He also suggested that the only reason that magazines like Harper’s and people like me were upset by the Times story was that we were against the war (which means, I guess, that we were rooting against America and the troops).
A few comments: First, the Pentagon wasn’t giving access to just any retired generals, but picked those it believed would be especially eager to parrot its talking points. Take John C. Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox News, who wrote in one email to his Pentagon handlers, “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay.” (This was prior to a January 2007 TV appearance by Garrett in which he talked about the surge strategy in Iraq.)
Second, it is a fair characterization to say that Harper’s, institutionally, was extremely dubious about the claims made by the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, and beyond. I’d also note that skepticism about the government’s official line–any government’s official line–should be the default position of any respectable news organization. In the case of the Bush administration and the Iraq War, it’s entirely clear that a skeptical posture was the proper one.
The Weekly Standard, on the other hand, displayed no independence at all and functioned more or less as a Bush administration mouthpiece (which is no surprise since its editorial staff and regular writers included some of the most enthusiastic advocates and architects of the Iraq War). Indeed, in the case of the Standard, the Pentagon would have had no need to plant the views of its handpicked defense analysts in the magazine’s pages. Bush administration officials simply told the Standard’s writers what to write and they were happy to serve as stenographers. Which may explain why Goldfarb is so untroubled by the Times’ story.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Commentary — November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm
The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.
Years ago, I lived in Montana, a land of purple sunsets, clear streams, and snowflakes the size of silver dollars drifting through the cold air. There were no speed limits and you could legally drive drunk. My small apartment in Missoula had little privacy. In order to write, I rented an off-season fishing cabin on Rock Creek, a one-room place with a bed and a bureau. I lacked the budget for a desk. My idea was to remove a sliding door from a closet in my apartment and place it over a couple of hastily cobbled-together sawhorses.
Amount of U.S. military aid given to the government of El Salvador each minute during the 1980s:
A team of European sexologists reported that 40 percent of Italian couples were not having sex, due in part to Italian men’s declining sex drive and growing predilection for prostitutes and cybersex.
Telecommunications company AT&T agreed to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion in a bid to find new ways to reach consumers, and hackers took control of Internet-connected cameras and baby monitors to overwhelm the routing company Dyn with traffic, causing worldwide disruption to outlets such as Netflix and Amazon.
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"She never thanked me, never looked at me—melted away into the miserable night, in the strangest manner I ever saw. I have seen many strange things, but not one that has left a deeper impression on my memory than the dull impassive way in which that worn-out heap of misery took that piece of money, and was lost."