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The recent New York Times‘s story on the tangled business interests of General Barry McCaffrey has resulted in heavy criticism of NBC News, where McCaffrey serves as a military analyst and in commentator. “McCaffrey may have been an honorable general, but he makes an awful journalist,” Jeff Bercovici of Portfolio wrote today. “NBC News should end its relationship with him or face the loss of its credibility.”
That’s a good idea, but it’s worth pointing out here that media outlets routinely use “experts” with McCaffrey-style economic conflicts of interests without bothering to inform their viewers and readers. As I reported here over the summer, NBC’s lead expert commentator on China during the Olympics was a man named Joshua Cooper Ramo, who was relentlessly upbeat about the games and the Chinese government. Ramo, it turned out, was the managing director and partner at the Beijing office of Kissinger Associates. That firm is headed, of course, by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who enjoys extremely close ties to the Chinese leadership and whose business involves opening doors for Western companies seeking to do business in China.
And just yesterday, the Times ran a story on the Obama administration’s likely China policy which cited Kenneth Lieberthal, identified as “a China specialist now at the Brookings Institution.” But Lieberthal, a regular commentator on China, is also a top official at Stonebridge International, a big economic consulting firms that also has big interests in China. He “advises the firm’s clients on matters related to China and Asia,” says his resume on the firm’s website. “A leading China scholar, Dr. Lieberthal has advised numerous Fortune 500 firms on their business strategies in China.” (I’ve written about Stonebridge for the magazine. Another of its top officials is Jeffrey Bader, a leading Obama advisor on China and media regular on the country.)
In defending McCaffrey and his network, NBC News president Steve Capus described the general as “a man of honor and achievement who would never let business obligations color his analysis.” That’s ridiculous. Business obligations and financial interests color everyone’s analysis, which is precisely why such facts need to be disclosed.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Fleming awoke in the dark and his room felt loose, sloshing so badly he gripped the bed. From his window there was nothing but a hallway, and if he craned his neck, a blown lightbulb swung into view. The room pitched up and down and for a moment he thought he might be sick. The word “hallway” must have a nautical name. Why didn’t they supply a glossary for this cruise? Probably they had, in the welcome packet he’d failed to read. A glossary. A history of the boat, which would be referred to as a ship. Sunny biographies of the captain and crew, who had always dreamed of this life. Lobotomized histories of the islands they’d visit. Who else had sailed this way. Famous suckwads from the past, slicing through this very water on wooden longships.
A welcome packet, the literary genre most likely to succeed in the new millennium. Why not read about a community you don’t belong to, that doesn’t actually exist, a captain and crew who are, in reality, if that isn’t too much of a downer on your vacation, as indifferent to one another as any set of co-employees at an office or bank? Read doctored personal statements from underpaid crew members — because ocean life pays better than money! — who hate their lives but have been forced to buy into the mythology of working on a boat, separated now from loved ones and friends, growing lonelier by the second, even while they wait on you and follow your every order.
Number of people stopped and frisked by the NYPD in 2011 for “furtive movements”:
The faces of Lego people were growing angrier.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature