[ExI] NY Times: Message Machine
pjmanney at gmail.com
Mon Apr 21 20:00:22 UTC 2008
Every so often, I like to post a piece about being careful about PR
and its dangers, which are especially perilous in an age of media
saturation. While this story is not particularly H+, extropic or
whatever, it is important to realize that if the powers that be are
manipulating you about one thing, dollars to donuts some group is
doing it on other subjects we do care about as H+ers, like medical
research, space, alternative energy or existential threats -- anywhere
a buck can be made.
In this case, the NY Times finally has proof that those military TV
pundits spouting about the Iraq War were reading from scripts straight
from the Pentagon. However, even more egregious, the pundits are
actually lobbyists/executives/board members for military contractors
making a mint with this conflict. Sell the war, cash your check.
And it only took the Times five years to figure that one out.
I can only hope that the members of these lists learn to regard their
media with more scrutiny and suspicion than the people making it.
You'll need all the practice you can get when they start piping the
media directly into your head.
April 20, 2008
Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand
By DAVID BARSTOW
In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave
of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been
branded "the gulag of our times" by Amnesty International, there were
new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and
calls were mounting for its closure.
The administration's communications experts responded swiftly. Early
one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on
one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew
them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity,
presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as
"military analysts" whose long service has equipped them to give
authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues
of the post-Sept. 11 world.
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon
information apparatus that 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.
Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers,
and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively,
the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts
represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists,
senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include
defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part
of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of
billions in military business generated by the administration's war on
terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information
and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.
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.
Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior
military leaders, including officials with significant influence over
contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on
tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have
been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and
Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and
Stephen J. Hadley.
In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking
points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false
or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because
they feared jeopardizing their access.
A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an
effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as
independent military analysis.
"It was them saying, 'We need to stick our hands up your back and move
your mouth for you,' " Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and
former Fox News analyst, said.
Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught
information warfare at the National Defense University, said the
campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. "This was
a coherent, active policy," he said.
As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a
yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and
what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.
"Night and day," Mr. Allard said, "I felt we'd been hosed."
The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying
they had been given only factual information about the war. "The
intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to
inform the American people," Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman,
It was, Mr. Whitman added, "a bit incredible" to think retired
military officers could be "wound up" and turned into "puppets of the
Many analysts strongly denied that they had either been co-opted or
had allowed outside business interests to affect their on-air
comments, and some have used their platforms to criticize the conduct
of the war. Several, like Jeffrey D. McCausland, a CBS military
analyst and defense industry lobbyist, said they kept their networks
informed of their outside work and recused themselves from coverage
that touched on business interests.
"I'm not here representing the administration," Dr. McCausland said.
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. And whatever the contributions of military analysts, they also
noted the many network journalists who have covered the war for years
in all its complexity.
Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and
execution of the Pentagon's campaign have never been disclosed. But
The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to
8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing
years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an
extensive Pentagon talking points operation.
These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing
lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.
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."
Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to
$1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if
they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts
show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the
networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the
defense secretary, "the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the
world." Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of
their correspondence with network news executives. Many — although
certainly not all — faithfully echoed talking points intended to
"Good work," Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force general,
consultant and Fox News analyst, wrote to the Pentagon after receiving
fresh talking points in late 2006. "We will use it."
Again and again, records show, the administration has enlisted
analysts as a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical
news coverage, some of it by the networks' own Pentagon
correspondents. For example, when news articles revealed that troops
in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor, a senior Pentagon
official wrote to his colleagues: "I think our analysts — properly
armed — can push back in that arena."
The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo
between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used
the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a
window into future business possibilities.
John C. Garrett is a retired Army colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox
News TV and radio. He is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps
firms win Pentagon contracts, including in Iraq. In promotional
materials, he states that as a military analyst he "is privy to weekly
access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the
administration." One client told investors that Mr. Garrett's special
access and decades of experience helped him "to know in advance — and
in detail — how best to meet the needs" of the Defense Department and
In interviews Mr. Garrett said there was an inevitable overlap between
his dual roles. He said he had gotten "information you just otherwise
would not get," from the briefings and three Pentagon-sponsored trips
to Iraq. He also acknowledged using this access and information to
identify opportunities for clients. "You can't help but look for
that," he said, adding, "If you know a capability that would fill a
niche or need, you try to fill it. "That's good for everybody."
At the same time, in e-mail messages to the Pentagon, Mr. Garrett
displayed an eagerness to be supportive with his television and radio
commentary. "Please let me know if you have any specific points you
want covered or that you would prefer to downplay," he wrote in
January 2007, before President Bush went on TV to describe the surge
strategy in Iraq.
Conversely, the administration has demonstrated that there is a price
for sustained criticism, many analysts said. "You'll lose all access,"
Dr. McCausland said.
With a majority of Americans calling the war a mistake despite all
administration attempts to sway public opinion, the Pentagon has
focused in the last couple of years on cultivating in particular
military analysts frequently seen and heard in conservative news
outlets, records and interviews show.
Some of these analysts were on the mission to Cuba on June 24, 2005 —
the first of six such Guantánamo trips — which was designed to
mobilize analysts against the growing perception of Guantánamo as an
international symbol of inhumane treatment. On the flight to Cuba, for
much of the day at Guantánamo and on the flight home that night,
Pentagon officials briefed the 10 or so analysts on their key messages
— how much had been spent improving the facility, the abuse endured by
guards, the extensive rights afforded detainees.
The results came quickly. The analysts went on TV and radio, decrying
Amnesty International, criticizing calls to close the facility and
asserting that all detainees were treated humanely.
"The impressions that you're getting from the media and from the
various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in
my opinion are totally false," Donald W. Shepperd, a retired Air Force
general, reported live on CNN by phone from Guantánamo that same
The next morning, Montgomery Meigs, a retired Army general and NBC
analyst, appeared on "Today." "There's been over $100 million of new
construction," he reported. "The place is very professionally run."
Within days, transcripts of the analysts' appearances were circulated
to senior White House and Pentagon officials, cited as evidence of
progress in the battle for hearts and minds at home.
Charting the Campaign
By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was
under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were
uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept.
11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military
analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this
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.
Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the
administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders,
many of whom were friends. "It is very hard for me to criticize the
United States Army," said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and
ABC analyst. "It is my life."
Other administrations had made sporadic, small-scale attempts to build
relationships with the occasional military analyst. But these were
trifling compared with what Ms. Clarke's team had in mind. Don Meyer,
an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to
make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to
construct a case for war. Journalists were secondary. "We didn't want
to rely on them to be our primary vehicle to get information out," Mr.
The Pentagon's regular press office would be kept separate from the
military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small
group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T.
Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled
other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.
Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably
about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations
hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration
accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi
newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.
Rather than complain about the "media filter," each of these
techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier. This time,
Mr. Krueger said, the military analysts would in effect be "writing
the op-ed" for the war.
Assembling the Team
>From the start, interviews show, the White House took a keen interest
in which analysts had been identified by the Pentagon, requesting
lists of potential recruits, and suggesting names. Ms. Clarke's team
wrote summaries describing their backgrounds, business affiliations
and where they stood on the war.
"Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees," said Mr. Krueger,
who left the Pentagon in 2004. (Through a spokesman, Mr. Rumsfeld
declined to comment for this article.)
Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers,
although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest
contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the
other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and
ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network
payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were
sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed
articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At
least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.
The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of
helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior
positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for
winning new Pentagon business. James Marks, a retired Army general and
analyst for CNN from 2004 to 2007, pursued military and intelligence
contracts as a senior executive with McNeil Technologies. Still others
held board positions with military firms that gave them responsibility
for government business. General McInerney, the Fox analyst, for
example, sits on the boards of several military contractors, including
Nortel Government Solutions, a supplier of communication networks.
Several were defense industry lobbyists, such as Dr. McCausland, who
works at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he
is director of a national security team that represents several
military contractors. "We offer clients access to key decision
makers," Dr. McCausland's team promised on the firm's Web site.
Dr. McCausland was not the only analyst making this pledge. Another
was Joseph W. Ralston, a retired Air Force general. Soon after signing
on with CBS, General Ralston was named vice chairman of the Cohen
Group, a consulting firm headed by a former defense secretary, William
Cohen, himself now a "world affairs" analyst for CNN. "The Cohen Group
knows that getting to 'yes' in the aerospace and defense market —
whether in the United States or abroad — requires that companies have
a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government
decision makers," the company tells prospective clients on its Web
There were also ideological ties.
Two of NBC's most prominent analysts, Barry R. McCaffrey and the late
Wayne A. Downing, were on the advisory board of the Committee for the
Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House
encouragement in 2002 to help make the case for ousting Saddam
Hussein. Both men also had their own consulting firms and sat on the
boards of major military contractors.
Many also shared with Mr. Bush's national security team a belief that
pessimistic war coverage broke the nation's will to win in Vietnam,
and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.
This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News
analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized
in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that
accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation
from "enemy" propaganda during Vietnam.
"We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were
out Psyoped," he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to
psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just
foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his
approach "MindWar" — using network TV and radio to "strengthen our
national will to victory."
The Selling of the War
>From their earliest sessions with the military analysts, Mr. Rumsfeld
and his aides spoke as if they were all part of the same team.
In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive
environment — the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld's private
conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name
cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and
counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes
from the secretary himself.
"Oh, you have no idea," Mr. Allard said, describing the effect.
"You're back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV."
It was, he said, "psyops on steroids" — a nuanced exercise in
influence through flattery and proximity. "It's not like it's, 'We'll
pay you $500 to get our story out,' " he said. "It's more subtle."
The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to
quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts
with the Pentagon.
In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed
its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat.
The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and
biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day
slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and
inexpensive "war of liberation."
At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke's staff marveled at the way the
analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and
briefings as if it was their own.
"You could see that they were messaging," Mr. Krueger said. "You could
see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what
the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over
and over and over." Some days, he added, "We were able to click on
every single station and every one of our folks were up there
delivering our message. You'd look at them and say, 'This is working.'
On April 12, 2003, with major combat almost over, Mr. Rumsfeld drafted
a memorandum to Ms. Clarke. "Let's think about having some of the
folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is
over," he wrote.
By summer, though, the first signs of the insurgency had emerged.
Reports from journalists based in Baghdad were increasingly suffused
with the imagery of mayhem.
The Pentagon did not have to search far for a counterweight.
It was time, an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum urged, to
"re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers," starting with
the military analysts.
The memorandum led to a proposal to take analysts on a tour of Iraq in
September 2003, timed to help overcome the sticker shock from Mr.
Bush's request for $87 billion in emergency war financing.
The group included four analysts from Fox News, one each from CNN and
ABC, and several research-group luminaries whose opinion articles
appear regularly in the nation's op-ed pages.
The trip invitation promised a look at "the real situation on the
ground in Iraq."
The situation, as described in scores of books, was deteriorating. L.
Paul Bremer III, then the American viceroy in Iraq, wrote in his
memoir, "My Year in Iraq," that he had privately warned the White
House that the United States had "about half the number of soldiers we
"We're up against a growing and sophisticated threat," Mr. Bremer
recalled telling the president during a private White House dinner.
That dinner took place on Sept. 24, while the analysts were touring Iraq.
Yet these harsh realities were elided, or flatly contradicted, during
the official presentations for the analysts, records show. The
itinerary, scripted to the minute, featured brief visits to a model
school, a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women's
rights, a mass grave and even the gardens of Babylon.
Mostly the analysts attended briefings. These sessions, records show,
spooled out an alternative narrative, depicting an Iraq bursting with
political and economic energy, its security forces blossoming. On the
crucial question of troop levels, the briefings echoed the White House
line: No reinforcements were needed. The "growing and sophisticated
threat" described by Mr. Bremer was instead depicted as degraded,
isolated and on the run.
"We're winning," a briefing document proclaimed.
One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so
clearly "artificial" that he joked to another group member that they
were on "the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq," a reference to Mr.
Romney's infamous claim that American officials had "brainwashed" him
into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he
was governor of Michigan.
But if the trip pounded the message of progress, it also represented a
business opportunity: direct access to the most senior civilian and
military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many with a say in how
the president's $87 billion would be spent. It also was a chance to
gather inside information about the most pressing needs confronting
the American mission: the acute shortages of "up-armored" Humvees; the
billions to be spent building military bases; the urgent need for
interpreters; and the ambitious plans to train Iraq's security forces.
Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip
participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.
Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief
executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its
executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking
contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and
counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a
written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal
leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the
"Those sheiks wanted access to the C.P.A.," Mr. Cowan recalled in an
interview, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Mr. Cowan said he pleaded their cause during the trip. "I tried to
push hard with some of Bremer's people to engage these people of Al
Anbar," he said.
Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the
trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up
during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was
resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and
Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were
withering. "They can't shoot, but then again, they don't," one officer
told them, according to one participant's notes.
"I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south," General
Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview
with The Times.
The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.
"You can't believe the progress," General Vallely told Alan Colmes of
Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be "down
to a few numbers" within months.
"We could not be more excited, more pleased," Mr. Cowan told Greta Van
Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or
corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of
the moment — whether to send more troops — the analysts were
"I am so much against adding more troops," General Shepperd said on CNN.
Access and Influence
Inside the Pentagon and at the White House, the trip was viewed as a
masterpiece in the management of perceptions, not least because it
gave fuel to complaints that "mainstream" journalists were ignoring
the good news in Iraq.
"We're hitting a home run on this trip," a senior Pentagon official
wrote in an e-mail message to Richard B. Myers and Peter Pace, then
chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Its success only intensified the Pentagon's campaign. The pace of
briefings accelerated. More trips were organized. Eventually the
effort involved officials from Washington to Baghdad to Kabul to
Guantánamo and back to Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of United States
The scale reflected strong support from the top. When officials in
Iraq were slow to organize another trip for analysts, a Pentagon
official fired off an e-mail message warning that the trips "have the
highest levels of visibility" at the White House and urging them to
get moving before Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld's closest
aides, "picks up the phone and starts calling the 4-stars."
Mr. Di Rita, no longer at the Defense Department, said in an interview
that a "conscious decision" was made to rely on the military analysts
to counteract "the increasingly negative view of the war" coming from
journalists in Iraq. The analysts, he said, generally had "a more
supportive view" of the administration and the war, and the
combination of their TV platforms and military cachet made them ideal
for rebutting critical coverage of issues like troop morale, treatment
of detainees, inadequate equipment or poorly trained Iraqi security
forces. "On those issues, they were more likely to be seen as credible
spokesmen," he said.
For analysts with military industry ties, the attention brought access
to a widening circle of influential officials beyond the contacts they
had accumulated over the course of their careers.
Charles T. Nash, a Fox military analyst and retired Navy captain, is a
consultant who helps small companies break into the military market.
Suddenly, he had entree to a host of senior military leaders, many of
whom he had never met. It was, he said, like being embedded with the
Pentagon leadership. "You start to recognize what's most important to
them," he said, adding, "There's nothing like seeing stuff firsthand."
Some Pentagon officials said they were well aware that some analysts
viewed their special access as a business advantage. "Of course we
realized that," Mr. Krueger said. "We weren't naïve about that."
They also understood the financial relationship between the networks
and their analysts. Many analysts were being paid by the "hit," the
number of times they appeared on TV. The more an analyst could boast
of fresh inside information from high-level Pentagon "sources," the
more hits he could expect. The more hits, the greater his potential
influence in the military marketplace, where several analysts
prominently advertised their network roles.
"They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher
level," Mr. Krueger said. "This has been highly honed."
Mr. Di Rita, though, said it never occurred to him that analysts might
use their access to curry favor. Nor, he said, did the Pentagon try to
exploit this dynamic. "That's not something that ever crossed my
mind," he said. In any event, he argued, the analysts and the networks
were the ones responsible for any ethical complications. "We assume
they know where the lines are," he said.
The analysts met personally with Mr. Rumsfeld at least 18 times,
records show, but that was just the beginning. They had dozens more
sessions with the most senior members of his brain trust and access to
officials responsible for managing the billions being spent in Iraq.
Other groups of "key influentials" had meetings, but not nearly as
often as the analysts.
An internal memorandum in 2005 helped explain why. The memorandum,
written by a Pentagon official who had accompanied analysts to Iraq,
said that based on her observations during the trip, the analysts "are
having a greater impact" on network coverage of the military. "They
have now become the go-to guys not only on breaking stories, but they
influence the views on issues," she wrote.
Other branches of the administration also began to make use of the
analysts. Mr. Gonzales, then the attorney general, met with them soon
after news leaked that the government was wiretapping terrorism
suspects in the United States without warrants, Pentagon records show.
When David H. Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in
January 2007, one of his early acts was to meet with the analysts.
"We knew we had extraordinary access," said Timur J. Eads, a retired
Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of
government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing
Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his
tongue on television for fear that "some four-star could call up and
say, 'Kill that contract.' " For example, he believed Pentagon
officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq's security
forces. "I know a snow job when I see one," he said. He did not share
this on TV.
"Human nature," he explained, though he noted other instances when he
Some analysts said that even before the war started, they privately
had questions about the justification for the invasion, but were
careful not to express them on air.
Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a
briefing in early 2003 about Iraq's purported stockpiles of illicit
weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had
"smoking gun" proof.
" 'We don't have any hard evidence,' " Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the
briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this
concession. "We are looking at ourselves saying, 'What are we doing?'
Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel
who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same
briefing and recalled feeling "very disappointed" after being shown
satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a
hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the
analysts were being "manipulated" to convey a false sense of certainty
about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the
other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings
with the American public.
Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3
Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.
"There's no way I was going to go down that road and get completely
torn apart," Mr. Bevelacqua said. "You're talking about fighting a
Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an
implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H.
Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and
National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several
military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the
Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.
"Recall the stuff I did after my last visit," he wrote. "I will do the
same this time."
Pentagon Keeps Tabs
As it happened, the analysts' news media appearances were being
closely monitored. The Pentagon paid a private contractor, Omnitec
Solutions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour databases for any
trace of the analysts, be it a segment on "The O'Reilly Factor" or an
interview with The Daily Inter Lake in Montana, circulation 20,000.
Omnitec evaluated their appearances using the same tools as corporate
branding experts. One report, assessing the impact of several trips to
Iraq in 2005, offered example after example of analysts echoing
Pentagon themes on all the networks.
"Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over
all," the report concluded.
In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they
were described as reliable "surrogates" in Pentagon documents. And
some asserted that their Pentagon sessions were, as David L. Grange, a
retired Army general and CNN analyst put it, "just upfront
information," while others pointed out, accurately, that they did not
always agree with the administration or each other. "None of us drink
the Kool-Aid," General Scales said.
Likewise, several also denied using their special access for business
gain. "Not related at all," General Shepperd said, pointing out that
many in the Pentagon held CNN "in the lowest esteem."
Still, even the mildest of criticism could draw a challenge. Several
analysts told of fielding telephone calls from displeased defense
officials only minutes after being on the air.
On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who
said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the "twisted version
of reality" being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon
to give "a heads-up" that some of his comments on Fox "may not all be
friendly," Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld's senior aides quickly
arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O'Reilly
that the United States was "not on a good glide path right now" in
Iraq, the repercussions were swift.
Mr. Cowan said he was "precipitously fired from the analysts group"
for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message,
"simply didn't like the fact that I wasn't carrying their water." The
next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint
Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged
them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines' deaths further erode
support for the war.
"The strategic target remains our population," General Conway said.
"We can lose people day in and day out, but they're never going to
beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away
our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen."
"General, I just made that point on the air," an analyst replied.
"Let's work it together, guys," General Conway urged.
The Generals' Revolt
The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer
than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld's former generals —
none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating
critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.
On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the "Generals'
Revolt" dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon
military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records
show. When an aide urged a short delay to "give our big guys on the
West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here," Mr.
Rumsfeld's office insisted that "the boss" wanted the meeting fast
"for impact on the current story."
That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General
McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall
Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.
"Starting to write it now," General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that
afternoon. "Any input for the article," he added a little later, "will
be much appreciated." Mr. Rumsfeld's office quickly forwarded talking
points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.
"Vallely is going to use the numbers," a Pentagon official reported
The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked,
producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In
damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the
meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be
kept "very formal," records show. "This is very, very sensitive now,"
a Pentagon official warned subordinates.
On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with
Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared
determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for
"I'm an old intel guy," said one analyst. (The transcript omits
speakers' names.) "And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with
one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they
think, 'Oh my God, they're trying to brainwash.' "
"What are you, some kind of a nut?" Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing
laughter. "You don't believe in the Constitution?"
There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth
from Mr. Rumsfeld's former generals. Analysts argued that opposition
to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not
reality. The administration's overall war strategy, they counseled,
was "brilliant" and "very successful."
"Frankly," one participant said, "from a military point of view, the
penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15
minutes, is relative."
An analyst said at another point: "This is a wider war. And whether we
have democracy in Iraq or not, it doesn't mean a tinker's damn if we
end up with the result we want, which is a regime over there that's
not a threat to us."
"Yeah," Mr. Rumsfeld said, taking notes.
But winning or not, they bluntly warned, the administration was in
grave political danger so long as most Americans viewed Iraq as a lost
cause. "America hates a loser," one analyst said.
Much of the session was devoted to ways that Mr. Rumsfeld could
reverse the "political tide." One analyst urged Mr. Rumsfeld to "just
crush these people," and assured him that "most of the gentlemen at
the table" would enthusiastically support him if he did.
"You are the leader," the analyst told Mr. Rumsfeld. "You are our guy."
At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: "In one of your
speeches you ought to say, 'Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an
Iraq ruled by Zarqawi.' And then you just go down the list and say,
'All right, we've got oil, money, sovereignty, access to the
geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.' If
you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, 'Oh my
God, I can't imagine a world like that.' "
Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in
this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what
they should cite as the next "milestone" that would, as one analyst
put it, "keep the American people focused on the idea that we're
moving forward to a positive end." They placed particular emphasis on
the growing confrontation with Iran.
"When you said 'long war,' you changed the psyche of the American
people to expect this to be a generational event," an analyst said.
"And again, I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job..."
"Get in line," Mr. Rumsfeld interjected.
The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed,
took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured
keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.
Soon after, analysts hit the airwaves. The Omnitec monitoring reports,
circulated to more than 80 officials, confirmed that analysts repeated
many of the Pentagon's talking points: that Mr. Rumsfeld consulted
"frequently and sufficiently" with his generals; that he was not
"overly concerned" with the criticisms; that the meeting focused "on
more important topics at hand," including the next milestone in Iraq,
the formation of a new government.
Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their
collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined:
"Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war —
the long war."
"Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or
Afghanistan, it will help Iran."
But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one
participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.
"I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow
commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions," he said.
View From the Networks
Two weeks ago General Petraeus took time out from testifying before
Congress about Iraq for a conference call with military analysts.
Mr. Garrett, the Fox analyst and Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told
General Petraeus during the call to "keep up the great work."
"Hey," Mr. Garrett said in an interview, "anything we can do to help."
For the moment, though, because of heavy election coverage and general
war fatigue, military analysts are not getting nearly as much TV time,
and the networks have trimmed their rosters of analysts. The
conference call with General Petraeus, for example, produced little in
the way of immediate coverage.
Still, almost weekly the Pentagon continues to conduct briefings with
selected military analysts. Many analysts said network officials were
only dimly aware of these interactions. The networks, they said, have
little grasp of how often they meet with senior officials, or what is
"I don't think NBC was even aware we were participating," said Rick
Francona, a longtime military analyst for the network.
Some networks publish biographies on their Web sites that describe
their analysts' military backgrounds and, in some cases, give at least
limited information about their business ties. But 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. "None of that ever happened," said Mr.
Allard, an NBC analyst until 2006.
"The worst conflict of interest was no interest."
Mr. Allard and other analysts said their network handlers also raised
no objections when the Defense Department began paying their
commercial airfare for Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq — a clear
ethical violation for most news organizations.
CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military
analysts' business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against
NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and
monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement:
"We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear
on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their
profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest."
Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the
network's military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules
as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network
informed about any outside business entanglements. "We make it clear
to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised," he said.
A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives "refused to participate" in
CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside
sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide
its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical
guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or
apparent conflicts of interest.
Yet even where controls exist, they have sometimes proven porous.
CNN, for example, said it was unaware for nearly three years that one
of its main military analysts, General Marks, was deeply involved in
the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts
related to Iraq.
General Marks was hired by CNN in 2004, about the time he took a
management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job was to
pursue military and intelligence contracts. As required, General Marks
disclosed that he received income from McNeil Technologies. But the
disclosure form did not require him to describe what his job entailed,
and CNN acknowledges it failed to do additional vetting.
"We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have," CNN
said in a written statement.
In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his
job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. "I mean,
that's what McNeil does," he said.
CNN, however, said it did not know the nature of McNeil's military
business or what General Marks did for the company. If he was bidding
on Pentagon contracts, CNN said, that should have disqualified him
from being a military analyst for the network. But in the summer and
fall of 2006, even as he was regularly asked to comment on conditions
in Iraq, General Marks was working intensively on bidding for a $4.6
billion contract to provide thousands of translators to United States
forces in Iraq. In fact, General Marks was made president of the
McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract in December 2006.
General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his
commentary on CNN. "I've got zero challenge separating myself from a
business interest," he said.
But CNN said it had no idea about his role in the contract until July
2007, when it reviewed his most recent disclosure form, submitted
months earlier, and finally made inquiries about his new job.
"We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we
should end our relationship with him," CNN said.
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