In 2009, The New York Times‘ David Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize for his two-part series on the use by television networks of retired Generals posing as objective “analysts” at exactly the same time they were participating — unbeknownst to viewers — in a Pentagon propaganda program. Many were also plagued by undisclosed conflicts of interest whereby they had financial stakes in many of the policies they were pushing on-air. One of the prime offenders was Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who was not only a member of the Pentagon’s propaganda program, but also, according to Barstow’s second stand-alone article, had his own “Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” deeply invested in many of the very war policies he pushed and advocated while posing as an NBC “analyst”:
Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.
Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey. . . . General McCaffrey has immersed himself in businesses that have grown with the fight against terrorism. . . .
Many retired officers hold a perch in the world of military contracting, but General McCaffrey is among a select few who also command platforms in the news media and as government advisers on military matters. These overlapping roles offer them an array of opportunities to advance policy goals as well as business objectives. But with their business ties left undisclosed, it can be difficult for policy makers and the public to fully understand their interests.
On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.
Despite Barstow’s Pulitzer, neither Brian Williams nor anyone else at NBC News ever mentioned any of these groundbreaking stories to their viewers (even as Williams reported on other Pulitzer awards that year); the controversy over the Pentagon propaganda program was simply suppressed. And NBC continued to feature those same ex-Generals as “analysts” — including McCaffrey — as though the whole thing never happened.
Apparently, not only does NBC continue to present McCaffrey to its viewers as some sort of objective analyst, but NBC News executives use him as some kind of private consultant and briefer on the news. On January 12, 2012, McCaffrey presented a seminar to roughly 20 NBC executives and producers — including NBC News President Steve Capus — entitled “Iran, Nukes & Oil: The Gulf Confrontation.” We’ve obtained the Power Point document McCaffrey prepared and distributed for his presentation, and in it, he all but predicts war with Iran within the next 90 days: one that is likely to be started by them. The first page of the breathlessly hawkish document is entitled “Iran & the Gulf: Creeping Toward War,” and the first sentence excitedly proclaims (click to enlarge):
Most of the report emphasizes the likelihood that Iran — not the U.S. — will act aggressively and trigger a war:
He adds: “We should not view the Iranian rhetoric as empty threats. They are likely to further escalate. There is great opportunity for miscalculation on their part. . . . They will not under any circumstances actually be deterred from going nuclear. They will achieve initial nuclear capability within 36 months.” About a war with Iran, he says: “Israel would welcome such a confrontation. They have an existential threat to their survival looming in their very near future.” Among his conclusions:
The last page of his presentation pointedly notes what he called “The American People: A Crisis of Confidence in Institutions.” The accompanying chart showed that 78% of Americans have faith in the military — by far the most admired institution in America — but near the bottom was “television news,” with 28%.
While McCaffrey’s office failed to return several calls seeking comment — I was particularly interested to know whether any of his ample consulting clients would benefit from a war with Iran — Lauren Kapp, an NBC News spokeswoman, confirmed the existence of this meeting. She said: “We regularly host editorial board meetings with our editorial board staff,” and besides McCaffrey: “we have heard from top ranking current and former US Government officials” (she also says that they once heard from an Iranian ambassador to the U.N.). She added:
We are exhaustive in our conversation with people from various perspectives and expertise when we over a story of this magnitude. And we are confident in the level and breadth of the conversations we are having with representatives from all viewpoints.Council for foreign relations, etc….
Not just current and former U.S. government officials and Generals, but also members of the “Council for foreign relations”: the diversity of viewpoints is staggering.
It is interesting to see the sources on whom NBC News executives rely to develop their understanding of the world, and it’s even more interesting to learn what they’re being told about that. The reason Barstow won a Pulitzer Prize for his two stories is because it revealed the merger between the the American media and the military establishment, many of whose members have all sorts of vested interests in Endless War. This meeting and document provides a nice glimpse for how this process continues to function.