Last year the New York Times sued the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act to get the records of its interaction with the TV Military analysts who were so crucial in the run up to the War in Iraq and its subsequent prosecution. This morning they released their analysis of the documents. The supposedly objective ex-Generals were actually part of a sophisticated psy-ops operation on the American public.
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.
I have written before about Walter Lippmann’s notion of the “Manufacture of Consent” and the long Times article lays out myriad examples of the cozy dynamic between the Pentagon and these military analysts, many of who were also lobbyists or officers of major military contracting companies. The conflicts of interest are mind-boggling.
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 other agencies.
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.”
The Pentagon referred to these TV sock puppets as “surrogates”. Brent Kruegar, a senior aide to Torrie Clarke (Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs) has since left the Pentagon and was willing to be candid with the Times.
“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.’ ”
As crucial as the retired Generals were in building the case for the invasion of Iraq, there value once the occupation started to go south was even more important.
“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.
If of course a military analyst sought to dissent from what one called the “mindwar”, he was quickly cashiered. Lt. Col Bill Cowan found out quickly the cost of dissent.
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.”
Although I have faulted Lippmann for his cynical belief in the role of elites to “move the mob”, his analysis is not without some candor.
When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often a radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into an absolute.
Until a truly free press made up of newspapers, TV networks and the blogosphere refuses to participate in this charade of propaganda dissemination, we will not be able to reclaim our democracy.