Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Reading

The Puppetry of the Pentagon: The New York Times details how the military analysts for the major TV news outlets have been bought and paid for by the Pentagon, how the analysts were fed all the talking points and the spin, how some of these analysts parlayed their inside connections for favorable business contracts, and how many of the networks like CNN and NBC looked the other way when questions of conflicts of interest were raised, and how the Pentagon used these retired soldiers to push the Bush administration’s political agenda.

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.”

Read the entire article. It gives a detailed account of what the White House and the Pentagon went through to make sure that only its message and view of the war got out, how they retaliated against those people, both inside the government and out, who did not toe the line, and there are transcripts of conferences and briefings where the outcome of the war and the rebuilding of Iraq wasn’t as important as making sure that America got what it wanted.

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.”

And a regime that will supply us with cheap oil for the next 200 years.

Dr. Goebbels would be impressed.

Starved of Ideas: Ann McFeatters on what the candidates aren’t talking about.

The other day, I saw an elderly woman bent over with osteoporosis at the grocery store. She picked up a package of hamburger, looked at the price, sighed, and put it back. Later, I saw her in the bakery department, seemingly astonished because the price of her favorite loaf of bread had gone up again.

At the checkout counter, she laid out coins to pay for an apple and a half-price can of tuna. The clerk later told me the woman is very proud, very sweet, and refuses help. The clerks all are worried about her.

That night, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met for their final debate before the Pennsylvania primary. They argued over who is less elitest, if he has thoroughly disavowed the words of his pastor, if he should be on a board with an English professor who broke the law when Mr. Obama was 8, her gaffe over not being shot at in Bosnia, and his gaffe over equating guns and religion with frustrated, bitter voters. They discussed bipartisan Social Security commissions, the high price of gasoline, how soon they’d like to get our soldiers out of Iraq, and Iran’s unbridled interest in nuclear weapons.

They never once talked about rising food prices here and around the world – wheat, corn, and rice prices are soaring. Of course, the ABC moderators, full of themselves over rehashing old and mostly trivial issues, didn’t ask – another reason why I think the 22 debates thus far largely have been a waste of time.

Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton didn’t talk about whether our rush to subsidize and encourage ethanol and biofuels has led farmers to forsake other crops for pricier corn-for-gasoline, falsely assuming this would to lead to energy independence and help cool the earth. The Renewable Fuels Association says this is just the start. There are 147 U.S. ethanol biorefineries and 55 biorefineries under construction. How about a debate on whether we’ve been too smart for our own good on this issue?

They also didn’t discuss the escalating food riots around the globe and what the U.S. policy should be. They didn’t talk about what hard-pressed Americans in their own cities of Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago are going to do if the food-price spiral continues.

It’s hard to believe, when obesity in America is a major health problem, some people go to bed hungry. It’s almost inconceivable that parents, trying to stretch paychecks that don’t make it to the end of the week, are giving their children cereal for supper. But that is happening.

[…]

The pundits have been swept up in whether Mr. Obama has blown his chance at the White House because of his seeming lack of reverence for gun-toters and Bible thumpers and immigrant bashers. They’ve been distracted by critics who claim Mrs. Clinton is not credible because she exaggerated the danger when she went to Bosnia years ago. They’ve been corralled by the debate over whether Mr. McCain is too old and too close to the policies of George W. Bush to become president.

It feels as if the boat is sinking, and those in charge are standing around quarreling about who should distribute the life jackets.

Frank Rich on the debacle in Philadelphia.

However out of touch Mr. Obama is with “ordinary Americans,” many Americans, ordinary and not, have concluded that the talking heads blathering about blue-collar men, religion, guns and those incomprehensible “YouTube young people” are even more condescending and out of touch. When a Washington doyenne like Mary Matalin, freighted with jewelry, starts railing about elitists on “Meet the Press,” as she did last Sunday, it’s pure farce. It’s typical of the syndrome that the man who plays a raging populist on CNN, Lou Dobbs, dismissed Mr. Obama last week by saying “we don’t need another Ivy League-educated knucklehead.” Mr. Dobbs must know whereof he speaks, since he’s Harvard ’67.

The most revealing moment in Wednesday’s debate was a striking example of this media-populace disconnect. In Mr. Gibson’s only passionate query of the night, he tried to strong-arm both Democrats into forgoing any increases in the capital gains tax. The capital gains tax! That’s just the priority Americans are focusing on as they lose their houses and jobs, and as gas prices reach $4 a gallon (a subject that merited only a brief mention, in a lightning round of final questions). And this in a debate that took place on the same day we learned that the top 50 hedge fund managers made a total of $29 billion in 2007, some of them by betting against the mortgage market.

At least Mr. Gibson is consistent. In the ABC debate in January, he upbraided Mrs. Clinton by suggesting that a typical New Hampshire “family of two professors” with a joint income “in the $200,000 category” would be unjustly penalized by her plan to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He seemed oblivious not merely to typical academic salaries but to the fact that his hypothetical household would be among America’s wealthiest (only 3.4 percent earn more).

Next to such knuckleheaded obtuseness, Mr. Obama’s pratfall may strike many voters as a misdemeanor. He was probably rescued as well by the typical Clinton campaign overkill that followed his mistake. Not content merely to piously feign shock about Mr. Obama’s San Francisco soliloquy (and the operative political buzzword here is San Francisco, which stands for you-know-what), Mrs. Clinton couldn’t resist presenting herself as an unambiguously macho, beer-swilling hunting enthusiast. This is as condescending as it gets, topping even Mitt Romney’s last-ditch effort to repackage himself to laid-off union workers as the love child of Joe Hill and Norma Rae.

[…]

The unequivocally good news is that ABC’s debacle had the largest audience of any debate in this campaign. That’s a lot of viewers who are now mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.

Doonesbury: Help!

Opus: Hysteria!