Media Matters: Four-Star Elephant in the (News)room

May 13, 2008
12:35 PM

CONTACT: Media Matters
Karl Frisch: 202.471.3205

Four-Star Elephant in the (News)room
Media Matters Exclusive: 4,500+ Appearances/Quotations by Military Analysts Identified in New York Times Exposť on Pentagon Program
More Details on the Media Matters Exclusive
Congress Takes Action as Media Remains Largely Silent
WASHINGTON, DC - May 13 -On the heels of an April 20 New York Times investigative report exposing the hidden relationship between media military analysts and the Pentagon and defense industries, Media Matters for America today exclusively released an accounting of the analysts identified in the Times exposť and their more than 4,500 appearances and quotations on ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, and NPR. The release documents just how far and wide the Pentagon program reached.

In the three weeks since the story by Times investigative reporter David Barstow first appeared on the front page of that paper's Sunday edition, members of the media have remained largely silent on the subject while members of Congress have taken prompt action by calling for congressional hearings and investigations by the Department of Defense, the Government Accountability Office, and the Federal Communications Commission.

"In the face of such damning evidence, the silence of those in the media who hosted or quoted these military analysts more than 4,500 times reeks of irresponsible journalism," said Karl Frisch, a spokesman for Media Matters. "Because the media have failed to follow up on this story with the tough questions one would expect, members of Congress have been forced to act. It's time for the media to step up and do their job."

"Had this been a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about a political sex scandal, you can bet that we'd have seen wall-to-wall coverage on the TV and radio," Frisch continued. "These news outlets have set aside their journalistic integrity to provide cover for themselves and once again undermined their own credibility in the process. Their lack of a meaningful response is an embarrassment."

The Media Matters analysis released today found that since January 1, 2002, the analysts named in Barstow's article -- many identified as having ties to the defense industry -- collectively appeared or were quoted as experts more than 4,500 times on ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, and NPR in segments covering the Iraq war both before and after the invasion, as well as numerous other national security or government policy issues.

More Details on the Media Matters Exclusive:

Congress Takes Action as Media Remains Largely Silent

Media Largely Silent: As Media Matters has documented, the three major broadcast news networks have been largely silent about the April 20 New York Times article on the hidden ties between media military analysts and the Pentagon. As of 11:59 p.m. ET May 7, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and NBC still had not reported on the revelations in the Times story on any of their news programs whose transcripts appear in the Nexis database. ABC, CBS, and NBC, along with the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- reportedly declined to participate in a segment on the April 24 edition of PBS' NewsHour about "the role of military analysts on TV and in the Pentagon." Similarly, during a report on this issue that aired during the May 1 broadcast of All Things Considered, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik stated that "[n]ews executives and consultants wouldn't comment for this story, but privately say their on-air comments were honestly held beliefs."

Fox News and CNN have continued to host analysts named in the Times article, even after the article's publication. David L. Grange has appeared twice on CNN, on the April 24 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight and the April 25 edition of This Week in Politics, and Robert H. Scales Jr. has also appeared at least twice on Fox News since the article's April 20 publication: on the April 21 and April 23 editions of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume. At no point in those appearances was their presence in the Times article discussed.

Though coverage has been minimal, CNN has aired at least four segments on the Times report, and MSNBC's Countdown host Keith Olbermann discussed the Times report during the April 21 edition of Countdown. According to an April 21 Washington Post article, "Marty Ryan, a Fox News executive producer, said yesterday that the analysts are hired not just for their expertise but also as people 'who have access to and know what the thinking of the Pentagon is. That makes them valuable to us.' " The article continued: "With so many military commentators retained in wartime, 'it's a little unrealistic to think you're going to do a big background check on everybody,' Ryan said. 'Some of the business ties aren't necessarily relevant when you're asking them about a specific helicopter operation.' "

Congress Takes Action: Congress has moved swiftly to examine the hidden ties between media military analysts and the Pentagon. On April 22, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calling for an investigation into the Department of Defense's program. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) also called upon Gates to disclose the "extent" of what the Times article suggested was "an extensive, coordinated effort by the DOD and the Administration ... to try to influence the commentary of independent television military analysts," as well as a full report from the Inspector General, in an April 28 joint letter. That same day, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an investigation into, among other things, the "extent of the contact between Pentagon officials and the military analysts in question regarding what was said by the analysts over the public airwaves." Additionally, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) called upon the GAO to determine whether the program "violated appropriations prohibitions on publicity or propaganda activities" in a May 1 letter to acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, several members have led the charge calling for a comprehensive review of the ethical ramifications of the military analyst issue. On April 24, Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH) requested in a letter to Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) that he, as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, hold hearings to address the issue. That same day, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) sent letters to executives at ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News asking them to disclose their "policies surrounding the hiring and vetting of military analysts reporting on the Iraq War," and Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) made a statement on the House floor, emphasizing the risk of losing the public "trust in the Pentagon, in our retired officer corps, and in the press, each of which has a critical role to play in preserving our nation's freedoms." The following week, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) issued a "Dear Colleague" letter, encouraging other members of Congress to support his request to "prohibit funding for this program in the FY 2009 Defense Appropriations bill." In a letter sent to Department of Defense Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter on May 2, DeLauro and 40 other members of the House demanded answers regarding the department's internal review of the matter. Most recently, on May 6, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and DeLauro sent a letter to Kevin J. Martin, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, calling for an investigation into possible FCC violations implicit in the Department of Defense's pundit program.