The NY Times' David Barstow follows up on his April investigation of network military analysts, and their relationships to the Pentagon and contractors, with a 5,100-word, front-page look at Gen. Barry McCaffrey.
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.
McCaffrey, an NBC analyst and op-ed writer, has consulted for
military contractor Defense Solutions; was on the "advisory council" of
Veritas Capital (a large firm acquiring contractors in Iraq and
Afghanistan); and chairman of Global Linguist, a company working on a
$4.6 billion government contract to supply translators. Such deals for
contracts, of course, are contingent on the war continuing.
As Barstow writes:
In the fall of 2006, that was hardly a sure thing. With casualties
rising, the nation's discontent had been laid bare by the November
elections. Then, in December, the Iraq Study Group recommended
withdrawing all combat brigades by early 2008.
That month, in a flurry of appearances for
NBC, General McCaffrey repeatedly ridiculed this recommendation,
warning that it would turn Iraq into "Pol Pot's Cambodia."
The United States, he said, should keep at
least 100,000 troops in Iraq for many years. He disputed depictions of
an isolated and deluded White House. After meeting with the president
and vice president on Dec. 11 in the Oval Office, he went on television
and described them as "very sober-minded."
General McCaffrey was hardly alone in
criticizing the Iraq Study Group, and in his e-mail messages to The
Times he said his objections reflected his judgment that it was folly
to leave American trainers behind with no combat force protection. But
in none of those appearances did NBC disclose General McCaffrey's ties
to Global Linguist.
NBC executives asserted that the general's
relationships with military contractors are indirectly disclosed
through NBC's Web site, where General McCaffrey's biography now
features a link to his consulting firm's Web site. That site, they
said, lists General McCaffrey's clients.
While the general's Web site lists his board
memberships, it does not name his clients, nor does it mention Veritas
Capital, by one measure the second-largest military contractor in Iraq
and Afghanistan, after KBR. In any event, Mr. Capus, the NBC News
president, said he was unaware of General McCaffrey's connection to the
translation contract. Mr. Capus declined to comment on whether this
information should have been disclosed.
The fact that Capus declined to comment on this seeming conflict
isn't surprising, especially when looking back at the network response
following Barstow's first investigation. Members of Congress, including
Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Rep. John Dingell, reached out to Capus and the
network chiefs at the time with little success. At the same time, Sens.
John Kerry and Russ Feingold began pushing for an investigation by the
Government Accountability Office.
In May, Politico reported
on such congressional efforts and how the news networks - which could
be expected to play up a deeply reported, NYT front-page story -
largely ignored it. Sen. Kerry described the network silence to
Politico as "deafening."
Specifically, what effect will this piece have on NBC and McCaffrey?
As opposed to an NBC correspondent - like, say, David Gregory -
McCaffrey doesn't have to disclose his commercial deals. But with
nearly 1,000 appearances on NBC networks, McCaffrey isn't an just
occasional talking head. He's been one of the most visible
personalities when it comes to analysis of the Iraq war. It's worth
looking at whether NBC makes clear to viewers on the air, and not only
through its website, how McCaffrey profits from the war dragging on.
Besides PBS, the networks don't have an independent editor, or
ombudsman, writing on what airs. (CBS shuttered its "Public Eye" blog).
However, 10 days after the first Barstow report, "NBC Nightly News"
anchor Brian Williams defended McCaffrey on
his blog. But in light of this more detailed report, will Williams
again defend the military analyst as being an independent voice?