The faces dominating the front page of The New York Times last Sunday were male, strong-jawed and familiar. Indeed, that was the point.
They were the faces of nine retired military officers (there were more inside the paper) who appear regularly on network and cable television news to give viewers informed, independent assessments of the war in Iraq.
At least that was the idea.
What viewers have been getting, the Times revealed, is something quite different. The paper reported convincingly that some retired officers appearing as "military analysts" have been pushing Pentagon propaganda in return for continued access to top officials and financial benefit for themselves.
According to the Times report, "Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters. 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.
"In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated," the report said. "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."
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an enthusiastic golfer in his presidential years, left behind more than spike marks on the White House floor. He stood at a convergence in American history. He knew it. And he gave voice to a solemn warning, delivered in 1961, three days before he left office.
Eisenhower, a renowned World War II general, declared, "Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.
"In the councils of government," he warned, "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes," he declared. "We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
The Times' report on the military analysts is a tale of propaganda, hidden loyalties and financial interests. It reveals a vulnerability that reaches all the way to the survival of the United States as a country governed by the informed opinion of its people.
The newspaper's investigation shows that in case after case, the military analysts take their cues and their information from specially prepared Pentagon briefings and trips.
A number wear more than one hat. In addition to offering their "analysis" on television, they work for pay for defense-related industries. Employers range from military equipment manufacturers and contractors to lobbyists and consulting firms on the hunt for defense-related business.
The report is important for the glimpse it provides into how powerful forces help keep us enmeshed in Iraq.
The 17 military analysts pictured include such oft-seen faces as retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey on NBC News, retired Brig. Gen. James Marks on CNN and retired Lt. Gen. Tom McNerney on Fox. Even so, television news audiences haven't heard much about the report. Up it popped on Sunday morning, and by Sunday night, it was smothered like a Philadelphia cheese steak in rehashed political news.
"This article would have come sooner, but it took us two years to wrestle 8,000 pages of documents out of the Defense Department that described its interactions with network military analysts," reporter David Barstow explained on the Times' Web site. "We pushed as hard as we could, but the Defense Department refused to produce many categories of documents in response to our requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act."
Ultimately the Times went to court. Yet even then, Barstow said, "the Pentagon failed to meet several court-ordered deadlines." Finally, the judge had enough. He threatened the Defense Department with sanctions if it continued to defy court deadlines. The stalling stopped.
The television networks and cable fiefdoms involved probably would prefer this story follow another military tradition and just fade away. Like it or not, however, the report on the Pentagon puppets leaves an indelible mark.
Eisenhower, president and general, would see it and heed it. So should we.
Nancy Grape comments on state and national issues for the Maine Sunday Telegram.
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