The Ongoing Disgrace of NBC News and Brian Williams

The New York Times's David Barstow, whose excellent and aggressive journalism led to the uncovering last April of the Pentagon's domestic propaganda program involving network "military analysts," today returns to this topic with another lengthy front-page expose.
Barstow focuses today on the numerous, undisclosed conflicts of
interest of Gen.

The New York Times's David Barstow, whose excellent and aggressive journalism led to the uncovering last April of the Pentagon's domestic propaganda program involving network "military analysts," today returns to this topic with another lengthy front-page expose.
Barstow focuses today on the numerous, undisclosed conflicts of
interest of Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who continues to be featured
frequently by NBC News as an objective analyst as he opines about war
policies in which he has a substantial (and concealed) financial stake.

of the key facts which Barstow reports concerning the improper behavior
of McCaffrey and NBC News were documented all the way back in April,
2003, in this excellent article from The Nation,
which Barstow probably should have credited today. That article --
entitled "TV's Conflicted Experts" -- detailed the numerous defense
contractors to which McCaffrey had a substantial connection --
including Mitretek, Veritas and Integrated Defense Technologies, all
featured by Barstow today -- and highlighted how the policies and
viewpoints McCaffrey was advocating as a "military analyst" on NBC
directly benefited those companies.

Because those conflicts were brought to light by the anti-war Nation,
and because that article was published in April, 2003, as the country
was drowning in a war-crazed frenzy, NBC was able to blithely dismiss
these concerns, unbelievably telling The Nation that its military analysts' business interests were "not their concern." Unsurprisingly, the Nation
article generated little attention and controversy. Few people were
interested back then in challenging war-praising retired Generals and
the networks which were glorifying the invasion. NBC continued without
objection to feature McCaffrey, and the similarly-conflicted retired
Gen. Wayne Downing, as objective "military analysts."

Still, what
was -- and remains -- most incredible about Barstow's April, 2008
expose was that, to this day, the networks which featured these highly
conflicted "analysts" have never uttered a word about the controversy
over the Pentagon's program, despite the fact that it was the subject
of an enormous front-page NYT story; members of Congress accused the Pentagon -- rightfully so -- of operating a potentially illegal propaganda operation and demanded information directly from the networks; both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke out
against the Pentagon's program; and even the Pentagon felt compelled to
terminate the program in the wake of the controversy. None of that
merited a mention by any of the networks, despite (more
accurately: because of) the fact that their own reporting was so
directly implicated by the controversy.

As I documented at length
at the time, using the thousands of documents Barstow had obtained, the
propaganda that the networks broadcast as a result of this "military
analyst" program -- about Iraq, Guantanamo and a host of other related
issues -- was very coordinated and, by design, implanted falsehoods in virtually every aspect of their "reporting".

The active suppression of this story by the networks -- their decision to conceal from their own viewers the fact that, for years,
they presented as "independent" analysts individuals who were working
in tandem on "message amplification" with the Pentagon and who had
significant business interests in their analysis -- was so severe, so
remarkable, that even establishment defenders such as Howie Kurtz and The Politico
emphatically protested the networks' silence. Clocks were even created
to count the number of days the networks blackballed Barstow's story --
and it currently stands at 223 days, and counting.

Last April, in the wake of Barstow's front-page story, I documented at length numerous other facts
featured in today's Barstow article -- including the countless times
McCaffrey went on NBC News shows to advocate war policies that directly
benefited his undisclosed business interests, as well as the completely
deceitful way NBC presented McCaffrey as an independent and objective
analyst without ever mentioning any of his multiple activities that
clearly called into question his objectivity as an "analyst."

A couple of weeks after Barstow's story was published in April, I noted that Brian Williams had taken the time on his blog to write about and mock multiple, trivial NYT
stories from that week, yet had never once mentioned -- either on his
network news show or even on his blog -- the extremely incriminating
story in the NYT about his repeated reliance over the years
on retired Generals -- such as McCaffrey and Downing -- who were active
participants in the Pentagon's propaganda program and who were burdened
with all sorts of economic ties that created clear though undisclosed
conflicts of interests.

In response, Williams finally addressed Barstow's story on his blog
(but not on his network news broadcast), yet did so only by ignoring
all of the specific, substantive issues that were raised, instead
offering a patronizing little lecture about how Williams himself had
developed what he called "a close friendship" with both McCaffrey and
Downing, and could therefore assure us that "these men are passionate
patriots" who would never offer anything but the most honest and
forthright assessments. That was the full extent of NBC and Williams'
response to this story.

Not only has NBC and Williams suppressed
this story, but -- more amazingly still -- they continue to feature
McCaffrey as an "analyst" on American war policies still without disclosing or even alluding to
his participation in the Pentagon program and/or his still-extant
business stakes in the policies he's being asked to assess. Just this
past Thursday night -- 3 days ago -- Williams featured McCaffrey on his
NBC Nightly News program to opine about American policy in
Afghanistan, and McCaffrey was identified only as a Retired General and
NBC Military Analyst.

Earlier that same day, McCaffrey was on a
different NBC News show to opine about our occupation of Iraq.
Williams also featured McCaffrey on September 6 to opine about Iraq,
and on September 9, McCaffrey was featured on MSNBC
as having just returned from Afghanistan, and was then asked to analyze
American policy in both Afghanistan and Iraq while being identified
only as an "NBC military analyst."

All of this took place after
the publication of Barstow's April story on the military analysts
program which featured McCaffrey, years after The Nation highlighted McCaffrey's numerous business conflicts, and after ample documentation -- including in this space
-- of how McCaffrey used his NBC platform repeatedly over the years to
advocate pro-war policies that advanced his undisclosed financial
interests. Brian Williams and NBC just ignored all of that. Indeed,
to Bartsow last April, NBC arrogantly "declined to discuss its
procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts," instead issuing this purposely vague -- and obviously false -- statement:

have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on
our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their
profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest

after that statement was issued, they continued to feature McCaffrey as
an analyst to speak about exactly the wars in which -- as Barstow
documents even more conclusively today -- he has an overwhelming
financial stake.

Just as was true for the media's own complicity
in the Bush administration's false pre-war claims (which no network
television show, to date, has addressed), as well as for the direct
involvement of numerous media stars in the Lewis Libby crimes (which
they reported on while pretending that they had no involvement),
here is yet another case where major media outlets simply suppress
stories that severely indict the integrity of their own "journalism."

than mere suppression, NBC and Brian Williams have just outright
ignored this scandal, continuing to use McCaffrey as an analyst without
requiring that he sever -- or even disclose -- his numerous conflicts,
allowing him to continue to use NBC News to propagandize for the
military policies from which his affiliated companies benefit. Now
that Barstow has added substantially to the set of incriminating facts,
it remains to be seen whether NBC will finally be forced to tell its
viewers about what happened with its own involvement in the Pentagon's
program and/or to take corrective action.

several commenters observe, and as I've noted before, there is an irony
to this story: namely, few companies benefit more from massive
military spending and wars than NBC's own parent company, General
Electric. Still, the GE/NBC relationship is publicly known and,
therefore, everyone can decide for themselves how reliable, if at all,
NBC's reporting is on issues that directly affect the company which
owns it. By important contrast, the conflicts of McCaffrey (and other
analysts) have been largely undisclosed, thus deceiving viewers when
these networks present them as independent analysts of America's war

UPDATE II: Matt Yglesias:

published a piece on this back in April. None of the TV networks
addressed the issue he raised in anything resembling a serious manner.
And, again, we now have NBC News caught flat-out in the midst of
corruption, deceiving their viewers. And NBC News isn't sorry. They're
not apologizing. They're not ashamed. Because they're beyond shame.
They never had a reputation for honor, so they don't even see this sort
of thing as damaging.

I really don't see how any of that can be denied. Nonetheless, the damage they caused, and continue to cause, has been immense.

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