David Barstow, investigative reporter at the New York Times. He won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for his articles Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand and One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex.
In his first national broadcast interview, New York Times reporter David Barstow speaks about his 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of the Pentagon propaganda campaign to recruit more than seventy-five retired military officers to appear on TV outlets as military analysts ahead of and during the Iraq war. This week, the Pentagon inspector general’s office admitted its exoneration of the program was flawed and withdrew it. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin our show today with New York Times reporter David Barstow. He recently won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for exposing how dozens of retired generals working as radio and television analysts had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to military contractors that benefited from policies they defended.
Barstow uncovered Pentagon documents that repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration themes and messages to millions of Americans in the form of their own opinions.
The so-called analysts were given hundreds of classified Pentagon briefings, provided with Pentagon-approved talking points and given free trips to Iraq and other sites paid for by the Pentagon.
David Barstow wrote, quote, “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.”
The officials appeared on all the main cable news channels — Fox News, CNN and MSNBC — as well as the three nightly network news broadcasts.
The Pentagon program started during the build-up to the Iraq war.
BILL O’REILLY: You met with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
MAJ. GEN. PAUL VALLELY: Special briefing on Thursday. Very interesting. A lot of good information, especially about post-Saddam, post-regime time, what are we going to do then? And it’s a very well laid-out plan.
AMY GOODMAN: The Pentagon continued to use retired generals to counter criticism on various issues, ranging from Guantanamo to the surge in Iraq. In some cases, analysts would appear on cable news programs live from the Pentagon just minutes after receiving a special briefing.
WOLF BLITZER: This is just coming into CNN right now. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has just wrapped up his meeting with retired US generals. Our own military analyst, retired US Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, is fresh of that meeting. He’s joining us now live from the Pentagon.
MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD: The message needs to be, imagine an Iraq — imagine Iraq under the control of Zarqawi with another conveyor belt for tourists, combined with oil and water and land and resources. Imagine the effect of that. That’s the message that has to get out to the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: Since the New York Times first report appeared thirteen months ago, the major cable news programs and television networks have responded with what has been described as a, quote, “deafening silence.” Even after David Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize last week, the story — and even Barstow’s prize — went unnoticed on cable news and television networks.
Up until this week, the Pentagon defended its actions. In January, the Pentagon’s inspector general dismissed allegations the program violated laws barring propaganda and rejected reports showing the analysts used their Pentagon access to win government contracts for defense companies. However, on Tuesday, the Pentagon took the unusual step of admitting that the report was flawed and withdrew it.
Well, David Barstow joins us right now in our firehouse studio, investigative reporter at the New York Times, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for investigative reporting. This is his first national broadcast TV interview.
And we welcome you to Democracy Now!
DAVID BARSTOW: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s begin by talking about — first of all, congratulations on your award.
DAVID BARSTOW: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s begin by talking about this report that has been retracted by the Pentagon. Explain exactly what it said and where it was and how it was retracted.
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, on January 14th of this year, as you pointed out, the inspector general came out with this long-awaited report that was — essentially, a group of members of Congress, after the stories ran, asked for the inspector general to take a look at this program that I wrote about and look at a couple of key questions. One was, did it violate longstanding laws that we have that forbid the Pentagon from targeting the American public with propaganda? And another was this question of whether or not the special access that was granted to the military analysts who participated in this program, whether that access was used to help them in the competition for contracts related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So the report comes out in January, and it effectively exonerated the program. Now, one thing your viewers should know is that as soon as the stories ran, the program itself was suspended by the Pentagon, pending the outcome of this investigation. But what happened earlier this week was really unusual. It really is very rare for the inspector general of the Defense Department to rescind and repudiate and, in fact, even withdraw the report from its own website.
And the reason why they did is because after the report was released, it became pretty clear that there were significant problems with it, significant factual problems with it. The one that jumped out to me immediately as I read through the report for the first time was that it listed one particular general who I had written an awful lot about, General Barry McCaffrey, who’s probably the preeminent military analyst for NBC and MSNBC. They listed him as having absolutely no ties to any defense contractors. Well, I had written 5,000 words that detailed tie after tie after tie he had to defense contractors, either as someone who sat on the boards of publicly traded companies, as a consultant to many defense contractors, and as an advisor to a private equity firm in New York that invests heavily in the biggest defense contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so, it became pretty clear that there was something wrong with this report.
What we’ve learned in the last few days is that a couple of different independent inquiries happened inside the inspector general’s office in the wake of that report, in the wake of concerns that were being raised by members of Congress and others that there was something wrong with this report. And as they dug deeper and deeper and deeper into it, they just found more and more factual errors, flaws in methodology. We learned that the people who did the initial report didn’t even bother, apparently, to read all of the emails that we had pried loose over the course of a two-year Freedom of Information Act battle with the Defense Department. So, ultimately, they came very reluctantly to the conclusion that the only thing that they could do was simply to rescind the entire report.
We’ll see where it goes from here. There are some members of Congress who are saying, “We need to know more about why that inspector general’s report went so far off the track.”
AMY GOODMAN: And who exactly did the inspector general’s report?
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, they had a unit within the inspector general’s office that focuses on policy. And one of the interesting aspects that came out, or has come out in the last couple of days, is that normally the inspector general’s office follows a pretty rigid series of rules in terms of how it’s supposed to do its investigations. And what the internal inquiries of the inspector general’s office discovered is that many of their own internal policies and rules that are supposed to provide a level of quality control over their work product were, in fact, not followed in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: I think what’s so interesting about this story is not only what the Pentagon has done; it’s the lack of reporting on this by the networks. Of course, you know, that is your subject here, how the networks use them. How many times have you been invited on the networks — you just won the Pulitzer Prize for this investigation — to explain this story of the networks’ use of these pundits?
DAVID BARSTOW: You know, to be honest with you, I haven’t received many invitations — in fact, any invitations — to appear on any of the main network or cable programs. I can’t say I’m hugely shocked by that.
On the other hand, while there’s been kind of deafening silence, as you put it, on the network side of this, the stories have had — sparked an enormous debate in the blogosphere. And to this day, I continue to get regular phone calls from not just in this country but around the world, where other democracies are confronting similar kinds of issues about the control of their media and the influence of their media by the government.
So it’s been an interesting experience to see the sort of two reactions, one being silence from the networks and the cable programs, and the other being this really lively debate in the blogosphere.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk all about the program in a minute. David Barstow, investigative reporter for the New York Times, has just won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his articles "Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand" and "One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex." This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest today is David Barstow, investigative reporter at the New York Times, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his articles "Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand" and "One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex." How did Glenn Greenwald put it on his blog? “The Pulitzer-winning investigation that dare not be uttered on TV.” Well, today we break that sound barrier.
As Glenn Greenwald put it, “The New York Times’ David Barstow won a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize [...] for two articles that, despite being featured as major news stories on the front page of [the New York Times], were completely suppressed by virtually every network and cable news show, which to this day have never informed their viewers about what Barstow uncovered. [And yet] here is how the Pulitzer Committee described Barstow’s exposés:
‘Awarded to David Barstow of The New York Times for his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended.’”
David Barstow, take it from there. Talk about the Pentagon program that you exposed.
DAVID BARSTOW: I think the program had its roots in the 2002, in the run-up to, the buildup to the war in Iraq. The main architect or architects were folks inside the Pentagon, notably Torie Clarke, who was the main spokesperson for the Pentagon at the time and a former public relations executive who had some pretty sophisticated ideas about how it is that you influence the American public in a sort of spin-saturated world, where people are increasingly cynical both of journalists and of public —- the official spokespeople of the government. And her idea, the idea that she pitched to Don Rumsfeld, then the Secretary of Defense, was that the way to really influence the American public was to try and find people who were viewed as independent of both government and the media, people who were considered authoritative and expert, people who would have an ability to cut through the spin.
And the group that they began zeroing in on were all the military analysts who were being hired in droves after 9/11 by all the major TV networks. In the view of Torie Clarke and her staff, these guys were sort of the ultimate key influencers. They were seen as, most of them, retired decorated war heroes. They were, many of them, retired generals, some three— and four-star generals. They came from an institution that traditionally is extremely trusted by the American public. And they were seen by the public not really as of the media, but not of the government either.
And so, in the fall of 2002, Torie Clarke and her aides, with the strong support from the White House and from her bosses, set out to target this group and to make them, really, one of the main vehicles for reaching the American public and building support for the war on terror. So that’s how it sort of began, was with this idea that they could take this thing, this thing called the military analyst, which is a creature that’s been around for a long time — going back to the first Gulf War, we remember some of the retired generals first coming on air — and they could take this and the fact of 9/11 and the fact of how prevalent they were on air, sometimes appearing segment after segment after segment, getting more air time than many correspondents were getting, holding forth, not just on the issues of where the airplanes were flying and where the tanks were moving, but weighing more heavily on even the strategic issues of what should we do next and how should the war on terror unfold, what should be the next targets.
And they looked at them as effectively what they were doing was writing the op-ed on air for the networks and for the cables. And they noticed the way the relationships between the anchors and their sort of in-house generals, there was a sort of bond between anchor and general. And you didn’t see the kind of challenging questioning that would go on if you had sent, for example, a representative of the Pentagon to the TV station. It was a much more — almost fawning, in some cases, kind of relationship between anchor and general. So they saw this group, and they saw in this group a way of taking the media filter, which politicians are always so fond of complaining about, and turning the media filter into more of a media megaphone. And so, that’s sort of what was going on here, at least in the beginnings of this.
AMY GOODMAN: According to Media Matters, the army of analysts that you identified, what, made 4,500 appearances and quotations on ABC, ABC News, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, CNN Headlines News, Fox News and NPR.
DAVID BARSTOW: At least that many.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us the story, the one case study, one of the case studies you do, “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex.” Tell us the story of Barry McCaffrey, General Barry McCaffrey.
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, General Barry McCaffrey is really one of the most sort of impressive military leaders. He was the youngest four-star Army general, I believe, in our history. He was the man who became famous during the first Gulf War for leading the left hook into Iraq. He also then became the drug czar under President Clinton.
And in September of 2001, an odd thing happened. Actually, the week before 9/11, he was asked to join the advisory — defense advisory board of a major private equity firm in New York called Veritas Capital, which at that moment, just at that moment, was making plans to invest heavily into defense contractors. Nine-eleven happened. Weeks later, General McCaffrey was hired by NBC to be its — one of its military analysts. And so, what you see happening with General McCaffrey in the years since is that he has been on, time and time again, talking about the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, but at the same time, most notably through his ties to Veritas Capital, he has been deeply involved in the business affairs of some of the major defense contractors who are operating in both of those war zones.
And what’s more, none of those ties have been disclosed to NBC’s viewers when they’re bringing him on to talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that’s — one of the threads that we followed was, how did his appearances on television, and what did he say on television, to what extent did his positions on TV overlap with the undisclosed business interests of these major defense contractors?
In addition, General McCaffrey works as a consultant. He has his own consulting firm. And what that consulting firm does is it helps defense contractors gain access and win contracts. So, at the same time, while he might be going over to Iraq, for example, in his capacity as a military analyst for NBC and getting access to all of the top generals in Iraq, he’s also representing companies who are trying very hard to get into that market. And so, what we did was we looked very closely at how those different roles overlapped and intersected with General McCaffrey.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Barstow. We’re going to turn right now to a clip of General McCaffrey. As the media watch group Media Matters has pointed out, MSNBC continues to interview General Barry McCaffrey without disclosing his ties to military contractors. In this interview from February, McCaffrey advocates for building up the Afghan security force, but it’s not disclose that McCaffrey is a member of the board of directors of DynCorp International, a company under contract to train part of the Afghan national security force.
NORAH O’DONNELL: And a big headline: the President is expected to announce a major drawdown in the number of US troops in Iraq. NBC News has learned that more than half of the American troops there will be pulled out within nineteen months, leaving perhaps around 50,000 still in the war zone. MSNBC analyst and retired US Army General Barry McCaffrey is here.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: By the way, another question to be decided is, what are we doing in Afghanistan? Are we there to build an Afghan security force with our NATO allies and then withdraw? Or are we there to fight a counterinsurgency battle in this gigantic country?
NORAH O’DONNELL: And that review is underway, and the President is waiting for it.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Yeah.
NORAH O’DONNELL: General Barry McCaffrey, great to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.
AMY GOODMAN: General McCaffrey on MSNBC. David Barstow, elaborate on that.
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, what we don’t know and what we can’t tell is — and I think this is a point that needs to be made — is whether or not the positions General McCaffrey took were taken specifically to advance the undisclosed interests of these contractors or whether they were positions that he genuinely holds as a military man. And it may be that they were in fact absolutely what he felt and believed as a military man.
But the point was — and this was something that we tried to explore with the executives at NBC — was the question of “But how do you ever really know?” And is that information that ought to be at least presented to the American public, so that when the American public is listening to someone like him, who is so authoritative, so eloquent on the subject of war, that at least they can weigh that in as they’re trying to figure out how much weight to attach to his opinion? And what is —- what the NBC executives said back to us is that they just didn’t see that there was any need to make those kinds of disclosures. Now -—
AMY GOODMAN: You interviewed the president of NBC News, Steve Capus?
DAVID BARSTOW: I did, yes. What I’ve learned since the story ran is that although they, for the most part, defended their use of General McCaffrey after the story on General McCaffrey ran, they have begun relooking at their internal ethics policies, their standards and practices. And what I’ve noticed in the last couple of months, I did see an appearance where General McCaffrey was on TV, and David Gregory in fact did tell viewers, “OK, he sits on the board of DynCorp.” And so, there was at least a move toward a little bit more disclosure.
But there’s still the sort of deeper question of — there are a lot of retired military officers who have great expertise out there, who in fact don’t work for defense contractors who are over in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is this question of, if a network wants to make use of that expertise and bring that to the table in their coverage, why not find somebody who doesn’t have these outside entanglements to do that?
AMY GOODMAN: And I will point out, that clip we just played was also after your piece. You say General McCaffrey — you quote Steve Capus as saying that “General McCaffrey is not required to abide by NBC’s formal conflict-of-interest rules, because he is a consultant, not a news employee.”
DAVID BARSTOW: That’s the position they took. You know, that’s quite something. I mean, one thing that we did discover through the reporting of this is that the military analysts, many of them, aren’t just having an on-air role, but they’re having an off-air role, as well. They’re, in some cases, participating in the editorial meetings where coverage of the war is being discussed. They’re weighing in on story ideas. They’re suggesting, in some cases, story ideas. And in some cases, they were suggesting story ideas that were suggested to them from the Pentagon.
And so, it’s — I think it would be — I think it’s probably a little bit of a surprise for viewers, who became so accustomed to seeing these generals as part of the news coverage, to now be told, “Well, wait a minute, they’re actually not considered journalists in any way, shape or form. I mean, they’re consultants, and so therefore they’re not beholden to any of our other ethical standards that would, for example, make it impossible for Tom Brokaw to go over and cover Iraq but at the same time be representing a defense contractor seeking business in Iraq.” If that were happen, we all know that would be a huge scandal in journalism. But when it comes to these guys, those rules didn’t apply.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, shortly after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Eason Jordan, then the chief news executive at CNN, admitted that CNN sought the Pentagon’s approval of prospective CNN news analysts during the lead-up to the Iraq war.
EASON JORDAN: I think it’s important to have experts explain the war and to describe the military hardware, describe the tactics, talk about the strategy behind the conflict. I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, “At CNN, here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us, on the air and off, about the war,” and we got a big thumbs up on all of them. That was important.
AMY GOODMAN: Eason Jordan. Your response, David Barstow?
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, what was interesting was that — what we saw during the process of the sort of the wooing, the cultivation, of these generals. I mean, it’s important to note that some of them, during moments of the war, developed deep misgivings about what they were being told in these briefings. They began to suspect that they weren’t really getting the straight truth, that they were getting a sort of — well, they were getting a sort of a rose-color view of what was really happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, when those guys began to sort of go off the reservation and began giving voice to those doubts on air, what we saw happen was that some of them found their access rather abruptly cut off.
And so, there was this effort on the part of the Pentagon to use access as the sort of the carrot and the stick. And access is a really important thing to focus in on here, because if you’re in the world of defense contracting in Washington, access to people and to information is really the coin of the realm. It is so important to have that kind of granular, up-close, frequent contact with the very top people at the Pentagon to understand what are their needs, what are they thinking about next. And in some cases, you would see these guys go back out into the marketplace and advertise the special access they were getting as military analysts to people who they were trying to bring in as clients or as consulting arrangements or as board — to win a seat on a board of a company.
AMY GOODMAN: I was struck by your story of — well, the description of General Marks, who became a CNN military analyst after his retirement in 2004, would be named the president of the new DynCorp subsidiary, Global Linguist Solutions. General McCaffrey was chair of Global Linguist. And explain what it was and what happened with it.
DAVID BARSTOW: Global Linguist was a company that was set up specifically to go after one of the biggest defense contracts that was let during the Iraq war, and it was a contract to supply many thousands of translators to the entire American military war effort in Iraq.
General McCaffrey at some point became aware of the fact that the American generals in Iraq were not pleased with the performance of the company that held the contract and that they were thinking about rebidding the contract. He then recruited General Marks to come in to be the president of this new subsidiary for DynCorp. And as you mentioned, General McCaffrey would be the chairman of this subsidiary. And that company then spent months fighting to win this contract that was worth over $4 billion. It was a contract that would have, when it was announced and when it was granted to Global Linguist, would actually send DynCorp’s stock up 15 percent in one day. And so, the two of them together were involved in this effort to win this contract.
This is in, really, the latter part of 2006, right as the American public, if you recall, after the midterm elections, there was a huge moment of sort of internal national soul-searching about what do we do with Iraq. Should we get in or get out of Iraq? This was when Jim Baker and his commission were weighing ideas about whether we should exit Iraq by March of 2008 or not. And at that same time, General McCaffrey and General Marks and this company, Global Linguist, were locked in this battle for this $4 billion-plus contract to supply all the translators in Iraq. And at the time, they were going on television talking about should we stay or should we go. Now, at the time, both of those guys took the position that we really needed to stay in Iraq and see it through. General McCaffrey, especially, was hugely critical of the Baker-Hamilton recommendation to pull out most of our combat troops by March of 2008. So there was this sort of confluence at that time of their business interests and what they were saying on air.
What we don’t know, and it’s important to note, that not only were these relationships not disclosed to the viewers of either CNN or NBC, but CNN at least claimed that they weren’t even aware that General Marks, their main military analyst, in fact had this role with this company, was deeply involved in fighting for this contract. And then, indeed, when they found out in mid-2007 or later on in 2007 that he, in fact, did play this role with this company, CNN pretty quickly severed its ties with General Marks, and he no longer appears on air as a military analyst for them. NBC, that’s not the case.
AMY GOODMAN: December 18, 2006, Pentagon stuns Wall Street by awarding the translation contract to Global Linguist. DynCorp stock jumps 15 percent. And as you point out, according to a 2007 corporate filing, General McCaffrey was promised $10,000 a month, plus expenses. Once Global Linguist secured the contract, he would also be eligible to share in profits which could potentially be significant. The contract was worth $4.6 billion over five years, but only if the United States did not pull out of Iraq first.
DAVID BARSTOW: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Barstow. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist David Barstow. He just won the award for, among his pieces, “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” investigative reporter, also wrote the piece “Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.”
I want to turn right now to a clip of Dana Perino. This is the response from the Pentagon and the White House to your report. Former White House press secretary Dana Perino was asked about the program in April 2008, just after your piece appeared in the New York Times.
REPORTER: Did the White House know about and approve of this operation?
DANA PERINO: Look, I didn’t know. Look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this operation. Look, DOD’s made a decision. They’ve decided to stop this program.
But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people, so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something. And I don’t think that that should be against the law. And I think that it’s absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to people.
AMY GOODMAN: The former White House press secretary Dana Perino. David Barstow, your response?
DAVID BARSTOW: One thing that I wanted to look at closely with this, Amy, you have to think about this, about the question of whether or not — I spent a lot of time looking at, what was the information being told to this group? Was the information that was being told to this group — was it truthful? Was it accurate? Or was it spin? Was it whitewash? And the problem with what she just said is that when you dug deep into the weeds of this, when you looked at the talking points, when you looked at the transcripts of the conference calls between the military analysts and the Pentagon officials, while certainly there was plenty of truthful information that was given to them, time and time again they were also given information that deeply contradicted what we now know to be the truth, the truth that was known inside the Pentagon and the White House, about the true state of affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, for example, on questions about — say, for example, let’s take the effort to train up Iraqi security forces. These guys were constantly being told one story about how wonderful the effort was going, even though the White House and the Pentagon knew all along that this program was in fact — the training effort was a mess in lots of different ways. You could also see it — even, I remember talking to a couple of these guys who were brought in just before the war began, and they were brought in for a presentation about WMD. What do we know about WMD in Iraq? And even the guys who were there in these secret briefings about the WMD in Iraq, as they listened to the story they were being told by the Pentagon officials, had a clear instinct at the time that they were being given information that wasn’t either very strong or wasn’t accurate or didn’t hold up.
So, in other words, if what she said was true, if what the White House was doing was giving really a thorough briefing of what the White House and Pentagon knew about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror at large, you know, that would be one thing. But that, in fact, is not what was happening in many of these sessions. And when you looked at the transcripts of these sessions, the other thing that jumped out at me was that there was never the normal kind of relationship you would see in terms of the tension between people who are journalists, who are independent-minded, and a government official. There was never that sort of questioning, that probing, to see whether or not the information was really correct, whether they’re being told whole story, whether they’re being told the story straight. Instead, what you often came away with was this feeling that you were watching a kind of like a sales meeting, where the military analysts were sort of synching up with the Pentagon and almost brainstorming together about, you know, what would be a better way to explain this, what would be a better way to communicate the themes and messages in order to keep the support for the war strong here at home.
AMY GOODMAN: And you have the Pentagon hiring a private contractor, Omnitech Solutions, to monitor, scour the databases for any trace of the analysts.
DAVID BARSTOW: I mean, the thing that is really important to understand here is that the people who were the kind of the architects of this, many of them were deeply influenced by the post-Vietnam experience, and they had this deep belief in them that the reason why ultimately we lost in Vietnam was because we lost control of the message here at home. And in their view — and this is something that Mr. Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and others said publicly — our strategic center of gravity in the war on terror wasn’t in Baghdad, and it wasn’t in Kabul; it was right here at home, it was with the American public. And so, that’s why they put so much effort into reaching and cultivating this group.
And what you would see is, when things like Abu Ghraib happened, when questions were being raised about the adequacy of the armor being given to American troops, invariably they would pull these guys in, and they would sort of bring them in to neutralize the critical coverage, sometimes the critical coverage that was coming from the network’s own war correspondents.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the investigations that are supposed to be ongoing? For example, the Government Accountability Office, the Federal Communication Commission, the whole issue of the US propagandizing its own population, the Pentagon using the networks to do this?
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, those investigations were waiting the outcome of the Defense Department inspector general investigation. So, the fact that — and after their report was initially issued in January, the inspector general said, “Well, we may have to do some minor revisions on this.” And my understanding is that those two other inquiries were kind of put on hold until they could get done with their minor revisions, except the ultimate outcome of that was not minor revisions, but outright repudiation of the report itself. So I’m not sure how that’s going to influence the work that the GAO is doing or the FCC is doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it legal?
DAVID BARSTOW: Is what legal?
AMY GOODMAN: Is what — this entire program, is it legal? I mean, we had passed the Smith-Mundt Act after World War II —
DAVID BARSTOW: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — against propaganda.
DAVID BARSTOW: The problem with that is that our definitions about propaganda are so mushy, and I think it does need that sort of careful look by people who understand the statute and understand our traditions, you know, to make that call. And I trust that will happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Barstow, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Congratulations again on your Pulitzer Prize. David Barstow, investigative reporter with the New York Times, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his articles "Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand" and "One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex."
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