Pentagon Suspends Briefings For Analysts

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
April 26, 2008 By David Barstow
The Pentagon announced on Friday that it was suspending its briefings for retired military officers who often appear as military analysts on television and radio programs.
A spokesman for the Pentagon said the briefings and all other interactions with the military analysts had been suspended indefinitely pending an internal review.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that since 2002 the Pentagon has cultivated several dozen military analysts in a campaign to generate favorable coverage of the administration’s wartime performance. The retired officers have made tens of thousands of appearances for television and radio networks, holding forth on Iraq, Afghanistan, detainee issues and terrorism in general.
Records and interviews show that the Bush administration worked to transform the analysts into an instrument intended to shape coverage from inside the major networks.
The analysts, many with undisclosed ties to military contractors, have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior government officials, given access to classified information and taken on Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, The Times reported.
Internal Pentagon documents showed that Defense Department officials referred to the retired officers as “surrogates” or “message force multipliers” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” in the form of their own opinions.
The documents, which included transcripts of private briefings between senior military leaders and the military analysts, also reveal a symbiotic relationship in which the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.
Military analysts have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Several said they had used their special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.
A Pentagon spokesman said the decision to halt the briefings, which was first reported on Friday by Stars and Stripes, was made by Robert Hastings, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
The decision came amid criticism and questions from members of Congress.
Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, wrote Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary, this week asking the Pentagon to investigate the program.
Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a speech on Thursday that he and many other members of Congress were “very angry” about the issues raised by the article. “The story does not reflect well on the Pentagon, on the military analysts in question, or on the media organizations that employ them,” he said.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with providing information to the public and the press,” Mr. Skelton added. “But there is a problem if the Pentagon is providing special access to retired officers and then basically using them as pawns to spout the administration’s talking points of the day.”
A third member of Congress, Representative Rosa L. DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote to the heads of the five major television networks this week asking each to provide more information on procedures for vetting and hiring military analysts.
“When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed,” Ms. DeLauro wrote.