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Media Beat

Beware of what you are told



John Stauber is one of the most astute observers around when it comes to propaganda and the news. Co-author of two welldocumented books about media manipulation and the Iraq war – “Weapons of Mass Deception” and “The Best War Ever” – he’s the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. Most importantly, he’s a very perceptive media critic.

So, on April 20, when The New York Times came out with the major front-page story headlined “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” I was very interested in Stauber’s reaction. It wasn’t long in coming.

“Thanks to the two-year investigation by The New York Times,” he wrote, “we today know that Victoria Clarke, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, launched the Pentagon military analyst program in early 2002. These supposedly independent military analysts were in fact a coordinated team of pro-war propagandists, personally recruited by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and acting under Clarke’s tutelage and development.”

People appearing on the major TV networks (and often on their payrolls), presented as “military analysts” and the like, were primed to do the bidding of Pentagon trainers and prompters. “As with most propaganda,” Stauber noted, “the key to the success of this effort was the element of concealment, as these analysts and the Bush administration hid the fact that their talking points and marching orders were coming directly from the Pentagon.” To make matters worse, many of the same analysts had – and still have – personal financial stakes in military-contracting firms.

Adding that “the use of these analysts was a glaring violation of journalistic standards,” Stauber cited the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. For instance, the code insists that journalists:

– “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”

– “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”

– “Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

– “Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”

– “Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.”

– “Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.”

– “Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money.”

If the Iraq war has been a test of U.S. television networks for adherence to this basic journalistic code, they’ve flunked.

As Stauber put it: “The networks using these analysts as journalists shamelessly failed to vet their experts and ignored the obvious conflicts of hiring a person with financial relationships to companies profiting from war to be an on-air analyst of war. They acted as if war was a football game and their military commentators were former coaches and players familiar with the rules and strategies. The TV networks even paid these ‘analysts’ for their propaganda, enabling them to present themselves as ‘third party experts’ while parroting White House talking points to sell the war.”

It’s encouraging to see the Times devote so much research and prominence to this crucial subject. Unfortunately, the paper’s exposé is tardy by several years. And there’s a lot more work to do – particularly in exposing the active role of the television networks in implementing systemic disinformation efforts to start and continue war.

The deceptive pattern of boosting the Iraq war is, sad to say, wartime wallpaper for cable news. The extent of the war-propaganda problem is such that The New York Times just scratched the surface. And then there’s the matter of the role that The New York Times has played in promoting the invasion and the war on its front pages.

We won’t be seeing an expose of that role on the front page of the Times anytime soon. After all, there are limits.

©2008 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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