When The New York Times published its explosive "Pentagon Pundits" story on April 20, the result was a wave of criticism directed at the Defense Department for manipulating TV news coverage of the Iraq war. Critics also faulted the networks for failing to scrutinize the conflicts of interest of the "military analysts" who went on the air. Many of those retired military officers were being coached by the Pentagon to mislead the public, and many had personal financial stakes in corporations with major Pentagon contracts.
Routinely lost in the current uproar is the extent to which media managers have gone out of their way to suck up to the Pentagon. Top network executive Eason Jordan - who ran CNN's news operation during the invasion of Iraq - is a case in point. He repeatedly asked the Pentagon for approval of the "military analysts" who were under consideration for on-air roles.
The documentary film "War Made Easy," based on my book of the same name, shows the pervasive and long-running partnership between key news outlets and high-ranking warmakers in Washington. This video excerpt from the movie puts the "Pentagon Pundits" story in a broad and chilling context.
Years later, some news outlets like to critique the previous media spin for war. It's part of what amounts to a repetition compulsion disorder - which includes participating in the corrupted process and then critiquing it long after the damage has been done.
Unfortunately, when the next agenda-setting for war gets underway, as is now the case for Iran, the mainline news reporting slides into a very similar mode of parroting official sources. It's not hard to point the finger backwards and acknowledge misdeeds in the past. As Mark Twain said long ago: "It's easy to quit smoking. I've done it hundreds of times."
From the "War Made Easy" transcript:
SEAN PENN [narrator]: CNN's use of retired generals as supposedly independent experts reinforced a decidedly military mindset, even as serious questions remained about the wisdom and necessity of going to war.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Often journalists blame the government for the failure of the journalists themselves to do independent reporting. But nobody forced the major networks like CNN to do so much commentary from retired generals and admirals and all the rest of it. You had a top CNN official named Eason Jordan going on the air of his network and boasting that he had visited the Pentagon with a list of possible military commentators, and he asked officials at the Defense Department whether that was a good list of people to hire.
EASON JORDAN [speaking on CNN]: Oh, 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.
NORMAN SOLOMON: It wasn't even something to hide, ultimately. It was something to say to the American people on its own network, "See, we're team players. We may be the news media, but we're on the same side and the same page as the Pentagon." And that really runs directly counter to the idea of an independent press, and that suggests that we have some deep patterns of media avoidance when the US is involved in a war based on lies.