On April 20, the New York Times published a blockbuster exposé revealing a secret Pentagon program that used retired military analysts to “generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.” Though the analysts often had “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies” they assessed on air, their potential conflicts of interest were “hardly ever disclosed to the viewers.”
Four days after the Times’ expose hit newsstands, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) wrote letters to the heads of ABC News, CBS News, CNN News, Fox News Channel, and NBC News asking for “specifics about each outlet’s policies surrounding the hiring and vetting of military analysts reporting on the Iraq War.” Here’s part of what she wrote to ABC News head David Westin:
When the American people turn on their TV news, they expect coverage of the Iraq War and military issues to be using analysts without conflicts of interests. 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.
From what I know of our reporting involving our military analysts, I am satisfied that ABC News has acted responsibly and has served its audience well.
Both Westin and Walton’s responses lacked any genuine self-examination. But the fact that they were even willing to reply is more than the other networks did, proving that the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz was right when he said “the networks are ducking this one, big time.” In the week after the story broke, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that “out of approximately 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts scoop — both airing on PBS’s ‘NewsHour.’”
DeLauro, along with 40 other lawmakers, are calling on the Pentagon’s Inspector General to investigate the program.