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War Machine

By Matthew Yglesias on November 30, 2008 at 10:42 am

"War Machine"

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Back in April, The New York Times‘s David Barstow published a blockbuster story about the corrupt relationship between Pentagon officials, defense contractors, cable networks, and retired generals. It’s a long piece that deserves to be read in full and, indeed, probably deserves to be reread in full. But the gist of it was that the generals who you’d see on TV acting as nominally independent “analysts” were not, in fact, independent at all. They were getting their talking points straight from the Pentagon. And the coordination was motivated, in part, by the fact that they were also on the payrolls of various firms profiting from lucrative contracts with the Pentagon.

Today he has a followup story focusing in tightly on one particular ex-general, Barry McCaffrey. The headline: “One Man’s Military-Industrial Complex”. Spencer Ackerman remarks that if the piece is false “McCaffrey really ought to sue, because if it isn’t, he has no reputation for integrity left.” This is true. And Barstow certainly seems to have the goods. The piece is long to the point where excerpting from specific examples has no real point, but here’s a bird’s eye view of the issue:

The consulting company he started after leaving the government in 2001, BR McCaffrey Associates, promises to “build linkages” between government officials and contractors like Defense Solutions for up to $10,000 a month. He has also earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defense industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, he is the chairman of HNTB Federal Services, an engineering and construction management company that often competes for national security contracts.

Many retired officers hold a perch in the world of military contracting, but General McCaffrey is among a select few who also command platforms in the news media and as government advisers on military matters. These overlapping roles offer them an array of opportunities to advance policy goals as well as business objectives. But with their business ties left undisclosed, it can be difficult for policy makers and the public to fully understand their interests.

On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.

But rather than focusing on McCaffrey and his issues, it’s worth contemplating the breathtaking lack of integrity on display from the television networks here. As I said, Barstow published a piece on this back in April. None of the TV networks addressed the issue he raised in anything resembling a serious manner. And, again, we now have NBC News caught flat-out in the midst of corruption, deceiving their viewers. And NBC News isn’t sorry. They’re not apologizing. They’re not ashamed. Because they’re beyond shame. They never had a reputation for honor, so they don’t even see this sort of thing as damaging.

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