On April 20, the New York Times published an extensive exposé of a secret Pentagon program that used 75 retired military analysts employed by television networks “as ‘message force multipliers’ or ‘surrogates’ who could be counted on to deliver administration ‘themes and messages’ to millions of Americans ‘in the form of their own opinions.'” The program successfully infiltrated most media outlets; a review by Media Matters last week showed that these analysts have been quoted more than 4,500 times since 2002.
Appearing on the Diane Rehm Show this morning, Lt. Gen. William Odom (ret.), the former Director of the National Security Agency under President Reagan, said he was “shocked” by the revelation, saying the actions of these military men would be difficult to defend:
Well I was a little shocked by it. … My own sense of my obligations and my officer’s honor in the past would make me think that’s not a proper thing to do. … But I don’t think they’ll be able to defend that position publicly very well, particularly because of its sort of conspiratorial nature. I think it’s quite legitimate for military officers to talk to a number of people in the Pentagon, but to be part of a recurring meeting that is designed to shape the public opinion — that’s a strange thing for officers to be willing to do, in my view.
The secrecy Odom condemns was a prerequisite for participation. “The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.”
Unlike Odom, conservatives see little wrong with the Pentagon’s operation. Neocons Max Boot and John Podhortez dismissed the revelations as “part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism” and said the story “reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs.” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino insisted that it was “absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it.”