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Boot, Podhoretz: Pentagon Propaganda Machine Is No Big Deal

A long, investigative piece in yesterday’s New York Times revealed the Pentagon’s extensive propaganda machine built around wooing friendly military analysts “in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.” The Times revealed that these analysts were given special access to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his staff, along with VIP visits to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay.

Though most Americans would be disturbed to discover that the Pentagon was operating what one analyst called “psyops on steroids,” two prominent conservatives don’t see what the big deal is. Neoconservative Max Boot wonders, “Why did the Times decide this story is so important?”:

After all, it’s no secret that the Pentagon–and every other branch of government–routinely provides background briefings to journalists…and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. … All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.

Right-wing neocon John Podhoretz agrees:

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Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media.

Boot and Podhoretz seem to have missed the point of the story. Hardly run-of-the-mill briefings, Rumsfeld and his staff planted friendly analysts into the media while expressly forbidding them from revealing their ties to the Pentagon and used lucrative defense contracts as their leverage. The Times explains the corruption:

— “Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts 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 access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.”

— “One…participant [of a hosted trip to Iraq in Sept. 2003], General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly ‘artificial’ that he joked to another group member that they were on ‘the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,’ a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had ‘brainwashed’ him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965.”

— “Mr. [Robert] Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. … Mr. [Robert] Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being ‘manipulated’ to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.”

The Washington Post’s media critic Howard Kurtz acknowledged that “it’s hardly shocking that career military men would largely reflect the Pentagon’s point of view.” Yet he added, “the degree of behind-the-scenes manipulation — including regular briefings by then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials — is striking.”

Update:

VoteVets Chairman Jon Soltz has more.