Yesterday, the Department of Defense Inspector General released its report on the military analyst program first revealed by the New York Times last April. The report said there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that OASD(PA) conceived of or undertook the type of disciplined public relations effort” alleged by the program’s critics. The report concluded that the program “was not a secret or covert effort,” and thus not propaganda, which it defined as activities that “are covert, that is, the communications do not reveal to the target audience the government’s role in sponsoring the material.”
However, the report never addressed the fact that the news networks never disclosed that their military analysts were being briefed by the Pentagon. Indeed, the report seemed to accept such non-disclosure as business as usual:
As a network vice-president with 40 years of media experience told us, “Everyone understands that the Pentagon gives out information that is not harmful to its interests. It can’t be expected to put out information that is harmful. I consider that fair.”
The point, seemingly lost on the network VP and the DoJ IG, is not whether the Pentagon is expected to distribute negative news; it’s that everybody did not “understand” that the Pentagon was the source for the analysts’ knowledge. The public did not know this because the networks were hazy on the details themselves and, according to the New York Times, the Pentagon discouraged the analysts from volunteering the information:
Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said. […]
The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.
Even after the story broke, the media refused to acknowledge its complicity in the scandal. ABC News head David Westin insisted, “I am satisfied that ABC News has acted responsibly and has served its audience well.” Most media outlets — likely out of embarrassment, according to media critic Howard Kurz — ignored the story completely. A Project for Excellence in Journalism story found that “out of approximately 1,300 news stories [following the Times story], only two touched on the Pentagon analysts scoop — both airing on PBS’s ‘NewsHour.’”
Steve Benen: “Like Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), I think yesterday’s report reads like a ‘whitewash,’ but let’s also not overlook the other angle here: the mainstream media’s culpability.”