by John Young
No mulligans for this war president. George Bush says he’s staying off the links so that it not appear that he’s taking lightly the sacrifices of so many.
That doesn’t mean, however, that this White House has given up its No. 1 wartime pastime: misleading us.
To that end, day after day since shortly after 9/11, it has polished up and deployed a bag of big clubs. Shiny and steely, they have lent credibility to policymakers lacking it.
We speak of retired military officers who became as central to telling the war story on TV as reporters themselves — telling Americans that everything was as planned, that the claims leading us to war were right as rain.
These military TV analysts continue to be central to the story, portrayed as they are on TV news as independent voices.
Well, in case you hadn’t heard, here’s what The New York Times reported last month:
- As far back as 2002, the Pentagon cultivated a stable of more than 75 former military officials to get out its message through news organizations, posing as independent observers. The Pentagon described them as “surrogates” and “message force multipliers.”
- Most of the analysts are employed by military contractors and have direct interests in the war-making, money-making, Iraq-occupying machinery.
The Times’ David Barstow describes the end result as “a kind of media Trojan horse” that succeeded beyond all expectations in making news into government propaganda.
This means that “staying on message,” then, isn’t just a matter of White House talking heads and partisan ditto-heads. It’s the mission of these TV-hired “independent analysts.” You know: Iraq is the “central front in the war on terror,” and reports of strategic blunders are overblown. Orders: Support Rummy
The recruited info-infiltrators were summoned time and again for Pentagon briefings to counter stories gaining steam in the media, like inhumane conditions in Guantanamo Bay and increasing chaos in Iraq.
When several generals who served under Donald Rumsfeld started speaking out against the war policy, the Pentagon gathered its dutiful TV surrogates for a pep talk. They put on their flag pins, went on camera and performed like champions.
Not all of them were swallowing every word. One told the Times that after a briefing aimed at inflating hopes about the situation in Iraq, “I felt we’d been hosed.” Now, that’s speaking for the American people.
Don’t think for a second that the access granted these talking heads didn’t come with strings attached. The Times reported that the Pentagon spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring a company to monitor every phrase these individuals uttered to the media. One discouraging word about Iraq from any one them, and he’d be cut off.
Now, why haven’t you heard about this? Maybe because you’ve been watching TV news. After all, this is a broad indictment of it and the very media sirens that enabled Bush to con our nation into war. With John McCain reaching for the baton, Bush now seeks to lull the nation into never-ending occupation.
Arianna Huffington, on Huffingtonpost.com, is right to call the propaganda campaign, and the sustained media silence about it, “among the most shameful in the history of American journalism.”
But, then, little outrage was summoned when the administration paid a black radio commentator to say nice things about No Child Left Behind, or peddled phony news segments to TV stations, or planted an imposter to pose questions at presidential press conferences.
Little outrage has been summoned about the increasing privatizing of something — war — that once was a joint national endeavor with accountability measures built in. So, too, with the seizure of power by the executive branch and the subservience of the legislature branch.
Maybe it’s all because this executive has been so skilled in attaining the subservience of the “fourth estate,” the messenger.
John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.
Copyright 2008 Waco Tribune-Herald