What does it take to get Steve Capus, Brian Williams, and NBC to do the right thing? David Barstow’s latest revelations in the November 30, 2008 New York Times, laying out retired General Barry McCaffrey’s myriad of conflicts interest as a NBC consultant, were first mentioned in his April 20, 2008 article. That story revealed how McCaffrey and other retired military officers were part of a secret Pentagon propaganda program to bolster public support for the Iraq War by appearing on network news shows.
In this latest front-page article, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter exposed how Barry McCaffrey used his position of influence as a former general and analyst not only to drum up support for the Pentagon, but also to obtain lucrative military contracts for his employers. The Pentagon’s propaganda program is now under investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, and the Federal Communications Commission. NSNS reporters Christopher Law and David Armstrong provided The New York Times with the original tip and information about McCaffrey’s business ties and television appearances.
Instead of cleaning up the mess, NBC played defense: continuing people like McCaffrey on their payroll and the news.
Unfortunately, NBC took only minor corrective steps when this mess was first revealed last spring. In fact, president Steve Campus and anchor Brian Williams talked more about honoring the perpetrators’ military service than dealing with the fact that they never revealed to their viewers obvious conflicts of interest. Another participant in the propaganda campaign was the late retired general Wayne Downey. Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams defended him and others as heroes while they managed to ignore the real issue – the credibility of what they report.
NBC is owned by a military contractor. When General Electric first bought NBC in 1986, NBC News stated publicly that they would reveal conflicts of interest. Twenty-two years later NBC News spreads Pentagon propaganda with impunity. It does not have reporters interview retired military officers, verify their information, and then report the news. They cut out the middlemen–their own correspondents– and put the propagandists on air; their comments often unedited and unverified before they reach the public.
With the latest revelations it is clear: if NBC is to have any standing as a legitimate news organization several things have to happen and happen soon. NBC needs to stop using and paying former generals and FBI agents and “intelligence” experts as consultants immediately.
Excuses like – They give us unique access – are not acceptable. That is the very reason Barry McCaffrey carried the Pentagon’s water. He needed that access. The Pentagon’s sophisticated propaganda machine used McCaffrey to sell the Iraq War because he had access to NBC. In return, McCaffrey sold the Pentagon equipment and services from companies paying him huge salaries and commissions because he had access to top military officers.
McCaffrey should publicly apologize for what he has done. McCaffrey and his brethren who took Pentagon propaganda and combined it with business self-interest and then fed it to the American public over major news outlets should never be given media access again. This nonsense helped build public support for the Iraq War which, in turn, provided these retired officers with lucrative contracts for equipment and services to the military for the war. War profiteering used to be considered despicable. Domestic dissemination of government propaganda is illegal. The cost to the taxpayers is not even mentioned.
But what NBC News did in response to The New York Times investigation is worse. The suits at NBC News are tone death to the fact that they are owned by a major defense contractor. NBC executives had a special obligation to deal with this problem effectively when Dave Barstow first reported the Pentagon propaganda campaign last April. Since they did not and Barstow’s follow-up piece on McCaffrey shows how bad the situation really was, the responsible officer of the company needs to go.
It is time for NBC News President Steve Capus to resign and –if he refuses– to be fired.
Capus encouraged the fawning relationship between retired military officers and his own anchors to give NBC the appearance of being patriotic at a time of war. All this nonsense started with Tom Brokaw and his relationship with General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., after the Persian Gulf war, that all melded into Brokaw becoming the chronicler of “The Greatest Generation.”
Capus encouraged Brokaw’s successor and the anchor he “led the search for,” Brian Williams, to succeed Brokaw as the Pentagon’s favorite anchor-in-chief. Once the Pentagon PR henchman got NBC on the hook, they used their “special relationships” to the fullest and exploited the retired officers who were consultants to NBC knowing that the other networks would follow suit. And they did.
Remarkably, on Sunday morning, November 30, 2008 – the same morning of the front-page New York Times article, George Stephanopoulos had Torie Clarke, the leader of the Pentagon propaganda effort first exposed in Barstow’s April 20th story, on his This Week panel with equal stature to others, including ABC correspondents.
We have come a long way since real reporters did documentaries such as the classic, “The Selling of The Pentagon.” Perhaps NBC News should make it required viewing before they get punked again by the Pentagon.
Real reporters understand they cannot be pals with the people they report on. They also tell their viewers or readers when their sources have conflicts of interest.
Right now the only reliable NBC News show seems to be Weekend Update.