21 April 2008

Speak for yourselves, boys!

Secretary Gates Remarks at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Montgomery Alabama

Q Sir, Lieutenant Colonel (Name inaudible) from Air Command and Staff College. Sir, we appreciate you taking the time today and coming to speak to us.

Yesterday, the New York Times had an article that talked about the number of retired senior officers who are commentators but who also serve on boards for companies that are profiting from the war. Sir, what do you think about all these senior officers who are now retired influencing public opinion about the Department of Defense and the war effort? And I don't know if you had a chance to read the article, but what do you think about that, if you will, conflict of interest that they are involved in?

SEC. GATES: Well, I will tell you that this is actually -- the increasing engagement of retired officers in the political process and in the media is something that has really taken off -- (inaudible) -- in 1993. There were only one or two -- a handful of examples of it before 1993. And now it's kind of a cottage industry. I suppose in a flip sort of way I could say, the good-news side is there are now so many it doesn't really matter. If there were still just a handful out there they might actually have some real influence.

But when you've got scores of these guys either signing up for different candidates or as media experts and so on -- the worry that I have in this whole thing, whether they are signing up with candidates or whether they are acting as experts for the media, is the important -- when they are referred to by their title, the public doesn't know whether they are active-duty or retired, often, because those distinctions tend to get blurred, and they don't know whether they're speaking for the institution or for themselves.

And so if I had one request to all of them, it would be in whatever role they're playing that they make clear that they're not speaking for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, or the Marines Corps, or the Department of Defense, but only speaking for themselves.

And I suppose that takes a little of the gloss over the -- off of their appeal, but I think that's the honest way to approach this.

My -- I did read the article, and frankly, I think it -- I couldn't quite tell how much of it was an implied political conflict of interest, an implied financial conflict of interest or what.

But -- so I would just limit myself to saying I think that the one service they owe everybody is making clear that they're speaking only for themselves.

Sticks, Stones and Glass Houses

20 April 2008

Sticks, Stones and Glass Houses

The paper that brought you Jayson Blair and Judith Miller has a front-page story (with multi-media) portraying retired military officers you see on cable news outlets as dupes, puppets and co-conspirators of the Pentagon. At least during the 2006 "Generals Revolt."

After reading the story, I was at a loss why it got 7,000+ words and front-page real estate. Essentially, it said the NYT sued the Pentagon for "8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records" and found that nobody did anything wrong! Which is pretty amazing, actually.

I went looking for insightful commentary and found Bateman writes (and I agree) that:

Seriously, somebody at the NYT headquarters needs to consider instituting a random drug testing program over there because the intellectual loops one has to tie oneself into to come to their thesis are worthy of Jayson Blair’s style of “reporting.”
OK, that's not really the insightful part. I do recommend reading his post because it is very good. He also links to Allard's 2006 Warheads: Cable News And the Fog of War.

Andy Cline writes that the NYT piece is really about the "massive craft failure in American journalism."
By putting the onus on the analysts, the oxymoronic institution of television news has simply declared: Journalism is not practiced here.
Uhhh, because the newspapers do a better job of vetting their "experts" and providing full disclosure?

You can also go back and read what the NYT told us in 2006:
The Defense Department has issued a memorandum to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts that offers a direct challenge to the criticisms made by retired generals about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The one-page memorandum was sent by e-mail on Friday to the group, which includes several retired generals who appear regularly on television, and came as the Bush administration stepped up its own defense of Mr. Rumsfeld. On the political front, Republican strategists voiced rising anxiety on Saturday that without a major change in the course of the Iraq war, Republican candidates would suffer dearly in the November elections.
Shocking, I know. In 2003, the NYT had this to say about the retired military talking-heads:
Some receive occasional briefings from the Pentagon, but like most reporters, they stay current by checking with their friends in the military and studying all the public information they can gather.

On the other hand, their evident sympathies with the current commanders, not to mention their respect for the military and immersion in its doctrines, sometimes seem to immunize them to the self-imposed skepticism of the news organizations that now employ them.

Rarely, unless pressed, do the generals bluntly criticize the conduct of the war, a detailed review of their recent remarks discloses. Instead, they tend gravely to point out the timeless risks of combat.
You can decide for yourself how much weight you give the opinions of former military "experts" on the TV and in the newspapers. You can also figure out which ones are pro-Administration or anti-Administration. Pro-war or anti-war. Pro-$ or ... uhh, they're all pro-$! Who's not pro-$?

Well, they didn't join the military to get rich, right?

Military Analysts
These documents were released to the New York Times regarding the Pentagon's Military Analyst program.
The NYT's Selective, Misleading Pentagon Story

Press Politics

Obama's secret weapon: the media

The response was itself a warning about a huge challenge for reporters in the 2008 cycle: preserving professional detachment in a race that will likely feature two nominees, Obama and John McCain, who so far have been beneficiaries of media cheerleading.
By four-to-one margins, Americans surveyed see The New York Times (41.9% to 11.8%) and National Public Radio (40.3% to 11.2%) as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative.

By a three-to-one margin, Americans see news media journalists and broadcasters (45.4% to 15.7%) as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative.

And, by a two-to-one margin, Americans see CNN (44.9% to 18.4%) and MSNBC (38.8% to 15.8%) as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative.

Just Fox News was seen as mostly and somewhat conservative (48.7%) over mostly or somewhat liberal (22.3%).

The most trusted national TV news organizations, for accurate reporting, in declining order included: Fox News (27.0%), CNN (14.6%), and NBC News (10.90%). These were followed by ABC News (7.0%), local news (6.9%), CBS News (6.8%) MSNBC (4.0%), PBS News (3.0%), CNBC (0.6%) and CBN (0.5%).

In 2003, CNN led Fox News on “trust most for accurate reporting” 23.8% to 14.6%.

Survey: Americans Say They're Well-Informed, But Dissatisfied With Coverage of Iraq War

The study reveals a deep dissatisfaction with war coverage and provides information journalists can use to learn more about what the public wants.
Zogby Poll: 67% View Traditional Journalism as "Out of Touch"
Internet is the top source of news for nearly half of Americans; Survey finds two-thirds dissatisfied with the quality of journalism.
Voters Give Media Failing Grades in Objectivity for Election 2008
Voters have little doubt as to who is benefitting from the media coverage this year—Barack Obama. Fifty-four percent (54%) say Obama has gotten the best coverage so far. Twenty-two percent (22%) say McCain has received the most favorable coverage while 14% say that Hillary got the best treatment.
Journalistic bias? I'm shocked ... SHOCKED, I tell you.
An Anthology of Journalism's Decline
Why Newspapers Aren't Worth Buying