Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 30, 2008

MCCAFFREY.... David Barstow had a devastating New York Times piece back in April, documenting the practice of retired U.S. generals appearing on the major cable networks as "independent" media analysts, while they were simultaneously working for defense contractors, and repeating talking points from the Pentagon. The painted picture was a train wreck of conflicts of interest and journalistic ethical malpractice.

Today, Barstow has yet another blockbuster, directing his focus to one of the more prominent retired generals: Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general, military analyst for NBC News, and highly-paid consultant to defense contractors.

It's really worth reading the whole piece, but Spencer Ackerman's take was spot-on.

If this mammoth New York Times piece is wrong, Barry McCaffrey really ought to sue, because if it isn't, he has no reputation for integrity left. [...]

[T]he scope of McCaffrey's hustle is really breathtaking. Barstow demonstrates that many, if not most, of the pronouncements he made on TV about the wars benefited one or another defense contractor who employed him. That's the way the scheme worked: Company hires retired general to use his connections to its benefit. Retired general accepts special grants of access from the office of the secretary of defense that benefit both his TV career and his consulting career. Retired general proclaims on TV things that benefit both the secretary and the company -- or, when circumstances necessitate, the company at the expense of the secretary. TV viewer, looking for informed analysis of confusing wars, is unaware of any of this. Welcome to the new military-media-industrial complex.

It's that bad. As Barstow explained, "On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC's viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television."

After Barstow's report in April, I largely expected the networks to reevaluate their relationships with these "independent" media analysts. That, apparently, hasn't happened, and NBC News, in particular, seems unconcerned about the obvious conflicts of interest, the lack of disclosure, and the textbook ethical lapses.

The network's viewers deserve an explanation.

Steve Benen 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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"The network's viewers deserve an explanation."
Don't hold your breath!
Besides, aren't we all used to this type of sh*t - remember the guy who talked about school stuff and then turned out to be a hired gun by the education dept?
Nothing new here. (Besides, who of the MSM viewers actually cares or even would be worried about this?)

Posted by: me on November 30, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

The fact of the matter is, even if this did somehow turn into a media firestorm and some of the networks were forced to cut ties with McCaffrey, he'd just be replaced by someone else with similar contacts.

Posted by: Jake on November 30, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I, too, thought the April story would force the networks to ask their military talking heads about how their finances related to their comments.

Surprised that it hasn't.

But, yeah, McCaffrey got hammered. I dubt he'll ever be back on TV.

Posted by: Cash on November 30, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Now that McCaffrey's self-interest has been exposed I'm certain that the media will repudiate him as an analyst and issue a heartfelt mea culpa for having been taken in by the good general in the first place. You must excuse me now because I'm also convinced that Scarlett Johansson, dressed only in a mink coat, will show up at my doorstep any minute.

Posted by: Dennis-SGMM on November 30, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't GE own NBC?

And isn't GE a MAJOR defense contractor?

Now, remind me again why we should expect an apology?

Posted by: bleh on November 30, 2008 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

NBC News? Oh, you mean the visual/auditory media interface of the General Electric Corp. McCaffrey's no different in his network role than Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw or David Gregory or Chris Matthews or the late Tim Russert. They all serve the same master for millions.
Your interests, well, they just don't enter the equation.

Posted by: mickscottty on November 30, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Expecting the networks to police this kind of thing is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Unless a public outcry develops, why should they change? Media for profit is out for profit, not the dissemination of truth. Just another way that our ideological blindness to the failures of free enterprise bites us in the butt.

Posted by: bigTom on November 30, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

The media are showing more and more that they are essentially unethical. It seems up to bloggers to expose this. But as a commenter pointed out, it's not enough good just to expose specific spokescritters when the networks are themselves owned by corporate/military interests.

Posted by: Neil B on November 30, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

May I be the first to suggest that once again it is time for another blogger ethics panel?

Posted by: Ghost of Joe Liebling's Dog on November 30, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Come on!

This type of using your connections to surreptitiously advance the interests of your clients has been around forever....it's called lobbying!

Posted by: mfw13 on November 30, 2008 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

This is one of the things that makes it impossible to maintain a straight face when the right screeches about 'librul media'. I don't see this about right/left, or even idiology. It's all about hawking product. In this case, the product is weapons and support systems.

While it appears to be pro-military on it's face, it's really about corporate profits. Either way, it's nowhere near 'librul'.

When some jackass, retired General appears on my teevee to tell me stuff, I've come to see Billy Mays hawking stuff I see little need for. If one of these corporate whores whould just say, "But wait!!! If you act now...." I would have a lot more respect for them.

Posted by: JoeW on November 30, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

And the corporate cum sluts like Brian Williams , and all the rest of them, should literally be frog marched out of the protection of their corporate studios and right into prison and turned into 'bitches' .. which they already are .. corporate cum sluts .. for the enjoyment of the inmates. I remember when all this first broke cause of the original NY Times article and cum slut Williams refused to even put this on his nightly propaganda .. this after literally receiving ten of thousands of emails that confronted him and General Electric .. that's also when they, the Corporate Masters of these cum sluts, assembled Katie Couric, Williams, and Charles Gibson on one set and had they all deny, deny, that they did anything wrong. Of course that's why these cum sluts get paid the millions that they do. There is nothing left inside such cum sluts, their souls are gone and in their place in nothing but a rancid abycess ...

Posted by: stormskies on November 30, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Now, in terms of the rubber meeting the road, I wait breathlessly to see what Keith Olberman or Rachel Maddow have to say about this on Monday.

Or not.

Posted by: Ducktape on November 30, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Fortunately, network news is becoming increasingly irrelevant, so sleazeballs like McCaffrey will be providing infotainment to a few over-70s and nobody else. In fact, I'm almost there, and I gave up on the networks 15 years ago (I can't remember when I discovered that if I turned on the broadcast even one minute late that I had missed the actual recitation of real events and was in to endless mindless feature stories punctuated by adult-diaper and denture ads. If I want to have one minute of news, I can click on any of a dozen sites and get it. And if I want to do info junkie luxuriation with really good feature stories I can flip on "All Things Considered" and enjoy.

Posted by: jhill on November 30, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone think KO or Rachael will take this one on. My guess they treat it very gingerly, or not at all.

Posted by: joe on November 30, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

NBC News is PART of a big defense contractor. General Electric. They aren't gonna say squat.

Posted by: JMG on November 30, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Americans are held hostage to government propaganda. In it's search for the news it accepts propaganda while getting only some of the facts, all presented by highly paid media darlings who lack critical abilities, doing only what they are told. What ever happened to broadcasting in the nation's interests. It's changed into broadcasting in the corporation's interests, that's what.

I stopped listening long ago and accepted that we have "sponsored media" that now has an agenda outside the public's 'best' interests.

So much has been exposed the last 8yrs which requires investigation yet we are left with a defensive, compromised and even complicit news media whose only goal now will be demonizing the left who has been exposing them.

Posted by: bjobotts on November 30, 2008 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK
Anyone think KO or Rachael will take this one on?

Yes, one or the other will take this up. It's big and it's out there, and neither is at any risk of losing their jobs.

Posted by: Max Power on November 30, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Those that think the media will make changes based on the exposure of this hustle are forgetting a key fact. In America "expert" means celebrity. If one is well known, even if they are well known for being a dumb ass, they remain in the analyst/expert line up. Can anyone remember the last time Bill Kristol was right about anything?

Posted by: Layne on November 30, 2008 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

It looks like McCaffrey is a non-partisan, equal-opportunity weasel, who follows Emperor Vespasian's dictum "pecunia non olet".

From the article:
General McCaffrey, 66, has long been a force in Washington’s power elite. A consummate networker, he cultivated politicians and journalists of all stripes as drug czar in the Clinton cabinet,[...]

Which makes me wonder... Why on earth would Clinton want a *military* man to handle drug policies and problems? Just because it was called a "war" on drugs?

Posted by: exlibra on November 30, 2008 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

"The media are showing more and more that they are essentially unethical. It seems up to bloggers to expose this"

Excuse me, but isn't the NYT part of the "media?" Haven't they already exposed this?

Posted by: Jack on November 30, 2008 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

I never got why this was such a big deal other than politicians are idiots. Why would you ever trust a retired general? Hell, why would you put to much trust in a serving general?

Posted by: MNPundit on December 1, 2008 at 3:02 AM | PERMALINK

This is a classic case of an institution -- in this case, a news medium -- lacking in-house expertise and having to use outside talent that has an axe to grind. The same sort of thing goes on with financial and medical guest experts.

And, of course, it's endemic in Congress. If politicians weren't essentially paid to let lobbyists write laws and regulations, they might have to let them do so anyway, for lack of access to expertise from any other quarter.

And before anyone says academics are the answer, consider the number of professors in specialized technical fields who have contracts with industries in those fields or are active in interest groups. (How many global-warming experts don't meet one or the other criterion, for example?)

The only solution I can see is to bolster expertise within government agencies. That would require paying agency staffs wages competitive with private industry. And that would produce howls about "fat-cat bureaucrats."

Posted by: allbetsareoff on December 1, 2008 at 6:06 AM | PERMALINK



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