Weekly Dose of Political Commentary

Tom Watt

“‘What are you, some kind of a nut?’ Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. ‘You don’t believe in the Constitution?'”

I don’t know if it is just me, but government officials joking about breaking the Constitution doesn’t give me a great amount of confidence in our country. In the past few days, the New York Times released an exposé on the connection between the Pentagon and senior military news analysts from all of the major cable TV networks. The article, formulated from the release of Department of Defense documents obtained by the New York Times through a lawsuit, reveal the true extent to which the current administration has been manipulating the American public. Select quotes from the New York Times article read, “Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as ‘message force multipliers’ or ‘surrogates’ who could be counted on to deliver administration ‘themes and messages’ to millions of Americans ‘in the form of their own opinions’,” and “Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too.”

While it may seem impossible that something like this could have occurred, it becomes very plausible, and even probable, when you consider the consolidation of media distribution and the incentives for the military analysts. First, it is necessary to realize that almost all news/opinion media (Movies, Radio, Television, Magazines with the exception to some extent of the internet) is almost completely dominated by what “The Nation” refers to as “The Big Ten”. Comprised of AOL/Time Warner, General Electric, Viacom, Walt Disney, Liberty Media Corporation, AT&T, News Corporation, Bertelsmann, Vivendi Universal and Sony. These ten companies control virtually everything that comes out of a television or a radio set in the United States.

The military analysts, on the other hand, have huge incentives to not criticize the war in Iraq. As the New York Times article makes clear (through direct quotes and interviews), military analysts feel that if they criticize the government they will lose access to war information, which, given that many are also involved in military industrial firms, creates a huge financial incentive to stay on the good side of the government.

When this centralized broadcasting force meets with analysts who have every incentive to change the rules of the reporting game, we are going to inevitably run into trouble. The prolific and meticulously planned and executed, nature of this Pentagon media distribution system has done more than just realize the ability to control and influence what the American public sees and thinks; it has in a large part been responsible for our continued presence in Iraq.

This system has been in place since roughly 2002. It was implemented to portray the threat of Iraq as much more imminent than it turned out to be, and it was re-amplified in wake of the retired General’s turning their backs on the war. “It was time, an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum urged, to ‘re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers,’ starting with the military analysts.” And it worked.

Regardless of whether one thinks that the war in Iraq is a positive or negative thing, it is imperative as a believer in the principles of democracy to be infuriated by the thought of leaders consciously and systematically manipulating the American people.

We as Americans need to put our foot down and say that this is not alright. It is ironic to think that Bill Clinton was impeached by Congress because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and that most likely, nothing will happen to the current administration for this betrayal. Monica Lewinsky was news, though. Everyone wanted to chat and talk about the Presidential scandal; it is not so humorous to talk about this manipulation, and thus it is less productive for Senators and Congressmen to dig deeper as the limelight will certainly be fainter. And guess what? The article has already moved to the bottom of the New York Times website, and (big surprise) it is not on the websites of any of the other major news companies.

It is our duty as independent thinkers and members of a democracy, to put our foot down, and say two things: we want our media to become more diversified and less centralized, and we will not tolerate government manipulation.