Journalism in the Public Interest


The Unexplored Media Scandal of the Times’ Retired Generals & Propaganda Piece

Yesterday, the New York Times's David Barstow published a gargantuan story detailing how the Pentagon has been cultivating and cozying up to retired-generals turned TV pundits. Many of these generals are now working for defense firms, which creates a possible incentive for them to stay in the good graces of the Pentagon. The story has rocketed around the Web. But what's gone littled explored is the TV networks' role and whether the networks have been turning a blind-eye to the potential conflicts of interest. When questioned by Barstow, most of the networks simply refused to respond:

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.

What are the networks' overall conflict-of-interest policies? And do they plan on changing any of those requirements now that the generals-cum-pundits' financial interests have been flagged? We put in calls to all the networks, their responses below....


There’s another unexplored angle.  (NY Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt actually wrote about this aspect.)  The reporter was on top of this story as it was happening and asked the Pentagon about it via a FOIA request; the only reason it took years for the story to come out was that that’s how long the FOIA process took.  Once David Barstow won his lawsuit and had the documents in hand, the story was published within days.

This woeful experience is the rule, not the exception.  While FOIA is a great tool to force disclosures, enforcing FOIA’s guarantees of transparency can take a long time.  The information may eventually come out, but too often it comes long after its disclosure has potency.