by Deb Cupples | During his farewell address in 1961, the late President Dwight Eisenhower warned America to "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." No doubt, if the late President is looking down upon our nation from a netherworld, he is shaking his head and saying, "You should have listened."
Yesterday's New York Times reports on a retired Army general -- and his relationship with policy makers, defense contractors, and the media -- who seems to epitomize what President Eisenhower had warned us against:
"In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.
"The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.
"Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.
"Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe....
"Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.
“'That’s what I pay him for,' Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.
"General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help ... or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment...." (NY Times)
In short, General McCaffrey stood to personally make money by persuading Congress and us taxpayers to support the Iraq war and certain war-related spending proposals. Yet we who listened to him were not told about his potentially conflicting interests in making money versus giving unbiased advice.
The President of NBC News -- a network that held out Gen. McCaffrey as an independent analysts -- does not think that the General was bound to follow NBC's purported policies regarding conflicts of interest.
Maybe not. But NBC had a duty to its viewers to disclose any potential conflicts of interest, instead of presenting Gen. McCaffrey as though his opinions were unbiased.
Why didn't NBC make a point of accurately informing viewers about Gen. McCaffrey's financial interests in the Iraq war? With my mind-reading skills still vacationing in the Florida Keys, I'm not sure -- but I suspect that the financial interests of NBC's parent company (General Electric, a major federal contractor) might have played a part in NBC's conduct.
The table below lists the dollar value of all federal contracts that GE received just from 2003-07.
|| Total Amt. in
|Total|| $11.9 billion
And no, it wasn't a recent oversight that caused NBC to refuse to accurately inform its millions of American viewers. Salon's Glenn Greenwald explains:
"Some of the key facts which Barstow reports concerning the improper behavior of McCaffrey and NBC News were documented all the way back in April, 2003, in this excellent article from The Nation, which Barstow probably should have credited today. That article -- entitled "TV's Conflicted Experts" -- detailed the numerous defense contractors to which McCaffrey had a substantial connection -- including Mitretek, Veritas and Integrated Defense Technologies, all featured by Barstow today -- and highlighted how the policies and viewpoints McCaffrey was advocating as a 'military analyst' on NBC directly benefited those companies.
"Because those conflicts were brought to light by the anti-war Nation, and because that article was published in April, 2003, as the country was drowning in a war-crazed frenzy, NBC was able to blithely dismiss these concerns, unbelievably telling The Nation that its military analysts' business interests were "not their concern."
"Unsurprisingly, the Nation article generated little attention and controversy. Few people were interested back then in challenging war-praising retired Generals and the networks which were glorifying the invasion. NBC continued without objection to feature McCaffrey, and the similarly-conflicted retired Gen. Wayne Downing, as objective 'military analysts.'"
Obviously, NBC's conduct and interests throw into question that network's credibility as a source of accurate information and unbiased reporting. And it's not just reporting about our nation's wars or potential conflicts in the Middle East that are called into question.
General Electric owns numerous TV stations, cable networks, and film-production companies. What sort of ad revenues do those businesses make from, say, the corporations involved in our nation's massive economic crises?
How might such ad revenues have affected how GE's many media outlets reported on issues like the massive government bailouts of Wall Street firms? About our nation's economy? About U.S. domestic policy in general?
Memeorandum has commentary.
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* AIG Execs Re-Distributed Shareholder Wealth to Themselves
* Lehman Execs Re-Distributed Shareholder Wealth to Themselves
* Executives Took Home Millions While Driving Companies into Ditch