The NYT Does Penance?

I just got finished with a long day of politicking (to answer the question bmaz sent by email, at least in my CD, the "uncommitted" delegates were all Obama supporters though there were about 8-12 Hillary supporters trying to pick up some extra delegates by claiming that "uncommitted" delegates could not say who they would support in Denver). So I’m going to have to return to the NYT article on the Pentagon’s rent-a-general propaganda.

But for the moment, I just want to look at the circumstances of it. This was not, say, Mother Jones, exposing the extent to which the Pentagon mobilizes the military-industrial complex to (potentially illegally) spread propaganda to the American people. This is the NYT–one of the most important tools of the Bush propaganda machine, certainly at least during the lead-up to the Iraq war. So I wonder–did no one from the NYT recognize the irony of including this sentence in the NYT?

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

For that reason, it’s a very weird article. The article, after all, states clearly that there was no quid pro quo to the "analysts."

The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.

And it notes that the problem was as much the friendship between analysts and the military as it was improper ties.

Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends. “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army,” said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and ABC analyst. “It is my life.”

All in all, the article paints the picture of an economy of influence. Kind of like … beltway journalists. "It is hard for me to criticize politicians," you can imagine the beltway journalist saying, "It is my life."

But that doesn’t mean it’s not an important article. It works sort of like the Libby trial did, exposing the Administration’s methods for all to see. Watching the way Rummy worked these retired Generals is eerily akin, for me, to watching Cathie Martin describe the way she worked Tim Russert.

But back to the fact that this is coming from the NYT. I find it ironic that it comes just days after the NYT posted one of its worst losses ever.

The New York Times Company, the parent of The New York Times, posted a $335,000 loss in the first quarter — one of the worst periods the company and the newspaper industry have seen — falling far short of both analysts’ expectations and its $23.9 million profit in the quarter a year earlier.


The poor showing stemmed from The Times Company’s core news media group, which includes The Times, The Boston Globe and The International Herald Tribune, as well as several regional newspapers.

This is partly due to the rise of Craigslist and online real estate listings. But it’s also due to the continued crap the NYT tries to sell us.

So here they are reporting on the crap that someone else sold–through a different channel. (Yes, when I have more time, I do plan to search the NYT articles for the number of times the NYT quoted these Generals.) It’s an important article, but does it redeem all the crap that lost them readers?

I’m also curious that David Barstow is the author. Barstow has done similar work to this for the NYT before. There’s this article on the government use of video news releases, for example, part of a series.

It is the kind of TV news coverage every president covets.

"Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.," a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of "another success" in the Bush administration’s "drive to strengthen aviation security"; the reporter called it "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history." A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration’s determination to open markets for American farmers.

To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three.

But he’s also the kind of guy who fixes the fuck-ups of his NYT colleagues. He babysat Duff Wilson on some stories after Wilson convicted the Duke lacrosse team in the press before they’d been tried. Barstow explained how the Administration (and, implicitly, Judy Miller and Michael Gordon) got snookered on the aluminum tubes. And he was part of the team that exposed Jayson Blair’s deceptions (I don’t have the book with me, but I seem to recall Seth Mnookin’s book on the debacle describing in detail how Barstow, in particular, got chosen to bring credibility to the article). Then there’s this awkward article that debunks some of the BS Libby claimed to have told Judy–without noticing the underlying problems with Libby’s story itself.

In other words, this is the perfect investigation for Bartow–both because of his prior work exposing Bush propaganda, and because he is one of the designated babysitters for the NYT.

As I said, this is superb investigation and really important. And I plan to do a follow-up about how this is the kind of multimedia work that might save NYT’s bacon. But I can’t help but feel like the NYT is doing penance for its past sins. It’s too late, after all, to make up for bringing us into a senseless war. But is it enough to save the discredited press?

67 replies
  1. bobschacht says:

    Thanks, EW! I look forward to your promised sequels on this story!

    Are we into “You can’t tell the Generals without a scorecard” yet?
    Can we get the networks to hang an “I am a Pentagon shill” placard around the neck of these guys whenever they appear on TV? I guess that’s too much to hope for. But with the overlay skills we have these days, it could all be “photoshopped,” by channels that insisted on truth in reporting…

    Bob in HI

  2. MadDog says:

    Shorter corporate MSM enablers including the NYT: “We’re just the medium, we’re not the message.”

    To which I call bullshit!

    Marshall McLuhan spoke the truth! The MSM are Propagandists for Profit!

    Even shorter MSM: “Trash is cash!”

    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah, I was writing this as you were writing your progressive comments in the last thread, going from–great article, shitty generals, to scary article, shitty corporations.

      Same progression, I think.

      • MadDog says:

        The NYT’s article reads like:

        1. Pick on the former military “analysts”. They’re easy targets with little ammunition to shoot back with (though I’m in no way excusing the former military “analysts” for shilling for shekels).

        2. Pick on the Administration. They too, are easy targets these days, and like the “analysts”, have little ammunition left with which to shoot back.

        3. Pick on the complicit corporate MSM enablers? Not so much ’cause that would mean fingering themselves as “Propagadists for Profit™”. Don’t want that to take hold with the unwashed masses. Ain’t good for business if we figure out the truth.

  3. FormerFed says:

    Marcy, I read the complete NYT article on ‘Rent a General’ and wasn’t very surprised by what I read with the possible exception of the feigned surprise on some of their parts that they being manipulated by DoD. I have met and worked with hundreds of senior officers and DoD civilians and most of them are intelligent to know when they are being used. The morality of the individuals is another subject.

    One thing that shocked even cynical me was the apparent loosening of the procurement laws and rules for retired people. When I retired I had a lawyer in the Pentagon that I had to run every potential job I was thinking about taking through him for conflict of interest. Some of the restrictions were for a year, some for three years, some longer and some were even lifetime restrictions if I had been the source selection authority for the contract.

    It seems like some of the stuff I read sure looks suspicious based on the rules when I retired. I left in 1992. Does anyone know if the rules have been diluted that much?

    • bmaz says:

      I have no idea on your question, but am sure interested in knowing the answer for something i am working on. Do you have a cite or link or something to where these guidelines/rules might be codified? Any info would be much appreciated.

        • bmaz says:

          Muchos gracias. I am working on the legality of this little propaganda program. The conflict of interest angle isn’t my main focus, but it does kind of fit in. I think your thoughts and experience in this regard could be valuable to the discussion, check back mid-day tomorrow.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I would be leery of relying on guidelines, insofar as I suspect this administration of considerable differential enforcement.

        General Boykin can wear his full dress uniform to religious rallies and declare that his god is bigger and badder than Allah, but if a jarhead wears a t-shirt while walking in a protest rally, he gets his tail hauled before his CO and a reprimand.

  4. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    And I plan to do a follow-up about how this is the kind of multimedia work that might save NYT’s bacon. But I can’t help but feel like the NYT is doing penance for its past sins. It’s too late, after all, to make up for bringing us into a senseless war. But is it enough to save the discredited press?

    Speaking only for myself, I’ve been appalled and disgusted with the MSM in general — mostly about the he said/she said format that falsely equates environmentally irresponsible shills funded by oil corporatations with credible, peer-reviewed scientists. After seeing key issues like climate change languish for so many years, because the press acted like syncophants to political elites, it’s taken me awhile to see what value the press might still merit. Nevertheless, after a few long slogs on some (lunatic, inaccurate, wheedling) wingnut blogs, I now hope the MSM gets its shit together ASAP, because there needs to be some entity paying people to go out and research, synthesize, and report information.

    The press needs to do more ‘credibility indexing’ a la MediaMatters — when it comes to Iraq, I’m absolutely fed up with yammering tools like Wm Kristol, who doesn’t even speak any Arabic.

    Every single article should have a little sidebar listing data about sources used for the article, along with a checklist, even rated 1 – 10:
    – speaks (language of country being reported on)
    – has lived in (country being reported on) from X to Y dates.
    – reads (language of country being reported on) fluently/slightly
    – has traveled to (country being reported on)
    – has friends living in (country being reported on)
    – is familiar with political, cultural, or literary history of (country being reported on)

    Wm Kristol, on Iraq would be: 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0
    Juan Cole would be: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10

    So would I believe ‘Mr. Zero’, or would I put more credence in “Mr. 60 Points”?
    Yeah, the sources would want to fudge the numbers, but nevertheless even the act of laying out the sidebar would at least make a reporter think, “Okayyyy… maybe I’d better not quote Kristol on Iraq…’

    Then repeat that process for sources on climate change:
    – has published peer-reviewed articles in respected scientific journals
    – has obtained a tenured position in a publicly funded research institution…
    – has received recognition from scientific peers…
    …. you get the idea…

    Looking forward to your follow-up.

    Biological systems require good internal communication; for instance, the body is always monitoring insulin, oxygen levels, etc, etc, etc… information loss is a sign of bad health.

    Same with cultures.
    This whole business about media credibility is more about the health of a society facing big problems than it is about ‘partisan agendas’, IMHO.
    Bad information leads to terrible decisions.

    That’s would be one small change for newspapers.
    One giant change for credibility.

    Yeah, I’m a dreamer….

  5. prostratedragon says:

    “legality of this little propaganda

    The italicized part, I hope? I was wondering about that.

  6. FrankProbst says:

    File under: Duh!

    Retired generals tend to support the military. Well, yes. They spent their lives making a career there, and they’re probably still getting pensions from the military. If there’s evidence of arm-twisting to get a retired general to go on TV and spew bullshit, or if there are undisclosed conflicts of interest, then by all means tell us about it. (Speaking of which, where’s the story titled: “Former Clinton Insider Moderates Clinton/Obama Debate”?) Otherwise, I’m not sure what the story is here.

    Retired Republicans will tend to support Republicans. Retired Democrats will tend to support Democrats. Retired college professors will tend to support colleges. Retired police officers will tend to support the police. And so on. These people aren’t going on TV as objective, dispassionate observers. They’re there pretty much BECAUSE they’re biased in favor of the military.

    • tryggth says:

      Frank I think its a little more than this…
      In this “report” it is reported that Rendon said:

      He said the embedded idea was great. It worked as they had found in the test. It was the war version reality television, and for the most part, they did not loose control of the story. He said one of the mistakes they made was that they lost control of the context. The retired people in the networks had too much control of context. That has to be fixed for the next war.

      So even given a predisposition for friendly analysis, it is tighter control of the messaging that was desired.

  7. selise says:

    But I can’t help but feel like the NYT is doing penance for its past sins.

    i think you are giving yourself (and others like you) far too little credit with this interpretation.

    here’s another one:

    the NYT has a fine line to walk – they must build and maintain a reputation for reporting excellence if their propaganda efforts are to be successful. this requires both employing some excellent reporters and occasionally publishing the truth (with more or less spin).

    what this means for us is that sometimes decent reporting will happen – possibly by design, in order to build/maintain reputation and/or possibly because a good reporter saw an opening for getting an important story published.

    imo, the excellent (and widely available) media analysis being done and distributed via the toobz, has meant that organizations like the NYT have to produce more decent news if their reputations are not to sink to the level of miller and gordon.

    • emptywheel says:

      See, I’m uncomfortable saying even that it’s decent reporting, per se. Yes, it exposes a lot of things we’d like to know about (and as David notes on FDL, that we long suspected). But as FormerFed points out, it’s not clear this is all that surprising.

      The entire premise of the story is wrong. It is:

      1) Journalists would NEVER report on stories or people with whom they either have conflicts of interest or are too close to–that’s a foundational standard of journalism (Barstow claims)
      2) Unlike journalists, retired generals who appear on TV (note, no mention of print journalism) have conflicts of interest and explicit coaching from the Pentagon
      3) Therefore, the generals on TV are doing something that is unlike any other journalism

      As we know, 1 is false–they very frequently have conflicts of interest and close relationships with the people they report on. Ergo, what the generals are doing is not all that different from what the journalists are doing.

      That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important that Barstow couldn’t establish a quid pro quo. We couldn’t, quite, do that with Judy Judy Judy either (unless you could her multiple TV appearances and her think tank job now). But we still knew that Judy’s reporting was not reporting.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Barstow, the Times’ Michael Clayton. Will he have an epiphany, or get another company car and bigger bonus?

    I accept Mr. Barstow’s conclusion; there was no “quid pro quo”. After all, he works for the Times, our newspaper of record. If he made a claim, he’d have to have proof to back it up.

    But I’m troubled by that unqualified declarative statement. There was no quid pro quo. Did he research that thoroughly and prove a negative? Or did he suspect the obvious, but not have enough time or facts to confirm the existence of what would presumably be well disguised exchanges of value. In which case, why such a strong verdict of “not guilty” rather than “not proven” or “the jury’s still out”?

    As an analogy, consider a few of the incentives US companies thought of to gain access to the closed, but huge and potentially profitable China market. Science and MBA scholarships to Ivy League schools for children of influential players. Design and research centers, contributing technology and training, but with little ability to control its “informal” disclosure. Guaranteed local employment or other social spending, solving headaches for local or national politicians whose networks determine which investors and investments to allow in.

    The point is that there are as many ways to “exchange value” without violating US anti-bribery laws as there are smart lawyers. So also, there are lots of ways to exchange value with retired generals without documenting an explicit quid pro quo. Based on the Times history since 2001, it would seem foolish to take Mr. Barstow’s assertion at face value.

    • jayackroyd says:

      quid pro quo

      Well, that brings us back to the irony lemonade stand. Russert and Cooper had no quid pro quo that led them to put Rove on default background status, except access in exchange for all quotes being negotiated. It’s quite helpful to have this access to the inside story, to get tours of Guantanamo, to get lists of talking points on powerpoint slides. It’s what everybody wants anyway–CNN, the Pentagon, the White House, the guys’ buddies–all want a pro-war line. Paying them for the work, actually for the “CNN Military analyst” title under their talking head makes this still worse, though. It’s like paying a Republican operative to write an op-ed column….. I see another Public Editor letter coming. I really don’t see how this is one whit different from hiring Kristol–or letting Will keep his job after he played Carter in Reagan’s debate prep.

      There’s a definite Louis Renault quality to this story, as ew is too diplomatic to point out directly.

  9. Curiouser says:

    Wes Clark spoke a little about this Pentagon program a couple of times way back around the 2004 election, I think. He said he was invited to attend the meetings at the Pentagon when he was a military analyst for CNN but, that the first meeting he attended with the other military analysts and the PR people at the DOD left him so disquieted that he never attended again. I think, though I could be wrong, one of the times he spoke of it was on Real Time.

      • MarieRoget says:

        Given his take on the NYT article, I’m thinking it was. Remembering a time I used to look forward to watching the NewsHour every evening. Those days are long gone.

        And MSM deciding to “stop talking to many of the best people” confirms my suspicions about these talking head military analysts & their “expertise.”

  10. MarieRoget says:

    Also from Col. Lang’s post:

    “…..those who did not “play ball” were systematically excluded from access by the Pentagon. The MSM picked up those cues (presumably transmitted by the Administration) and stopped talking to many of the best people. “

  11. jayackroyd says:


    no mention of print journalism

    The piece does say there were 9 op-eds by these guys in the NYT.

  12. selise says:

    See, I’m uncomfortable saying even that it’s decent reporting, per se

    it’s the pretense of decent reporting – not the real thing.

    when pressured, their first instinct is to offer the pretense. if that doesn’t work, maybe we’ll get something a bit closer to the real thing…. until either we’re fooled or until they give up some of the pretense.

    to my simple way of thinking, this is very similar to the process we’re currently seeing with our dem congress. they offer us pretense. if we’re not fooled, next time we get a something with a little less pretense and, if we’re lucky, maybe even a tiny bit of the kind of governance and oversight we want.

    but it’s the pressure of the analysis and the reach of the blogosphere that has, imo, gotten the process going. we’re not there yet by a long shot (if we ever will be), but i like the direction in which we’re finally moving.

  13. Larry says:

    Marcy — As you explain, citing chapter and verse, Barstow’s frequent job at the NYT is managing the Times’s own image of itself. I would say that that has been the primary consideration for much of the MSM, and the Times in particular, for a good while now, and that this in itself has become the crucial and single most corrupting force in the overlapping worlds of media and politics. That is, everything that the Times prints, or NBC or ABC or CBS et al. broadcasts, has become a form of advertising for those entities themselves — as in “Can ‘we,’ do we want to, dare we, what what will to mean to ‘them’ if we say this or say that.” It’s corrupt but mostly I think a form of delusory self-corruption, as though one were trying to perform a fairly complex athletic feat in front of a two-way mirror, judging what one is doing both on the basis of one’s reflected image but also on who one assumes or guesses is standing on the other side of the mirror (and is thus not visible to you) and what you think they’re thinking about what they’re seeing you do. Thus, for example, Judy Miller was someone’s idea at the Times of how to best protect the Times’s image-franchise from actual present stress– or (as, or even more, likely) imagined future stress — from the quarters of power that it was understood (internally at the Times and externally in those quarters) Miller was connected to and more or less represented. It’s as though the Times were saying, “Look, we’re giving you Judy Miller — is that enough?” Examples of this could be multiplied a thousandfold and are not confined to the Times.

  14. PJEvans says:

    The stories I’m seeing about this article are all something like admiring, at least in the top parts. (Whether they actually get critical is another matter. There’s a lot of ‘It’s the NYT, so it must be real journalism’ to the coverage.)

  15. Mnemosyne says:

    Have not yet read the Times piece, as all the links I’ve seen so far this morning take you to the Grey Lady’s sign-in page. I will not give them the traffic. Will wait until the article comes out elsewhere, as it is sure to do momentarily.

    But as someone who spent some time in finance-land, I’m intrigued that you look at the conjunction between this publication and the most recent earnings announcement. Yes, their numbers are hurting, as well they should. See my comment re not giving traffic.

  16. klynn says:

    Barstow might have gained a renewed respect from me a week ago by reporting on a story that we all still wait to have covered… As a former NYT’s reader who canceled our home subscription as a means of boycotting their current trend towards public relations and failing in their role as the Fourth Estate in our democracy, I still do not really find this article to have the accountability factor that it should have had. Not to mention that it is many years too late and simply confirming what the active citizenry pretty much knew was going on at all levels of our government.

    My favorite quote from Glenn:

    The most incredible aspect of the NYT story is that most of the news organizations which deceived their readers and viewers by using these “objective” analysts — CBS, NBC, Fox — simply refused to comment on what they knew about any of this or what their procedures are for safeguarding against it. Just ponder what that says about these organizations — there is a major expose in the NYT documenting that these news outlets misleadingly shoveled government propaganda down the throats of their viewers on matters of war and terrorism and they don’t feel the least bit obliged to answer for what they did or knew about any of it. (And it doesn’t appear that Barstow even asked the NYT itself to comment about what they knew or what their procedures were when using these sources). CNN did answer by claiming they were unaware of these relationships and rely on their sources to disclose them.

    (my bold)

    Now, had Barstow investigated his own, and printed their internal knowledge on this, perhaps this would begin to be news worthy as an investigative news piece…Right now? It is just “pretend” investigative journalism…

    This is simply an attempt to get subscription rates back up and bring an upswing stock-wise. It’s just money talk…just teasing us as investigative journalism and falls woefully short of the mark.

    (BTW, notified the editor and CEO in writing “why” I canceled my subscription and never received a letter back but received a solicitation call asking me if I would like to try and renew my subscription at a lower rate. Good listening their NYT’s.)

  17. lilysmom says:

    Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
    Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
    Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
    ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
    But he that filches from me my good name
    Robs me of that which not enriches him,
    And makes me poor indeed.

    Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155–161

    Think that these mouthpieces realize that their reputations have aquired the taint of “whore”?

    • klynn says:

      Think that these mouthpieces realize that their reputations have acquired the taint of “whore”?

      And, great quote from Othello!

      To your question, it’s pretty difficult to “re-virginize” when you decide to repeatedly compromise. So, on the idea of this being journalistic penance …not even close.

      Penance is a virture…a confession of our human nature and our need to purge ourselves of those things that plague our consciences.

      What Penance is: it is the Sacramental pardoning of the eternal effects of our sins for which we are truly contrite.

      Contrition is willful regret for one’s sins. It isn’t a matter of one’s “feelings” of guilt, but of conviction of the evil of sin and the resolution to sin no more. In other words, contrition is rooted in the will, not in the emotions.

      Not that I expect a religious act of penance..lets just use the religious analogy a bit further and apply it to this news piece…

      No NYT’s confession about what they knew.
      No willful regret.
      No apology from the editor in a full-page post.

      Nope. Not journalistic penance.

  18. pmorlan says:

    This was my comment on the NYT site last night:

    Thank you NYT for this excellent investigative piece.

    “In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.”

    This very same sentence could be used to describe some of our journalists who are supposed to report on the Bush administration but instead run interference for them. How sickening to find that we have so many unethical people in positions of trust that are so willing to let themselves be used as tools for the propaganda of this administration. Their enormous greed and pitiful desire to cozy up to power is truly pathetic. In my book these poor excuses for human beings are nothing but traitors to our country and should be treated as the pariah’s that they’ve allowed themselves to become.
    — pmorlan, Kentucky

  19. phred says:

    But is it enough to save the discredited press?

    No. The press has put a lot of effort into discrediting themselves and it will take an even greater effort to redeem themselves. After the embarrassment of ABC’s televised game of dodgeball the other night, one article in the NYT is a lonely drop in the bucket of redemption.

  20. radiofreewill says:

    In a time of War – Our Soldiers in Combat – I would expect retired Generals to step forward and wrap themselves in the Flag.

    That’s understandable.

    What isn’t understandable is their Silence in the face of Clear Evidence of a Program of Systematic Torture, contrary to all the Laws of Land Warfare, choreographed and approved by the Commander in Chief.

    These Frontpieces of Military Honor have to decide if they are Ideological Crusaders *truly engaged* in an all-out, anything goes, last man standing, War of Survival…in the service of the King…or not.

    Bush has been telling them, in effect, that All Pretense to Civility has Gone Out the Window – and it’s Total Madness Today because there is No Tomorrow!

    Did the Generals turned Celebrity Cheerleaders sign-away their Consciousness of Tomorrow? With news of the Principals’ meetings to Approve War Crimes on a Detainee by Detainee basis, they can’t say they’ve been ‘Duped’ anymore.

    Honor is Forever. Not Bush.

    What if Tomorrow comes? What then? What War is worth ‘winning’ at the Cost of Honor?

    What about those boys and girls that rushed the gates of Hell for those Stars?

    • klynn says:

      What about those boys and girls that rushed the gates of Hell for those Stars?

      That is the question our house wanted answered many years ago when we were shipping supplies to our brother in Iraq. He spent 4.5 years there and the NYT’s did NOTHING to help him or us.

      Your question SHOULD have been the question on the NYT’s editorial board’s mind every day. Our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives, our tax dollars, our children and grandchildren’s future.

      And now they show concern about a drop in their stock? Panderers.

      The more I understand “what” IS NOT covered in this story, the worse Barstow and the NYT’s look.

  21. TheraP says:

    Think of the rage of military families at military “analysts” who prostituted themselves on behalf of the “meat grinder.”

    I had to ask my husband to please take off my hearing aids if steam started rising from ears as I read the NYT article aloud this morning.

    When does a military person’s allegiance to the country and the constitution expire????
    Seems like treason to me!

  22. Larry says:

    While much that Greenwald says is sound, I think he finally drops the ball by saying this: “The single most significant factor in American political culture is the incestuous, extensive overlap between our media institutions and government officials. The former is a dependent appendage of the latter far more than they are anything else.”

    This blurs the fact (or so I believe it to be) that it is the media’s own actual or illusory fears and weaknesses that led to its need, developed over the last 30 years or so, to engage in an incestuous overlapping relationship with ANY significant, external-to-itself entity that it thinks is more powerful, more successful, and that possesses more authority and cultural resonance than it does itself. That is, the media is not dependent on government officials, or the lowest-common-denominator aspects of popular culture, or anything else like that because it has been seduced by those forces but because the media previously had come to see itself as a failing, gutted enterprise. The answer to those fears, perverse as it may seem, was to deny (in deed more than in word) the media’s Fourth Estate status, to shed or cede any claim that media itself was an authoritative social force that had an authoritative role to play. Once such steps were taken — they began in the mid-1970s at the paper where I worked from 1977 to 2002 — all the rest was virtually inevitable.

    • radiofreewill says:

      So, in the light of Blatant Access-based Flat-backing and Round-mouthing Stenography for the Power Elite, are you also saying that Blogs have become the Modern Vox Pop?

      Ergo, the Demise of the Morally Corrupt Power Elite is also the Demise of Morally Complicit Fourth Estate?

      IOW, what Steroids did to Baseball – turned it into an Enterprise of deceptive ‘wink and nod’ Cheaters – Bush did to the MSM?

      Bush put the Taint of Bias on the Times – together, he and they collaborated as a Propaganda Organ for his Ideological War of Choice – and now the Trust of the People is Gone.

      If the Paper of Record wants to make a comeback – practically starting from scratch, but doing it the ‘right’ way – then, I highly recommend the Emptywheel/FDL/Tbogg Model – Only Bloodhound Reporting, Courageous Editors and Being Responsive to Their Readership of Concerned Citizens can Save the Times now…

      • Larry says:

        The best of the blogs, certainly including this one, may be our best hope, though not (fingers crossed) our only one. As for the MSM, I still have talented, honest, conscientous friends there, and if they were allowed to follow their own noses, the results would deservedly attract readers, or so I believe. While it’s not all it takes to make a paper a success, the likelihood that one will encounter there on a daily basis two or three or more things that are trustworthy, enlightening, perhaps entertaining or amusing, and, as they say, news to you, is the simple essential ground base. That plus the likelihood that the rest of the paper won’t lie to your face or say things that are flat-out stupid or make you crazy. Getting back to the “follow their own noses” principle, the amount and kind of fearful middle-management b.s. that good journalists increasingly have to put up with is almost beyond belief. About that first point, though — again it’s so simple in principle though far from simple in practice: One believes that Marcy doesn’t talk unless she knows her stuff, and/or she will tell us if she’s speculating. She doesn’t say anything here, I think, that she would say differently to her best friend. That may not be everything, but without it, you’ve got nothing.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      … the media is not dependent on government officials, or the lowest-common-denominator aspects of popular culture, or anything else like that because it has been seduced by those forces but because the media previously had come to see itself as a failing, gutted enterprise. [italics rOTL

      Larry, I’d started to suspect the same thing — when did the press begin to view itself as so powerless?

      But we’re finally glimpsing the cumulative social (and personal) costs of ‘bad information’ in may areas:
      – steroids in baseball
      – stock analysts putting “Buy!” signals on Enron stock without understanding, or inquiring, how that company actually made money
      – write-downs on billions of Big Shitpile mortgages; the ‘information value’ of the mortgages is so low that no one seems able to accurately price them
      – dangerous products being sold
      – media outlets accepting questionable ‘experts’ as interview subjects, including corporate-funded pseudo-scientists who shill that global warming is not attributable to oil or fuel consumption (!)

      The cumulative costs are not sustainable. Neverthless, I’d argue that George Soros is correct in pointing out that after 1980, America became a ‘feel good society’ and wanted to be told Sweet Lies. That’s basically a form of letting the nuts run the insane asylum, or the criminals run the prison.

      People of integrity refuse to lie — witness Al Gore and many climate scientists.
      People with no integrity are willing to shill for just about anything.

      The media was complicit in telling Sweet financial, environmental, and political Lies; whether it can survive the damage remains to be seen. The media lost more than their virginity — they lost their fundamental purpose. Here’s hoping they can reclaim it.

  23. MadDog says:

    EW, lest I forget (a marvelous habit I seem to have acquired *g*), I wanted to thank you for correcting my typos in my comment at #2.

    Tis a kindness I really appreciate! Sometimes even Preview is not enough for me. *g*

  24. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The administration – here meaning primarily Rumsfeld and Cheney (no doubt the “boss” Rumsfeld mentions who wants “this” done immediately) – took extraordinary steps to orchestrate these supposedly individual private efforts and then to hide that orchestration. It’s a strong indicator of the falseness of their claims and that despite their and Barstow’s protests, some value was exchanged, presumably once or twice removed.

    That value may have been board seats, consultancy contracts, allowing otherwise retired golfers to stay in the military limelight. The options are as varied as the egos of those involved. By design, it would take considerable digging to reveal. To paraphrase a different player than Iago, Mr. Barstow and his Pentagon sources protest too much.

    The methodology revealed by this story is not new. It is disturbing, a threat to democracy and to the credibility of the government and the press, but new. It is standard operating procedure for this administration.

    It’s how they responded “immediately” to the Wilson/Plame threat, and to revelations by the few non-housetrained reporters like Sy Hersh. It’s how they deal with routine announcements of policy, whether about the war, education, or the environment. They use planted stories from supposedly neutral experts to persuade citizens that its extraordinary, radical or incompetently executed policies are business as usual and helpful to them.

    It is a fraud perpetrated by frauds. And John McCain wants to give us four more years of it. Juan Cole has his number:

    In other words, elect McCain, my friends, and you are summoning the awful genie of another 9/11. I said it. I mean it. I’m not taking it back. That man’s announced policies could well produce a blowback that will lead to the end of democracy in the United States. It is a momentous decision.

  25. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Glenzilla objects to the traditional media’s unwillingness to turn its reportial talents on itself:

    The most incredible aspect of the NYT story is that most of the news organizations which deceived their readers and viewers by using these “objective” analysts — CBS, NBC, Fox — simply refused to comment on what they knew about any of this or what their procedures are for safeguarding against it.

    The conclusion his ire, which I share, leads to is that the media apparently got precisely what it wanted from these “neutral experts”. Ratings, popularity, the expression of unqualified support for a pro-business GOP presidency (and the decimation of its knowledgeable critics). Because the corporate giants that own these “news” outlets make far more money doing other things that the government can promote or prohibit than they do selling the news.

  26. PJEvans says:

    One other thing that needs to be mentioned: ‘retired’ officers can get nailed for speaking out against this maladministration.
    The military version of retirement means that they still own you; if they want to yank your chain, they’re legally entitled to do it.

  27. Hugh says:

    But I can’t help but feel like the NYT is doing penance for its past sins. It’s too late, after all, to make up for bringing us into a senseless war. But is it enough to save the discredited press?

    This is, of course, the key point. This is an article that could have been written anytime in the last 6 years, but wasn’t. That these old duffers were spouting the Bush line was obvious. That they sat on boards or worked for various lobbyists, defense companies, and think tanks was also well known. That they kept up with their good buddies who were still in the service and whose actions they defended was a given. So why the surprise? The media have spent the last 7 years repeating every bit of spin this Administration has fed them. They have not covered or downplayed stories critical of the Administration. They have not only accepted what they were told by this Administration. They did what they were told to do by it. I agree completely this story is too little too late, and that it is simply a way for the Times to pre-empt criticism and put its gloss on events before the changeover in Administrations.

    • Mauimom says:

      The media have spent the last 7 years repeating every bit of spin this Administration has fed them. They have not covered or downplayed stories critical of the Administration.

      And these nimrods will probably “wake up” — or at least put on a show of appearing to wake up — just in time to pile on to a Democratic president & Congress.

      Upstairs description of the debate as “journalistic dodgeball:” CLASSIC!!

  28. Ishmael says:

    The media, in purporting to rely on the “objectivity” of these retired generals, hides behind the supposed professionalism of these military experts in the same way that Bush pretends that Iraq policy is based on what the still-serving generals tell him what is needed on the ground. The media likes to use these generals as commentators because it makes it look like the media is consulting disinterested professional. The fact that these commentators used to wear uniforms, and perhaps even served in combat, does not change the fact that they are now essentially unregistered lobbyists for Pentagon interests. At least when a drug industry or oil industry lobbyist goes on TV (s)he is identified as such, a retired general is always given deference and is never identified as a lobbyist for the Pentagon or the merchants of death in the M-I Complex. The media just loves a man in uniform, from Ollie North to John McInsane.

      • Ishmael says:

        You are very generous in your comment. As for the raid, the media went to court on Friday to get the court to unseal the affidavit made by Elections Canada/RCMP in support of the search warrant used to raid Tory HQ, and it will be released tomorrow! Can’t wait! The Tory response is right out of the Rove playbook – they have actually suggested that Elections Canada co-ordinated the raid at the behest of the Liberal Party! And a new scandal, the Tories are abusing their free postage privileges for MPs to communicate with their constituents to send out partisan anti-Liberal screeds with free postage reply cards, which they then use to populate the Tory direct-mail database. This came to light when people in BC were receiving flyers from MP’s in Ontario. The Canadian Conservatives are essentailly a branch plant of the Republicans when it comes to election techniques.

        • klynn says:

          Never thought NAFTA would result in such imports of “plantings”. My deepest apologies. Cannot wait to read Mon.’s Toronto Star.

          Did not read about the “other” scandal yet. Thanks for the heads up on it.

  29. Hugh says:

    I would point out as well that the news side of the NYT has been dominated by neocons: Bill Keller the executive editor, Michael Gordon, John Burns. I have remarked before the editorial pages while liberal on social policies have always been open for every hare-brained neocon able to scrawl their name on to an op-ed.

  30. klynn says:

    Perhaps we should follow Bob in HI’s suggestion in the past and Spotlight this post and Glenn’s to the NYT’s.


    Thank you for this post. Is there any way to post on your homepage the number of people “Spotlighting”?

  31. masaccio says:

    It is clear that these guys knew exactly what they were doing:

    “Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids” — a nuanced exercise in influence through flattery and proximity. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’ ” he said. “It’s more subtle.”

    I have to say it doesn’t look subtle at all.

    And while Barstow may say there was no quid pro quo, there is one example after another that there was either in fact or in perception a quid pro quo:

    Charles T. Nash, a Fox military analyst and retired Navy captain, is a consultant who helps small companies break into the military market. Suddenly, he had entree to a host of senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met. It was, he said, like being embedded with the Pentagon leadership. “You start to recognize what’s most important to them,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.”
    Some Pentagon officials said they were well aware that some analysts viewed their special access as a business advantage. “Of course we realized that,” Mr. Krueger said. “We weren’t naïve about that.”

    page 7 online story.

    Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

    “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,” he wrote. “I will do the same this time.”

    Page 8

    • Larry says:

      Based on personal experience at the paper where I worked, it began to happen in the mid-1970s. It was a major paper with a conservative, somewhat fuddy-duddyish past, and in an attempt to modernize itself and attract a younger audience, it did some very good things (build a world-class features department stocked with talented youngish writers) and then, a bit later on, other things that were really stupid (in effect, tell our readership that we were no longer going to take an authoritative stance on just about anything but rather would detect what the readers already cared about and then feed that back to them). The latter move might sound like populism, and it might work if one were an actual political candidate. But for an organ of information, it was and is a recipe for irrelevance. Tell me what you think I already know or want to hear, and why the heck do I need you?

  32. Rayne says:

    In re: the politicking –

    I attended the 4th congressional district’s convention.

    There were 89 voters in the Uncommitted caucus, 49 in the Clinton caucus. Not exactly a good indicator for Clinton, in a district that has trended red. The Uncommitted caucus participants were clearly NOT CLINTON supporters, as they were very happy when both selected Uncommitted Delegates said they would support Obama should they go to Colorado.

    The Uncommitted caucus finished earlier than the Clinton caucus, in spite of the size of the group and the number of potential delegates running for the two seats. They had no problems whittling it down to the two folks who’d been working for the Obama campaign for as long as 14 months.

    There was only one formal member of the Clinton campaign in attendance, and they’ve only been working for that campaign for a few months.

    Across the entire 4th district in attendance, there were (2) people wearing Clinton buttons. In contrast, there were (8) folks wearing Obama buttons, (2) more people wearing Obama t-shirts, and at least (3) people with Obama signs and bumper stickers.

    Lastly, one of the delegate candidates was a high school teacher, who in explaining why he wanted our vote, said that of his 300 students in a northern Michigan public school, that he had no problems finding kids to represent Obama’s and McCain’s campaigns in a mock election exercise, but NONE to represent Clinton. (For this reason I am so sorry that we couldn’t elect a second male delegate; this person clearly wanted to teach his students more about democracy by example.)

    (I have some reservations about what actually happened in the Clinton caucus, which I did not observe; there were UAW members in that caucus, while the bulk of UAW downstate were in the Obama camp. Was there some effort to shape delegate outcome here? Hmm.)

    The energy in this overwhelmingly white district isn’t with Clinton. They will be very disappointed if the outcome of Michigan’s delegates and superdelegates does not match the energy.

    • emptywheel says:

      Intersting. In CD 15, the Clinton campaign had whittled the list of potential Clinton delegates down to about 12, eliminating (among others) the head of the Youth Caucus for MI, and one of the only Latinos present. Which I guess makes it easier to pick…

      The head of UAW in our CD was one of the Clinton delegates selected.

  33. rkilowatt says:

    Have to weigh-in on quid pro quo…and from personal knowledge. “Something for something” is is a vital consideration.
    To ever say that there was no “something” received in return is absurd. One can only say there was nothing found or nothing obvious.

    Author Barstow speaks from inexperience , lack of imagination, deliberate not-knowing or to collect a reward for lying.
    There is always “something” exchanged, even if only a favor to a friend to receive a good feeling or pride, or ensure continuity of the relationship; or to a non-friend to accomplish his disappearance.

    Often, the key to “no”quid pro quo is merely the untraceability of the “something”, such as oft stated desire to hire the other after his retirement; or PR’ing the other fellow for a later benefit.

    It really only takes imagination to create untraceable “somethings” with utterly no documentation.

    • emptywheel says:

      Agree–but when you think about it, that intangible “something” is the same intangible “something” that journalists get for favorable coverage. No, I don’t think the Administration ever paid Judy Judy Judy for her PR favors. But they sure awarded her with a plum Iraq assignment. Pity for Judy Judy Judy it backfired so badly (not).

  34. timbo says:

    It seems that in Bush’s America, folks are confusing ‘irony’ with ‘galling’ more and more. Why is that? You know, there is little humor in that pathology of the NYTs and the Bush thugs. It is sad that we have come to the point of treating the debacle of American journalism and American government as if it were an entertainment show. I suppose it is an entertainment show in a way, especially for those who don’t or won’t do anything to fix it and sit and chew their popcorn, like so many of us do when we can’t think of anything better…or are too lazy to. As for me and I suspect some others here at Firedoglake, the laugh-track has grown stale. Thank you for reporting and commenting on this and all important issues. I encourage others to think less about these instances as laughing matters and to get down to the real problem…and that is how does one right a society that has been taken over by thugs and their wars and has co-opted the American press and popular opinion to such an extent that not even the legal apparatus of the United States can function to right the boat.

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