The New York Times’ David Barstow has an astonishing piece in today’s paper, “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” about former “drug czar” and retired general Barry McCaffrey, one of many retired military people working as supposedly independent analysts for various news organizations but who are anything but independent.
The story’s biggest surprise — perhaps it should not be — is NBC News’ defense of its failure to require disclosure of McCaffrey’s rampant conflicts of interest. To call the network’s defense pathetic is to give it more weight than it deserves. Here’s the relevant quote, which is breathtaking in its arrogance:
The president of NBC News, Steve Capus, said in an interview that General McCaffrey was a man of honor and achievement who would never let business obligations color his analysis for NBC. He described General McCaffrey as an “independent voice” who had courageously challenged Mr. Rumsfeld, adding, “There’s no open microphone that begins with the Pentagon and ends with him going out over our airwaves.”
McCaffrey has been occasionally critical of Rumsfeld, yes. But that is absolutely not the point here. The issues are his wide-ranging, flagrant and undisclosed conflicts of interest and NBC’s indifference to integrity.
Here’s Spencer Ackerman’s appropriate characterization of this rancid system:
But the 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.
Bottom line: McCaffrey is venal, greedy and unethical. But as a news organization, NBC is downright corrupt.
MORE: Salon’s Glenn Greenwald notes NBC’s “ongoing disgrace,” citing reporting on these issue years ago in the Nation magazine, the NY Times’ expose from last spring and his own reporting. His characterization is entirely correct.
Final word to Matthew Yglesias:
But rather than focusing on McCaffrey and his issues, it’s worth contemplating the breathtaking lack of integrity on display from the television networks here. As I said, Barstow published a piece on this back in April. None of the TV networks addressed the issue he raised in anything resembling a serious manner. And, again, we now have NBC News caught flat-out in the midst of corruption, deceiving their viewers. And NBC News isn’t sorry. They’re not apologizing. They’re not ashamed. Because they’re beyond shame. They never had a reputation for honor, so they don’t even see this sort of thing as damaging.