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Cable movie provider HBO airs a documentary, Soldiers in the Army of God, focusing on the violent anti-abortion movement (see 1982, Early 1980s, August 1982, and July 1988) and three of its leaders. National Public Radio airs a profile of the documentary, featuring an interview with the film’s producers, Marc Levin, Daphne Pinkerson, and Daniel Voll. According to Voll, the film focuses on three members of the “Army of God”: young recruit Jonathan O’Toole, who says he was looking for the most “radical” and “terroristic” anti-abortion group he could find; Neal Horsley, who runs an anti-abortion Web site; and long-haul trucker Bob Lokey, who recruits new members.
'Violent Fringe' of Anti-Abortion Opposition - Voll describes the three as part of the “violent fringe” of anti-abortion opposition: “These are the guys on the ground who are—whatever the words that politicians and other leaders of these cultural wars can put out there, these are the men who hear them and feel emboldened by them, who feel encouraged by each other, and they are every day praying for God’s will in their life.” Another unidentified man says: “Anybody who raises a weapon up against these people who are slaughtering these babies, before God and the entire world, right now I say you are doing God’s own work. And may the power of God be with you as you aim that rifle. You’re squeezing that trigger for Almighty God.” In the documentary, an unidentified anti-abortion activist says: “There are people in this world right now who are looking for directions on what do we do. Well, we end abortion on demand by the most direct means available to us. So stop the abortion with a bullet, if that’s what it takes. Stop it with a bomb, if that’ s what it takes. You stop abortion on demand. Don’t let it go any farther.” O’Toole says that the “next step is to arm ourselves in a militia, a real militia that has the power to resist the federal government.” Pinkerson says that O’Toole, who was 19 when he joined the Army of God, found Horsley on the Internet through Horsley’s Web site, “The Nuremberg Files,” which lists doctors who perform abortions (see January 1997). O’Toole became Horsley’s assistant, and through him met Lokey, who runs a Web site called “Save the Babies.” In the film, O’Toole, whom the producers speculate may eventually become an assassin of abortion providers, says that because of America’s legalization of abortion, the country has become like “Nazi Germany. It’s like you’ve got concentration camps around you.” Levin notes that filmed conversations between Horsley and Lokey show that many in the movement feel threatened by the concept of women’s equality, and blame men’s failure to exert “dominion” over women as part of the reason why the US legalized abortion. (Montagne 3/30/2001; Clarkson 3/30/2001)
Opposition to Homosexuality - Horsley draws a connection between the organization’s opposition to abortion and the American citizenry’s supposed opposition to homosexuality, saying: “If the American people woke up, and realized that they had to choose between legalized abortion, legalized homosexuality, and legalized all the rest of the desecration or civil war which would cause the rivers to run red with blood—hey, you know we will see legalized abortion go like that! We’ll see legalized homosexuality go like that! Because the American people are not willing to die for homosexuals.”
Bringing Bomb-Making Materials to Washington - The film also shows Lokey bragging to convicted clinic bomber Michael Bray (see September 1994) that he has just trucked 45,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a substance that can be used to make “fertilizer bombs” similar to the one that destroyed an Oklahoma City federal building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), into Washington, DC.
Anti-Abortion Opposition Part of an 'Apocalyptic' Death Struggle - Author and reporter Frederick Clarkson writes: “At once shocking, compelling, and beautifully made, the film is essentially the national television debut for the aboveground spokesmen and spokeswomen of the Army of God.… Horsley and others are quite clear in their public statements and their writings that the attacks on clinics and the murders of doctors are but warning shots in what they envision as an epochal, even an apocalyptic struggle at hand. Either Americans conform to their view of God’s laws, or there will be a blood bath, they say. And there is no evidence that they are anything but dead serious.” (Clarkson 3/30/2001)
The “military analysts” named by the New York Times as participants in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) appear over 4,500 times on network and television news broadcasts between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008. The news outlets included in the May 13, 2008 count, performed by the media watchdog group Media Matters, includes ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR. Media Matters uses the Lexis/Nexis database to compile their report. Media Matters releases a spreadsheet documenting each analyst’s appearance on each particular broadcast outlet. (Media Matters 5/13/2008) Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “If anything, the Media Matters study actually under-counts the appearances, since it only counted ‘the analysts named in the Times article,’ and several of the analysts who were most active in the Pentagon’s propaganda program weren’t mentioned by name in that article.” (Greenwald 5/15/2008)
National Public Radio (NPR) learns of the administration’s tough approach to what it calls a pattern of information leaks from Congress and government employees. The FBI is investigating a number of Congressmen who are suspected of leaking information about the administration’s Iraq policies to the press (regardless of the presumption that members of Congress have the right to reveal unclassified information as they see fit), but the administration wants more from the FBI than questioning legislators. The administration is pushing the FBI to administer lie detector tests to legislators and federal employees it suspects of talking to reporters. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to jail leakers who work for the government. And one of Rumsfeld’s analysts has suggested that police SWAT teams be sent to reporters’ homes to help find leakers. (Unger 2007, pp. 256) By August 2002, the FBI also questioned nearly all senators and congresspeople making up the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry to uncover which one of them leaked information to the press (see August 2, 2002).
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, one of the writers of the exhaustively researched and far more accurate account of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s ambush and capture in Iraq (see June 17, 2003), is interviewed on National Public Radio. Priest tries to explain why the original version of events as chronicled by the Post (see April 3, 2003) and other media outlets were so luridly incorrect: interviewer Neal Conan says that Priest and her colleagues now know “that were caused in the Humvee accident during the attack by Iraqi troops and the fact that probably Jessica Lynch was not the second coming of Audie Murphy, not that anybody should have expected her to be that. But nevertheless, The Washington Post and National Public Radio and many other news outlets reported a very heroic version of the story. How did that come to be?” Priest says that Lynch and her fellow soldiers indeed performed like heroes, fighting for their lives against an unsuspected and ferocious onslaught.
Relied on Presumably Credible Sources - According to Priest, she and two other Post reporters, relied on “people that we believe are credible and that have access to the sort of information that you would rely on in the very first instance to figure this out, which means intelligence information.… Three of us, in fact, gathered the information that made our story and which said she might have been shot and stabbed, and she fired off all her rounds. And these were people who we trusted over the months and years that we’ve dealt with them, and they were reading from classified, in most cases, intelligence reports. They were initial reports from the field that were both intercepted or eavesdropped conversations with Iraqi soldiers in which these soldiers were talking to one another through their cell phones or radio systems saying that there was a white female who was acting very brave and fighting them. And we went back several times to those sources and repeated—to find out the reliability of that. They thought it was pretty good, although still initial. Same with the stabbing and wounding. You were getting a lot of eyewitnesses on the ground as well. Some of them we quoted in our story, too, her bones had been so badly shattered in some cases that they were actually protruding out of the skin, and so there were some blood marks on her skin that you would have been able to see if you had gotten up close. And perhaps that’s why some people thought she was shot, but it could be other reasons as well.” Priest says “the fog of war and the fog of reporting during war” often causes inaccurate reporting. She does not believe that the initial reporting “was somehow staged and managed by the Pentagon… ”
Filming of Rescue Routine - As for the filming of the rescue by the covert commando unit, Task Force 20, that entered the hospital and took Lynch out, Priest says that all such units “carry cameras with them wherever they go, in part to learn lessons for themselves, but in this case they made some of that footage available. And as one public relations officer from Central Command told me, they were eager to get that film. It was edited when it came to them. When they saw it they thought it told a certain part of the story. And then, as he said, it was such an awesome story that we didn’t need to embellish it, which it was.”
Pentagon Allowed Inaccurate Media Stories to Spread - Priest says that she believes the Pentagon did not correct the story once it was reported because “it was such a positive story for them, and it was the media’s mistake, if you want to read it that way, for going with unreliable information, or information that turned out to be unreliable. So they may not have wanted to really correct the record in that regard. They did say some things that should have indicated to us that not everything was quite as we reported, but they usually said them on background. They never officially came out.” (Conan 6/17/2003)
Political scientist Timothy Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia release a study entitled “A Measure of Media Bias” that purports to document the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Groseclose and Milyo’s conclusions, their measure of “bias” is found severely wanting, and they fail to mention the substantial body of scholarly work that challenges their theories. The study contains observations of 20 mainstream news outlets, including national newspapers, news magazines, and network and cable television news channels. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; MSNBC 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Previous Positions at Conservative Institutions - Groseclose and Milyo have previously received significant funding for their research from three prominent conservative think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. Groseclose has served as a fellow of the Hoover Institution, while Milyo received a $40,500 grant from AEI. Both were named as fellows by the Heritage Foundation. The two authored an article for the conservative American Spectator in 1996.
Flawed Study - Groseclose and Milyo, according to their study, “measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets” based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media “bias,” the authors assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative “bias.” The authors write: “As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, and suppose that the New York Times cited the first think tank twice as often as the second. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign the New York Times.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will call the methodology “bizarre,” and will write: “If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a ‘bias’ making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes ‘media bias.’” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) In December 2005, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Co., will question the study’s validity, noting: “[I]ts measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.‘… And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal” or “conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005)
Classifying Organizations - Groseclose and Milyo assign “scores” to a variety of partisan and nonpartisan advocacy groups and think tanks. Some of these scores are problematic:
The National Rifle Association (NRA), widely characterized as a strongly conservative organization, scores a 49.5 on a 100-point scale, classifying it as barely conservative;
The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization closely affiliated with the Defense Department, scores a 60.4, classifying it as strongly liberal;
The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan political organization featuring both Republicans and Democrats on its board and headed by a former Bush administration official, scores a 60.2, classifying it as solidly liberal;
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization consistently reviled by conservative pundits, scores a 49.8, classifying it as slightly conservative;
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions, scores a 66.9, classifying it as highly liberal;
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank chaired by former Democratic House member Dave McCurdy, scores a 33.9, classifying it as more conservative than AEI and the hard-right National Taxpayers Union.
Lack of 'Balance' Indicates Bias in Study - According to Media Matters, Groseclose and Milyo classify news stories as exhibiting a partisan bias if they fail to balance a “liberal” group’s quote with a “conservative” group’s quote, regardless of the nature of the reporting. For example, the authors cite the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which they classify as staunchly liberal, as one of the organizations most often quoted without “balancing” quotes from conservative groups. Media Matters will write, “[B]ecause there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a ‘liberal bias.’” In contrast, stories featured in the study that quote a spokesperson from the NRA are often “balanced” by quotes from a “liberal” organization, Handgun Control, Inc., though, as Media Matters will note, that organization renamed itself the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001, and Groseclose and Milyo do not include that name in their statistics, “therefore, it is impossible to determine from reading the study if Groseclose and Milyo’s score reflects post-2001 citations by legislators and the media of the group under its new name.” Moreover, because the study only assigns partisan weight to quotes from advocacy groups or think tanks, if a story cites a member of Congress as taking a position and contrasts that position with a quote from a think tank, that story, according to the authors, is “biased” in favor of the think tank’s position. Media Matters calls this practice “miscategorization.”
Assuming Reporter, News Outlet Bias - One of the most questionable practices in the study is the assumption that if a reporter quotes a source, that reporter—or his or her news outlet—must believe the opinions expressed by that source. Media Matters will write that “most, if not all, reporters across the ideological spectrum would find [that assumption] utterly ridiculous.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) The Dow Jones statement will find, “By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005) The authors say that only two mainstream news outlets, Fox News and the Washington Times, slant rightward. The study finds that Fox News’s coverage is quite moderate; in a 2005 interview on MSNBC, Milyo will say that Fox’s news coverage can be equated with the moderate Republicanism of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), considered the most “liberal”-leaning Republican in Congress. (MSNBC 12/19/2005)
Bias Findings at Odds with History - The study makes some odd conclusions about liberal bias: for example, the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page has long avowed itself as a champion of conservative thought, is characterized by the study as having more “liberal bias” than any news outlet surveyed. The authors claim that they studied only news reporting and not editorial writings, but as Media Matters will note, “the Journal is respected on both the right and the left, and it would be shocking to hear even the most rabid right-winger assert that the Journal is America’s most liberal news outlet.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Methodology Flawed - In December 2005, a spokesman for Dow Jones will call the study “logically suspect and simply baffling.” The statement will note that Groseclose and Milyo only studied four months of Journal reporting, from 2002, while they studied 12 years of CBS News reporting, 11 years of National Public Radio reporting, eight years of reporting from US News and World Report, and two years of reporting from Time Magazine. The Washington Post and Washington Times were also only studied for brief periods. “Yet the researchers provide those findings the same weight as all the others, without bothering to explain that in any meaningful way to the study’s readers,” the statement will note. It will conclude, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story” (see December 21, 2005).
Failure to Mention Other Studies - The authors fail to mention a large number of previous studies of “media bias.” They do, however, cite three studies that, according to Media Matters, are as “questionable” as this particular study. One assumed that since conservatives say in surveys that the media is biased, then that bias unquestionably exists. The second assumed that news magazines that sold more subscriptions in geographic areas weighted towards Democratic voters were biased in favor of Democrats. The third is an AEI study whose statistics and methodologies were found to be deeply flawed. Groseclose and Milyo ignore one of the most rigorous and exhaustive studies in recent years, a 2000 analysis by the International Communication Association, which found that newspapers and news magazines exhibited little measurable bias, and television network news broadcasts exhibited measurable but relatively insubstantial bias. That study included 59 other studies, all of which go unmentioned in the Groseclose-Milyo study.
Conservative Bibliography - Media Matters will write that the authors seem almost unaware that other studies of media bias exist. The study’s bibliography is heavily freighted with citations from conservative media critics such as Brent Bozell (founder of the Media Research Center) and Reed Irvine (the late founder of Accuracy in Media). The bibliography also cites an article from the hard-right Internet publication WorldNetDaily. It does not cite any entries from dozens of well-known scholarly journals of communication and media studies, most of which have examined the topic of media bias in their pages. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Reporters and Guests on National Public Radio’s afternoon repeatedly report the extensive flooding. Greg Allen reports: “The good news is that the extreme flooding feared from a storm surge didn’t materialize here.… At least one part of the levee [system] did give way in St. Bernard Parish, but authorities say in a critical area along Lake Pontchartrain the levees largely did their job. Even so, Hurricane Katrina was still the worst storm to hit New Orleans in memory, worse, many residents say, than Hurricane Betsy which devastated the city in 1965.” (National Public Radio 8/29/2005) Mark Schleifstein of the Times-Picayune reports, “There is definitely some flooding in several areas that we’re still trying to get a handle on to see whether or not it’s as bad as Hurricane Betsy was in 1965. The worst areas are actually in a community called Chalmette that’s a little bit south of the city.… Now it has already overtopped some levees along the lake front rather early on in the process and it did—also the Chalmette flooding was also caused by a storm surge that went up what’s called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.” (National Public Radio 8/29/2005) However, John Burnett reports: “[T]he National Guard has just begun in those big deuce and a half trucks of theirs to go out and do some assessments, and what they’re finding is—one of the most distressing things that’s happened is the famous lower 9th Ward of New Orleans…really got hit hard. That’s where there was a big breach in the [floodwall of the Industrial Canal], that leads into the Mississippi River. And so we’ve heard reports of people on tops of houses, of a woman in an attic trying to, you know—concerned that the flood waters were gonna trap her in there. So that is an area of great concern. A lot of the city is not in near those dire circumstances. More like one, two feet of water on the ground. Nothing like, you know, up to the rooftops.” (MSNBC 8/29/2005) Senator Landrieu (D-La) appears on the show to say, “We have reports that some of the levees have either been breached or the water has come over the levees. [T]here’s still a tremendous amount of water from the first images that we’re able to receive, which is just in the last hour, of levels of water in and around the city. Now Plaquemine Parish, St. Bernard Parish have been very hard hit. Areas of Lakeview and New Orleans East have substantial water in them that we know of; downtown has been hit. The levels of water don’t seem that high in the central business district and the French Quarter, but of course, our assessment teams haven’t gotten there yet.” (National Public Radio 8/29/2005)
In the days after Michael Steele (R-MD), an African-American, announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland, allegations have resurfaced that in 2002 he was “pelted” with Oreo cookies by Democrats at a political debate (see September 26, 2002 and After); if true, such actions would constitute a significant racial slur. However, reporting of the incident has fallen into question, and Steele himself recently denied being hit by cookies during the debate, though he did say he saw Oreos on the stage near him: “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them.” Eyewitness accounts compiled by the Baltimore Sun show that the allegations are questionable at best; moreover, the Sun reports, accounts of the incident by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, Ehrlich’s communications director Paul Schurick, and Steele himself, dramatically contradict each other. Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters compares the different accounts of the incident, and concludes that the story has grown from an almost-baseless “partisan talking point” into “a ‘fact’ reported by the media” over the last three years. Media Matters notes that several newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, have recently reported the incident as factual, with the Times writing that Steele was “pelt[ed] with Oreo cookies” among the “racially tinged attacks” directed at him by his Democratic opponent in 2002. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes: “Steele has been subjected to the worst racial slurs imaginable. At one debate, a group of black people pelted the stage with Oreos.” Between October 31 and November 16, the Washington Times asserts the incident as fact three times in its editorial pages, and twice in its news reporting. The Weekly Standard reports it three times. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity twice asserts it as fact on his broadcast, as does one of his guests, National Review editor Rich Lowry. Deroy Murdock, another National Review contributor, asserts it as fact in one of his columns. Washington Post metro editor Marc Fisher cites it in an online chat. Mitchell cites it in the Chicago Sun-Times. The conservative American Spectator cites it as fact once. Syndicated columnist Gregory Kane cites it as fact once. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service editor in chief George Curry states it as fact on National Public Radio, as does the host of the NPR program, Ed Gordon. The Investors Business Daily cites it as fact in an editorial. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson cites it as fact on the air. The Associated Press cites it as fact in an article. Media Matters also notes that the story resurfaced briefly during the August 2004 Republican National Convention, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that Steele and Ehrlich “still talk” about the incident, and the Washington Post reporting it as fact. (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy, a study of the military’s influence on the US media and American public opinion, observes that while some commercial news networks are pointed out as unduly biased in favor of the administration’s viewpoint on Iraq, National Public Radio (NPR) is often viewed as a source of left-wing, anti-administration opinion. Solomon shows that just the opposite is usually the case. He begins by noting an NPR reporter’s comment on the Iraqi government’s large-scale military assault against Shi’ite insurgents in Basra today: “There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen.” Solomon writes, “Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the US media establishment.” Solomon observed in the documentary film made from his book: “If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re anti-war, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.” Solomon says that after considerable examination of NPR’s flagship news programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” “the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington’s prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue.” Like other news networks, NPR routinely uses Pentagon-approved “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to give commentary and analysis that is almost always supportive of the administration’s Iraq operations and strategies. Solomon writes: “Such cozy proximity of world views, blanketing the war maker and the war reporter, is symptomatic of what ails NPR’s war coverage—especially from Washington. Of course there are exceptions. Occasional news reports stray from the narrow baseline. But the essence of the propaganda function is repetition, and the exceptional does not undermine that function. To add insult to injury, NPR calls itself public radio. It’s supposed to be willing to go where commercial networks fear to tread. But overall, when it comes to politics and war, the range of perspectives on National Public Radio isn’t any wider than what we encounter on the avowedly commercial networks.” (Solomon 3/27/2008)
The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
private tours of Iraq;
access to classified information;
private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). (Barstow 4/20/2008) Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. (Barstow 4/21/2008)
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Former CBS News president Andrew Heyward calls the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda program for the promotion of the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) “a deliberate attempt to deceive the public,” adding, “Analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and, therefore, the public.” Heywood left CBS News in 2005. Former Army Major General John Batiste calls the operation “a very deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to shape public opinion.” Batiste, who commanded an infantry division in Iraq before retiring from the military in 2005 to speak out against Bush administration policies in the Middle East, was an analyst for CBS News for a brief time. However, unlike the analysts in the propaganda operation, Batiste was never invited to any Pentagon briefings and thus not exposed to the full brunt of the Pentagon’s public relations messaging offensive. “It also sounded to me as if they were parroting administration talking points,” he says. “It sounded very much to me like I was up against an information operation. I had no idea that it was so extensive.” National Public Radio’s managing editor, Brian Duffy, says that in light of the revelations about the propaganda operation, NPR is reviewing its policies towards using retired military officers as analysts and “asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we’re paying as a consultant.” (Folkenflik 5/1/2008)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, draw some tentative conclusions about the impact that conservative talk radio, specifically the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh, and conservative news outlets such as Fox News have on their regular listeners. They find both positive and negative effects on the audiences.
Positive Impact - The conservative broadcasters have a positive impact, Jamieson and Cappella conclude, by helping their listeners “make sense of complex social issues on which elite opinion is divided. They accomplish this when they:
Consistently frame arguments from conservative assumptions
Build a base of supportive evidence for conservative beliefs and in the process distinguish them from ‘liberal’ ones
Semantically and affectively prime key advocacy and attack points
Arm their audience to argue effectively
Minimize the likelihood of defection from conservatism by creating a sense of community among listeners who share a worldview, if not every political policy preference.”
The conservative radio hosts “protect their audience from counterpersuasion by inoculating it against opposing messages; at the same time, they increase the likelihood that the audience will try to persuade others. Conservative viewers, readers, and listeners are told by these media outlets that they are part of a much larger community… The belief that they are part of an army of others of like mind should increase their disposition to talk politics with those with whom they disagree. Finally, they stabilize the conservative base. This effect is produced at a cost: Those in the fold see ‘liberals’ and politicians as further from them—hence less worthy of support—than they actually are.”
Negative Impact - Jamieson and Cappella then turn to the negative impact on the audience. “We find other moves more problematic,” they write, “including those that:
Insulate the audience from alternative media sources by casting them as untrustworthy, ‘liberal,’ and rooted in a double standard hostile to conservatives and conservatism
Protect their audience from the influence of those opposed to the conservative message by balkanizing and polarizing their perception of opponents and their arguments
Contest only the facts hospitable to opposing views
Invite moral outrage by engaging emotion. This produces one advantage and one disadvantage: emotional involvement invites action and engagement rather than distancing and lethargy. On the downside, a steady diet of moral outrage feeds the assumption that the opponent is an enemy
Replace argument with ridicule and ad hominem [arguing against an assertion by attacking the person making the assertion, not the assertion itself]
Often invite their audiences to see the political world as one unburdened by either ambiguity or common ground across the ideological divide.
Liberals Imitating Conservatives' Success - Jamieson and Cappella conclude: “Democrats are, of course, more likely to accept the contested facts offered by their party and so are Republicans. We find it worrisome that the audiences for both Fox and Limbaugh were more likely than comparable conservatives to accept the Republican view of the contested facts in the 2004 election and more likely in the process to distort the positions of the Democratic nominees. But those who, with us, find the pro-Republican distortion among Limbaugh and Fox audiences should, with us, find the pro-Democratic distortion equally troubling among NPR listeners and CNN viewers.… What the conservative opinion media do for the Right and CNN and NPR do for the Left is increase a tendency to embrace the arguments and evidence offered by those with whom their audiences already agree. Fox and Limbaugh have also created a commercially viable model of partisan media that has elicited the sincerest form of flattery. On the Left, ‘Air America’ on radio and Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC are both experimenting with ways to translate their blend of entertainment and political advocacy into profits. Consistent with the model developed by the conservatives, Olbermann regularly features ‘Air America’ hosts.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 244-245)
Roger Ailes, the former Republican campaign guru who now heads Fox News, calls National Public Radio (NPR) officials “Nazis” for firing NPR and Fox News commentator Juan Williams; Williams recently made comments about Muslims that some, including NPR officials, took as racist. Of the NPR executives who fired Williams, Ailes says: “They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view. They don’t even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda. They are basically Air America with government funding to keep them alive.” (Air America is the now-defunct radio network that featured liberals and progressive talk show hosts and commentators.) Ailes also says that Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who has castigated Fox News host Glenn Beck for his routine invocation of Nazis in discussing the Obama administration (see October 3, 2010), should be “beheaded” for his writings. (He then claims he is merely joking.) Interviewer Howard Kurtz calls Ailes’s evocation of Nazis “disproportionate to the situation.” NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher says, “[W]e will let Mr. Ailes’s words speak for themselves.” (Kurtz 11/17/2010) Ailes issues something of an apology, not to NPR or its executives, but to Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League. Ailes explains, “I was of course ad-libbing and should not have chosen that word, but I was angry at the time because of NPR’s willingness to censor Juan Williams for not being liberal enough.” Ailes writes that he should have used the term “nasty, inflexible bigot” instead of “Nazi” to describe the NPR officials who fired Williams. Foxman says in a statement: “I welcome Roger Ailes’s apology, which is as sincere as it is heartfelt. Nazi comparisons of this nature are clearly inappropriate and offensive. While I wish Roger had never invoked that terminology, I appreciate his efforts to immediately reach out and to retract his words before they did any further harm.” (Stelter 11/18/2010)
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA), enjoying a surge of popularity among Iowa caucus voters, makes what many perceive as a racially biased attack on poor black Americans. At a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, Santorum points to African-Americans as being the major recipients of federal economic assistance, and tells a largely white audience that he does not want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” The federal social welfare system is being used to exploit its beneficiaries, Santorum says, according to a CBS News transcript, and adds: “It just keeps expanding—I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the Department of Public Welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program. They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.… I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Santorum’s original question was about reducing foreign influence on American culture. Asked about his statement by CBS reporter Scott Pelley, Santorum says he is not aware of the context of his remark, but says he recently watched the documentary Waiting for Superman, which examines American public schools. Apparently referring to his own statement, he says: “I’ve seen that quote, I haven’t seen the context in which that was made. Yesterday I talked for example about a movie called, um, what was it? ‘Waiting for Superman,’ which was about black children and so I don’t know whether it was in response and I was talking about that.” (The film depicts students from a variety of races, and does not focus on a particular racial group.) He adds: “Let me just say that no matter what, I want to make every lives [sic] better—I don’t want anybody—and if you look at what I’ve been saying, I’ve been pretty clear about my concern for dependency in this country and concern for people not being more dependent on our government, whatever their race or ethnicity is.” (Think Progress reporter Marie Diamond calls Santorum’s response “bizarre.”) CBS finds that 84 percent of Iowa’s welfare recipients are white; only 9 percent of Iowans on welfare are black. Nationally, 39 percent of welfare recipients are white, 37 percent black, and 17 percent Hispanic. The poverty statistics between the three races are heavily skewed, with 27.4 percent of blacks living in poverty, 26.6 percent of Hispanics, and 9.9 percent of whites. Diamond writes, “Santorum’s decision to single out black welfare recipients plays right into insulting—and inaccurate—stereotypes of the kind of people some voters might expect to want a ‘handout.’” (Madison 1/2/2012; Webster 1/2/2012; Diamond 1/3/2012)
Appeal to Conservative Iowa Voters? - Raw Story’s Stephen C. Webster writes that Santorum may be trying to appeal to conservative Iowan voters with his thinly veiled racial attack. Ninety-one percent of Iowans are white. (Webster 1/2/2012)
Santorum Claims He Said 'Blah,' Not 'Black' - Two days after making the remark, and one day after acknowledging to Pelley that he had intended to single out blacks in his statement, Santorum denies using the word “black” in his statement, and denies making any racial allusion. He tells CNN’s John King: “I’ve looked at that quote, in fact I looked at the video. In fact, I’m pretty confident I didn’t say black. I started to say is a word and then sort of changed and it sort of—blah—mumbled it and sort of changed my thought.” On Fox News, Santorum says: “I don’t single out on any group of people, that’s one thing I don’t do. I don’t divide people by group and race and class. I believe that in no people in this country. And I condemn all forms of racism. There’s no one that’s been out here working, as you know, in the inner city, and with people of all different races.” He says that the criticism over the remark is from “someone trying to cause trouble.” (Jones 1/3/2012; Seitz-Wald 1/5/2012) Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey pins the blame on CBS for using the word “black” in its transcript of Santorum’s remarks. According to Morrissey’s interpretation of the video, Santorum said, stumbling over the key word, “I don’t want to make [pause] lives, people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” CBS “put words in [Santorum’s] mouth,” Morrissey accuses. (Ed Morrissey 1/3/2012) Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher says there is room for doubt that Santorum used the word, and writes that Santorum said, “I don’t want to make… mmbligh… people’s lives better.” Christopher believes that Santorum may have intended to say the word “black,” but choked it off in mid-word. Christopher embeds a video clip from CBS in his article, and concludes, “The viewer can judge, but even as an LGBT-friendly liberal, I’m inclined to give Santorum the benefit of the doubt here.” (Christopher 1/3/2012) NPR also reported Santorum as using the word “black” in his comment. (Robbins 1/3/2012) The National Urban League takes the stance that Santorum indeed singled out blacks for his criticism. NUL president Marc Morial accuses Santorum of pandering to racists in the GOP, and says: “Senator Santorum is perpetuating a thoroughly false and destructive racial stereotype in a desperate attempt to score political points. He is appealing to the lowest common denominator within the electorate and quite frankly should be ashamed of himself.… Social safety net programs serve families in dire circumstances from all walks of life. Many of those who now find themselves in need, whatever their ethnic background, are the very people who have contributed into these programs throughout their entire working lives. By falsely suggesting that people of color are a disproportionate drain on resources provided mainly by whites, Santorum deliberately fans the flames of racial divisiveness.” Morial notes that in 2005, Santorum admitted that he earned over $162,000 a year as a US senator and lived in a $643,361 home, but depended on his parents, retired federal employees, for financial assistance. Morial notes, “Most people receiving assistance are not earning six-figure salaries and living in a lavish suburban mansion.” (National Urban League 1/3/2012) The NAACP’s Benjamin Jealous, appearing on a show hosted by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, later says that it is obvious Santorum did say “black people” and Santorum’s denials “defy logic.” Jealous says Santorum’s comments were “divisive, wrong, and based on stereotypes.” The vast majority of SNAP recipients are non-blacks, Jealous says, “and yet, when [Santorum] thinks public assistance, he thinks black, and that’s just unfortunate.” (MSNBC 1/5/2012) Think Progress’s Alex Seitz-Wald will later write, “There’s ample video evidence suggesting that Santorum did, in fact, say ‘black,’ but Santorum’s denial is especially surprising considering that he seemed to acknowledge making the comments earlier yesterday.” (Seitz-Wald 1/5/2012) NewsOne’s Terrell Jermaine Starr later writes that it is obvious Santorum said “black,” and observes: “Rick Santorum must think we’re stuck on stupid.… [E]ven if he was referring to ‘blah people,’ from which demographic do they come? Is this racial category (if ‘blah people’ are a race at all) on the US Census?” (Starr 1/5/2012) Santorum will later claim that he actually said the word “plives,” and not “black.” He will explain that he was briefly tongue-tied while trying to say “people’s lives,” and had no intention of saying “black people’s lives.” He will also claim that he has done more in black communities “than any Republican in recent memory.” (Diamond 1/10/2012)
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