Managing the Message

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

An article in the New York Times about the relationship between the media and the Pentagon has ruffled some feathers and uniforms. The David Barstow piece (read it here) alleges that many of the military analysts you see regularly on television, and hear on the radio, were given talking points by the Pentagon. One of these former officers was on contract with NPR News, which gives us a perfect opportunity to talk about the relationship — inside the Newseum, no less, whose mission is exactly to study these kinds of ethical questions that journalists face. Today, you'll hear Ken Silverstein, blogger and Harper's Washington editor, who has written regularly about the issue of the Pentagon and its so-called "surrogates." You'll also hear from Michael Goldfarb, blogger and online Weekly Standard editor, who participated in the Pentagon's "Bloggers Roundtable." Goldfarb argues that there's a sort of Casablanca effect here — the NYT is shocked, shocked to find that there are "Generals who know people at the Pentagon." Transparency is paramount here — let us know how you felt about the story. Brian Duffy, NPR's managing editor will be here to help us understand NPR's position in all this.

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As a ordinary "consumer" of news.. Mr Goldfarb is wrong

The average person assumes that these generals are giving their own opinions, based on their own experiences, chosen randomly ...not more or less "working" for the pentagon... it is deception

Sent by Wez | 3:24 PM | 4-23-2008

This is just one more effort of the Bush Administration to misinform the American public. I care deeply that government resources are spent "briefing" so-called analysts -- it's a sham, yet another Bush/Cheney orchestrated sham. Are we surprised? Maybe not. But it's still a sham.

Sent by Lisa Gray | 3:34 PM | 4-23-2008

Of course, these former officers were spinning, and were speaking for the Pentagon. It was obvious to any who were paying attention at the time. It makes all the more patriotic those former officers who came out - too late, unfortunately - and spoke their minds for free. General Zinni comes immediately to mind, but there are others.

Folks, if you think you were being misled, you were. And you are surprised? Thank goodness people like David Barlow and Ken Silverstein are there to wake up the neophytes and slow learners from time to time.

Sent by Steve Jones | 3:56 PM | 4-23-2008

Rats. David Barstow, not Barlow. My apologies.

Sent by Steve Jones | 4:04 PM | 4-23-2008

In listening to Michael Goldfarb call Ken Silverstein naive "because that's the way Washington works" my first thought is "but just because that's the way it works, doesn't mean it's the way it should work." Furthermore, I think it is the role of the media (thank you NYT) to shine a light into all of the dark corners of truth prompting us to ask ourselves "Is this acceptable." Finally if nothing else the New York Times article reminds us that just because someone is on television or quoted in the paper and has expert credentials, it doesn't mean that they don't have an agenda and that it's important to know what an experts comments are being filtered through.

Sent by R. Cade | 4:52 PM | 4-23-2008

Micheal Goldfarb, another apologist using fractured logic and selective facts to ... what? Just what is Mr. Goldfarb trying to say here? That a hand-picked group of retired officers, given briefings and free trips to Iraq, a clear part of a propaganda effort to sell the war to the public, just so happened to be in support of the war, but were part of no propagandizing on the part of the pentagon?

And as Silverstein points out, there were plenty of Generals who had severe criticisms of the war and the way it was being handled.

Mr. Goldfarb may fancy himself a well-reasoned apologist, but all he did was show how anything can be justified if you have a slippery enough tongue.

"They were too sympathetic to Rumsfeld's point of view". That's a quote from Goldfarb. And yet he claims there was no propagandizing, that pure chance placed those men on the air as "analysts" - without any clarification on the parts of the news outlets using them as so-called "unbiased" voices.

Micheal Goldfarb: yet another example of how someone with an editorial slot can have no concept of any reality outside of his own head. Pretty pathetic.

~~~

Sent by LilyRose | 9:22 PM | 4-23-2008

I was horrified by the way that Talk of the Nation chose to cover this story. I think it does all of you, and in particular all of us, a disservice to soft pedal the news division's poor vetting of a hired gun. Instead of a serious discussion of the facts in the case, listeners were stonewalled with gravitas about news division meetings and this won't happen again and our general is an honorable man, etc.
You guys got used and abused us in the process. Have the dignity to own it. Typical of NPR coverage of it's mistakes, we're told that the ombuds received a lot of email regarding this story and low and behold only one was read (due to time constraints, I'm sure). I'm pretty disappointed.

Parenthetically, Neil Conan, who is particularly polite, can get very gee whiz and back off Washington military types when they're giving the party line. It doesn't dishonor anyone's service to the country to provide citizens with the ability to ask questions about what the military is doing (remember citizen control of the military?). In some cases, it got our troops some well needed armor. Unfortunately, it didn't happen before Iraq.

Sent by Mike Hass | 10:16 PM | 4-23-2008

Here, the government is acting as a corporation, which it most definitely is. The people expect the truth to come out, but there is nothing in our past experiences to believe that we will get the truth. This idea that the government should give us un-spun information has no backing, and only exists as a pipe dream brought on by our hope to be a "more perfect union".

Sent by Alstroz | 8:40 AM | 4-24-2008

I sent in a comment to NPR yesterday regarding the NYT article on retired military analysts. I referred to NJR (as well as Editor & Publisher), I believe, and I should have referred to AJR. Reading some old material last night -- Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism -- I found her articulate statement of what I was clumsily trying to say. "The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist." That is where I see the subversion of the function of news organizations, and the critical importance of stopping this kind of propaganda coming from the Pentagon.

Sent by Al Renneisen | 2:16 PM | 4-24-2008

Why don't you ask Scales to come on "Talk of the Nation" and ask him to explain himself? Your news editor, even though he would have the staff do a better job vetting commentators(maybe consult Google?), still seems to have great confidence in the General.

Sent by sara webster | 5:01 PM | 4-28-2008