Old Soldiers …

It’s been said old soldiers never die — they just go to CNN, FOX, NBC, or wherever to do the Pentagon’s unabashed bidding. 

That’s what a recent The New York Times article reported — as news. Oddly, it wasn’t written by one of the purported Pentagon potted plants. This is cutting-edge journalism? We’re still left wondering: Where’s the story? 

The New York Times reported that military analysts who appear on network and cable news (you know the ones) have been fed their info by Pentagon royalty. Admittedly, DoD began assembling its own team of retired all-stars for the purpose of “information dominance” in 2002. The Pentagon would brief these guys and provide them with talking points — et voila! Off went these bad boys to talking headdom. 

We find this story curious, because the “tactic” highlighted is no different than that used with members of media and, oh yes, members of Congress. Passing information can be as simple as a briefing. It can be more involved as with embedding journalists with combat units to facilitate (hopefully) favorable reporting. We think studies have shown reports from embeds skew favorably toward the military. There’s a shocker. (Something about interpersonal relationships, we think.) A Pentagon media roundtable is another example. “Star” talks, journalists listen, ask questions, file stories about what talking star said. 

We would think that broadcast news outlets, many of which really are one step shy of a “Jerry Springer” episode, would check out the talking stars before approving their appearance. But it seems they really have not paid much attention, and we’re unsure how this comes back to the Pentagon. It appears there might be some ethical questions, and The New York Times cited all-stars’ defense contractor dealings, lobbying, and the like, which again seems to be a matter between the networks and stars. It seems reasonable that the all-stars would having post active-duty professions not counting work as a talking head because an appearance fee of $0 up to maybe $1,000 is not enough to keep these guys stocked in Cubans or the Armanis the bright lights and lenses love. 

If the talking stars are simply going to parrot what they’ve heard from Pentagon without independent analysis, that’s unfortunate, and maybe the networks should let them fly the coop. Our guess is the news outlets are using these guys for credibility and ratings and not for what they have to say. Washington is about access and information in all directions, so we’re reasonably sure most are comfortable with the current arrangement.

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