This is one of the most important pieces of public-interest journalism in years.
The NYTIMES has uncovered a sophisticated and devilishly well-excuted propaganda campaign by the Pentagon to deploy dozens of retired military officers to the nation's airwaves to parrot administration spin on "progress" in Iraq.
Why would these "military analysts" play ball? Because they uniformly had financial ties to military contractors and saw misinforming the American public a small price to pay to secure inside access and classified information and to ingratiate themselves to decision-makers on the procurement side.
'We knew we had extraordinary access,' said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.
Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that 'some four-star could call up and say, 'Kill that contract.' '
Here's the nut of the story, destined for a Pulitzer:
The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and GuantÃ¡namo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.
These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.'
Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, 'the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.' Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many — although certainly not all — faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.