NYT Buried Barstow's Reluctant Pentagon Vindication on Christmas Day

An April 20, 2008 New York Times story by David Barstow, 'MESSAGE MACHINE: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand,' won a Pulitzer Prize for the explosive claim that the Pentagon had cultivated 'military analysts' in a 'trojan horse' campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay.

On December 1, the Washington Times' Rowan Scarborough reported that an investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general, spurred by Barstow's reporting, found no wrongdoing, and quoted a spokesman for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying the New York Times should return its Pulitzer:

The Pentagon's inspector general has released his final report on a Donald H. Rumsfeld-era program for briefing TV and radio military analysts, concluding for a second time that there was no wrongdoing.

The three-year investigation by the inspector general marks the fourth time a federal agency has found no improper conduct in the program.

On possible wrongdoing cited in the 2008 New York Times story, the report says: "We also reviewed the specific examples mentioned in the New York Times article. Based on our interviews, we did not find that the RMA outreach participants used the RMA outreach activities to further their own or the affiliated Defense contractor's interests."


Said Keith Urbahn, spokesman for former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: "Two things ought to happen, though they never will. One, the New York Times should give back its Pulitzer for a story that is now proven to be a fabrication. And two, Sen. Carl Levin should reimburse U.S. taxpayers for what must be the millions of dollars squandered in pursuit of repeated investigations that he ordered to fit his partisan agenda. And while they're at it, the New York Times and the senator from Michigan ought to apologize to the uniformed military officers whose reputations were maligned by their attacks."

But the New York Times itself did not report the Pentagon's vindication until Christmas Day, when most people are occupied with family and fun, and buried it on page A20 under the headline 'Pentagon Finds No Fault In Ties to TV Analysts.' Barstow (who bashed the Tea Party in an ahistorical 4,500-word front-page hit piece in February 2010) also wrote the Christmas Day Pentagon vindication story, and his defensive take was considerably more jaundiced than that of the Washington Times. Of course, Urbahn's demand for a Pulitzer return did not appear.

A Pentagon public relations program that sought to transform high-profile military analysts into 'surrogates' and 'message force multipliers' for the Bush administration complied with Defense Department regulations and directives, the Pentagon's inspector general has concluded after a two-year investigation.

The inquiry was prompted by articles published in The New York Times in 2008 that described how the Pentagon, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, cultivated close ties with retired officers who worked as military analysts for television and radio networks. The articles also showed how military analysts affiliated with defense contractors sometimes used their special access to seek advantage in the competition for contracts. In response to the articles, the Pentagon suspended the program and members of Congress asked the Defense Department's inspector general to investigate.

In January 2009, the inspector general's office issued a report that said it had found no wrongdoing in the program. But soon after, the inspector general's office retracted the entire report, saying it was so riddled with inaccuracies and flaws that none of its conclusions could be relied upon. In late 2009, the inspector general's office began a new inquiry.

The results of the new inquiry, first reported by The Washington Times, confirm that the Pentagon under Donald H. Rumsfeld made a concerted effort starting in 2002 to reach out to network military analysts to build and sustain public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

- Clay Waters is editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.