About Face on Pentagon Pundits?

The continuing saga of the Pentagon pundit program just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser, as Alice in Wonderland might say.

From 2002 to 2008, the Defense Department secretly cultivated more than 70 retired military officers who frequently serve as media commentators. Initially, the goal was to use them as “message force multipliers,” to bolster the Bush administration’s Iraq War sell job. That went so well that the covert program to shape U.S. public opinion — an illegal effort, by any reasonable reading of the law — was expanded to spin everything from then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s job performance to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to the Guantanamo Bay detention center to warrantless wiretapping.

In April 2008, shortly after the New York Times first reported on the Pentagon’s pundits — an in-depth exposé that recently won the Times’ David Barstow his second Pulitzer Prize — the Pentagon suspended the program. In January 2009, the Defense Department Inspector General’s office released a report claiming “there was an ‘insufficient basis’ to conclude that the program had violated laws.” Representative Paul Hodes, one of the program’s many Congressional critics, called the Inspector General’s report “a whitewash.”

Now, it seems as though the Pentagon agrees.

On May 5, the Defense Department Inspector General’s office announced that it was withdrawing its report on the Pentagon pundit program, even removing the file from its website. (You can still download the report from our website by clicking here.)

“Shortly after publishing the report … we became aware of inaccuracies in the data,” states the “withdrawal memo” (pdf) from the Inspector General’s office. The office’s internal review of the report — which it has “refused to release,” according to the Times — “concluded that the report did not meet accepted quality standards.” The report relied on “insufficient or inconclusive” evidence, the memo admits. In addition, “former senior [Defense Department] officials who devised and managed” the Pentagon pundit program — including Victoria Clarke and Lawrence DiRita — “refused our requests for an interview.”

While the Inspector General’s “highly unusual” about-face is welcome, it gets us no closer to accountability. “Additional investigative work will not be undertaken,” the withdrawal memo states, because the Pentagon pundit program “has been terminated and responsible senior officials” — such as Allison Barber — “are no longer employed by the Department.”

Of course, accountability for the Pentagon pundit program was never likely to come from the Defense Department itself. Now it’s up to Congress to demand — and the Government Accountability Office and the Federal Communications Commission to carry out — real investigations into the elaborate propaganda campaign.

DIANE FARSETTA is the Center for Media and Democracy’s senior researcher. She can be reached at: diane@prwatch.org

More articles by:

DIANE FARSETTA is the Center for Media and Democracy’s senior researcher. She can be reached at: diane@prwatch.org

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South