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Military Propaganda Pushed Me off TV

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Editor's Note:

Well, we certainly did get the email last week. We reprinted
an expose of how pro-Israeli groups are infiltrating the
online Wikipedia space to rewrite history favorable to
Israel. Actual emails from the organizer of the initiative
was made available.

It is difficult to understand why so many people objected
to us making this information available. But if you missed
it, here is the link to the story: 

Pro-Israeli Group Manipulating Wikipedia


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Military Propaganda Pushed Me off TV- by Jeff Cohen

In the fall of 2002, week after week in debates televised 
on MSNBC, I argued vigorously against invading Iraq. I 
used every possible argument that might sway mainstream 
viewers - no real threat, cost, instability. But as the 
war neared, my debates were terminated. 

In my 2006 book ""Cable News Confidential," I explained 
why I lost my airtime: 

There was no room for me after MSNBC launched "Countdown: 
Iraq" - a daily one-hour show that seemed more keen on 
glamorizing a potential war than scrutinizing or debating 
it. "Countdown: Iraq" featured retired colonels and 
generals, sometimes resembling boys with war toys as they 
used props, maps and glitzy graphics to spin invasion 
scenarios. They reminded me of pumped-up ex-football 
players doing pre-game analysis and diagramming plays. 
It was excruciating to be sidelined at MSNBC, watching 
so many non-debates in which myth and misinformation 
were served up unchallenged. 

It was bad enough to be silenced. Much worse to see that 
these ex-generals - many working for military corporations 
- were never in debates, nor asked a tough question by an 
anchor. (I wasn't allowed on MSNBC unless balanced by at 
least one truculent right-winger.) 

Except for the brazenness and scope of the Pentagon spin 
program, I wasn't shocked by the recent New York Times 
report exposing how the Pentagon junketed and coached 
the retired military brass into being "message-force 
multipliers" and "surrogates" for Donald Rumsfeld's lethal 

The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld or the Pentagon. 
It's the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, 
it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism. 

No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature 
the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or 
smear weapons expert Scott Ritter. Or blacklist former 
Attorney General Ramsey Clark. It was top NBC/MSNBC execs, 
not the feds, who imposed a quota system on the Donahue 
staff requiring two pro-war guests if we booked one antiwar 
advocate - affirmative action for hawks. 

I'm all for a Congressional investigation into the 
Pentagon's Iraq propaganda operation - which included an 
active-duty general exhorting ex-military-turned-paid-
pundits that "the strategic target remains our population."

But I'm also for keeping the focus and onus on CNN, FOX, 
NBC, ABC, CBS, even NPR - who were partners in the 
Pentagon's mission of "information dominance." And for 
us to see that American TV news remains so corrupt today 
that it has hardly mentioned the Times story on the 
Pentagon's pundits, which was based on 8,000 pages of 
internal Pentagon documents acquired by a successful 
Times lawsuit. 


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It's important to remember that at the same time corporate 
TV outlets voluntarily abandoned journalistic ethics in 
the run-up to Iraq, independent media boomed in audience 
by making totally different journalistic choices. Programs 
like "Democracy Now!" featured genuine experts on Iraq who 
- what a shock! - got the facts right. Independent blogs 
and web sites, propelled by war skepticism, began to soar.

As for the major TV networks, they were not hoodwinked 
by a Pentagon propaganda scheme. They were willingly 
complicit, and have been for decades. As FAIR's director, 
I began questioning top news executives years ago about 
their over-reliance on non-debate segments featuring 
former military brass. After the 1991 Gulf war, CNN and 
other networks realized that their use of ex-generals had 
helped the Pentagon dazzle and disinform the public about 
the conduct of the war. 

CNN actually had me debate the issue of ex-military on TV 
with a retired US Army colonel. Military analysts aren't 
used to debates, and this one got heated: 

ME: You would never dream of covering the environment by 
bringing on expert after expert after expert who had all 
retired from environmental organizations after 20 or 30 
years and were still loyal to those groups. You would never 
discuss the workplace or workers by bringing on expert 
after expert after expert who'd been in the labor movement 
and retired in good standing after 30 years.... When it 
comes to war and foreign policy, you bring on all the 
retired generals, retired secretaries of state. 

THE COLONEL (irritably): What do you want, a tax auditor 
to come in and talk about military strategy? 

ME: You hit it on the nail, Colonel. What you need besides 
the generals and the admirals who can talk about how 
missiles and bombs are dispatched, you need other experts. 
You need experts in human rights, you need medical experts, 
you need relief experts who know what it's like to talk 
about bombs falling on people. 

Before the debate ended, I expressed my doubts that 
corporate media would ever quit their addiction to 
unreliable military sources: "There's this ritual, 
it's a familiar pattern, a routine, where mainstream 
journalists, after the last war or intervention, say, 
'Boy, we got manipulated. We were taken. But next time, 
we're going to be more skeptical.' And then when the next 
time comes, it's the same reporters interviewing the same 
experts, who buy the distortions from the Pentagon." 

A few years later, during the brutal US-NATO bombing of 
Serbia, Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" interviewed CNN 
vice president and anchor Frank Sesno: 

GOODMAN: If you support the practice of putting ex-military 
men, generals, on the payroll to share their opinion during 
a time of war, would you also support putting peace 
activists on the payroll to give a different opinion in 
times of war, to be sitting there with the military 
generals, talking about why they feel that war is not 

SESNO: We bring the generals in because of their expertise 
in a particular area. We call them analysts. We don't bring 
them in as advocates. 

It's clear: War experts are neutral analysts; peace experts 
are advocates. Even when the Pentagon helps select and prep 
the network's military analysts. Shortly after the Iraq 
invasion, CNN's news chief Eason Jordan acknowledged on-air 
that he'd run the names of potential analysts by the 
Pentagon: "We got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was 

Of all the excruciating moments for me - after having been 
terminated by MSNBC along with Phil Donahue and others - 
the worst was watching retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, NBC's 
top military analyst, repeatedly blustering for war on 
Iraq. Undisclosed to viewers, the general was a member 
(along with Lieberman, McCain, Kristol and Perle) of the 
pro-invasion "Committee for the Liberation of Iraq." 

A leading figure in the Pentagon's pundit corps, no one 
spewed more nonsense in such an authoritative voice than 
McCaffrey - for example, on the top-notch advanced planning 
for securing Iraq: "I just got an update briefing from 
Secretary Rumsfeld and his team on what's the aftermath 
of the fighting. And I was astonished at the complexity 
and dedication with which they've gone about thinking 
through this." 

After the invasion began, McCaffrey crowed on MSNBC: 
"Thank God for the Abrams tank and the Bradley fighting 

No federal agency forced NBC and MSNBC to put McCaffrey 
on the air unopposed. No federal agency prevented those 
networks from telling viewers that the general sat on 
the boards of several military contactors, including 
one that made millions for doing God's work on the Abrams 
and Bradley. 

Genuine separation of press and state is one reason 
growing numbers of Americans are choosing independent 
media over corporate media. 

And independent media don't run embarrassing promos of 
the kind NBC was proudly airing in 2003: 

"Showdown Iraq," and only NBC News has the experts. 
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, allied commander during the 
Gulf War. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the most decorated 
four-star general in the Army. Gen. Wayne Downing, 
former special operations commander and White House 
adviser. Ambassador Richard Butler and former UN 
weapons inspector David Kay. Nobody has seen Iraq 
like they have. The experts. The best information 
from America's most-watched news organization, NBC 

Jeff Cohen is the founding director of the Park Center for
Independent Media at Ithaca College. He founded the media
watch group FAIR in 1986.

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