In April, the Times published a 7,600-word story on how major news networks presented as their own military "analysts" former officers who were on the payroll of major defense contractors and who had received talking points in special Pentagon briefings. The networks declined to cover the story and the scandal never caught fire. The newspaper's solution? Recast the story to focus on a single villain, retired General Barry McCaffrey, who NBC News' Brian Williams defended as a "passionate patriot" the last time around.
Wrote BriWion his NBC News blog: "At no time did our analysts, on my watch or to my knowledge, attempt to push a rosy Pentagon agenda before our viewers. I think they are better men than that, and I believe our news division is better than that."
But the Times severely undercut this conclusion by expanding its coverage of McCafferty from two sentences in its prior exposé to the entire focus of its new one, detailing his tight working relationship with many defense contractors that benefited hugely from the policies he advocated on NBC News. Among the embarrassing details:
- NBC News President Steve Capus told the Times he didn't know McCafferty had a deal worth $10,000 per month plus a cut of profits for a company angling to to supply 8,000 translators to U.S. forces in Iraq. CNN severed ties with one of their own analysts over the same contract, but McCafferty was allowed to appear on NBC and argue against a withdrawal from Iraq, a withdrawal that would have rendered his translator deal worthless.
- McCafferty was on NBC saying the war would end in "21 days or less" even while, by his own testimony years later, he was telling the Defense Department he thought their force was "grossly anemic." At the time he was a consultant to military contractor Veritas, a startup that hoped to go public on the strength of fast-growing military spending, and was receiving special Pentagon briefings.
- After McCafferty told Katie Courix on Today that the military was in a "risky position" in Iraq, his Pentagon access was cut off. He had "to punt," his former flack Robert Weiner told the Times. He quickly reversed his position and told Williams he was "100 percent behin what the administration.... is doing in Iraq."
- NBC told the Times all of McCafferty's conflicts of interest were listed on his website, not realizing the site included only his board memberships, not his clients or all his positions on special advisory boards.
Sadly, the Times' story still probably won't go anywhere. NBC News may cut off McCafferty quietly in a few months. But in the meantime the financial meltdown and presidential transition will give the networks the perfect excuse to ignore the story.