NBC's on-the-record response to the New York Times' David Barstow regarding his front-page story on their war-profiteering hack retired general Barry McCaffrey is pretty choice, as it's both filled with obvious factual inaccuracies and obtuse point-missing diversions. This is a letter from one major news outlet to another, remember, though it doesn't read like one. The whole thing, obtained by Salon's Glenn Greenwald, is below.
From: Gollust, Allison (NBC Universal)
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2008 11:35 AM
To: [David Barstow]
Cc: Capus, Steve (NBC Universal); McCormick, David (NBC Universal)
Subject: From NBC News
Dear Mr. Barstow:
Here is our on the record response to your request.
Before we address the issues you have raised with your current article, it bears repeating that we remain very concerned about your first article. We believe it left your readers with an inaccurate and incomplete picture of the NBC News military analysts. It ignored the criticism expressed by our analysts of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon strategy in Iraq. Further, it suggested that every military analyst listed or pictured in the NY Times article became a conduit for unfiltered propaganda.
This is a gross distortion of the truth as it relates to the NBC News analysts.
With regard to General Barry McCaffrey, it was evident you were aware of his critical remarks because you acknowledged them in your emails to the General even before the article was published. Yet, you left this important contextual information out of your article. Our lingering concerns have only been reinforced by your most recent email to us with questions regarding General McCaffrey, some of which are based on false assumptions.
The basic premise that General McCaffrey profited from his on-air appearances defies logic given the critical tone of the General’s repeated comments regarding Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon.
We've yet to see concrete proof of a correlation between any of his outside business interests and his statements made on our air. Truly, the opposite appears to be the case. General McCaffrey put himself at odds with the Pentagon decision makers time and time again — not only on NBC's air, but in his public appearances and many writings. In fact, he has lost potential outside opportunities precisely because he had made an ethical decision to be objective and make critical comments when warranted.
Our relationship with General McCaffrey is based on trust, a basic tenant of journalism. He has provided us with periodic, detailed reports on his outside activities and meetings. He has assured us that he is not directly incentivized in any of his outside business relationships. We have agreed that he would either recuse himself from any discussion where a conflict might exist or disclose a relationship should that be necessary.
General McCaffrey is a retired Four Star General, a two-time recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor. He is one of the foremost experts on defense matters and has earned a reputation for his independent thinking.
We are proud to have General Barry McCaffrey as a member of the NBC News organization, where he provides objective and non-partisan analysis. He is a true American hero who is not afraid to speak his mind even if it sometimes ruffles some feathers in Washington. We believe our viewers have been, and will continue to be, well served by his incisive and thoughtful comments.
—-— Original Message —-—
From: BARRY MCCAFFREY
To: McCormick, David (NBC Universal)
Cc: Brian NBC-Williams ; Elena NBC-Nachmanoff ; Steve NBC-Capus
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2008 12:01 AM
Subject: Re: From NBC News
Very balanced, objective response.
Underscores my view of NBC as an enterprise based on journalistics ethics—- and courage.
Proud to be associated with this team of professionals.
To start: as the Times piece did actually point out, each time McCaffrey criticized Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, they threatened to cut him off and he walked those criticisms all the way back. Because he was repeating Pentagon talking points and couldn't jeopardize his good favor with the Pentagon by being critical, because that would jeopardize his consulting firm's ability to get their clients access to the Pentagon, which is the gist of the massive ethical clusterfuck that NBC refuses to acknowledge. Further: McCaffrey provided NBC with "periodic, detailed reports on his outside activities and meetings," which revealed relationships and conflicts that they didn't feel the need to inform the viewers about, because McCaffrey promised he was totally independent and his word was good enough for them.
Is it crazy that a major media company with a legendary news division just doesn't understand the concept of a conflict of interest? Television news is more "consultant" heavy and flack-driven and non-transparent than just about any other medium besides maybe mp3 blogging. The idea that a man being introduced on television as an independent voice of expertise is actually specifically shilling for a client that has paid him to appear on television as an expert and advance their commercial goals is to be expected. Let's not forget NBC-employed Dan Abrams' inability to understand why some people might think his "I'll connect you with a working journalist to help you get the best coverage you can afford" firm is a crazy ethical mess.
But what makes McCaffrey even worse, even more gross, is that he combines the usual slimy PR bullshit of all television news, from the health reports to the entertainment news, with, you know, war profiteering. And, as a product of both the military-industrial complex and the beltway media, he simply doesn't understand how anyone could think him anything less than a paragon of virtue. As Spencer Ackerman puts it, "the scope of McCaffrey's hustle is really breathtaking." And Barry's defense of his actions rests on this: "Thirty-seven years of public service. Four combat tours. Wounded three times." FIVE-AND-A-HALF YEARS, ALAN. Christ.