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Nu lede: The disappearing act reappears

COMMENTARY | April 26, 2008

The Pentagon has ceased briefing retired military leaders who went on TV to promote the government’s handling of the Iraq war. The action came five days after the New York Times exposed the program.

By Barry Sussman

The Pentagon announced Friday that it has halted briefings of retired military leaders who were used to manipulate media coverage and drum up support for the government’s handling of the Iraq war.

The story, while discussed widely in the online media, drew almost no mainstream press attention after the New York Times first exposed the program last Sunday.

It did however draw some attention in Congress. On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a speech [see YouTube] on the House floor that the Pentagon was hurting its credibility.

“I am very angry about the issues raised by the New York Times story, as are many of my colleagues who have called me aside to discuss it. The story does not reflect well on the Pentagon, on the military analysts in question, or on the media organizations that employ them,” Skelton said.

News that the Defense Department was halting the briefings first appeared in Stars and Stripes, the military publication. The New York Times, in its editions of April 26th (Saturday), said a Pentagon spokesman said the program “had been suspended indefinitely pending an internal review.”

Also on Saturday, the Times ran seven letters to the editor that expressed outrage with the Defense Department, the retired military leaders and the news media. Wrote one person: “What is shocking is the failure of the national news media to fulfill their duty to investigate their sources, instead of allowing themselves to become a willing propaganda tool for the White House.”

Wrote another: “The real culprits, however, are the lazy, ratings-obsessed TV networks that once again let the public down. Instead of hiring more professional journalists who ostensibly hold ethical allegiance to the truth, they simply pay unscrutinized administration surrogates to feed a confused public Pentagon talking points presented as unbiased expert opinion.”

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