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A Marine general finds retirement pays very nicely

SHOWCASE | December 15, 2009

USA Today weighs into a case of what it calls ‘profiting from access,’ laying out how one retired general has possibly made more than a million dollars in the past six years from the military aside from his pension, not including income from military contractors.

By Barry Sussman

A USA Today cover story Dec. 15 had a headline, “Profiting From Access,” and a subhead, “General’s dual roles for Pentagon, private contractors, raise questions about such arrangements.” The story and illustrations with it do more than raise questions. They portray retired Marine lieutenant general Emil Bedard as getting rich off of these dual roles. One illustration shows a soldier’s helmet with a dollar-sign on it. Another shows four stars, with the words “4 Stars for Hire.”
The general, Eric Bedard, retired in December 2003. He then became a Pentagon adviser, at about $1,600 a day, according to the story, and signed on as a corporate director or consultant with seven military contractors. USA Today figures Bedard’s military pension to be about $124,000 a year and says he earned about $216,000 from January to September 2009 for mentoring military commanders, and an undisclosed amount “to mentor in a five-day Marine war game.”
The story says that over the past six years, Bedard has spent an average of 109 days a year as a mentor for the Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk. At the $1,600-a-day rate that would be more than $1 million. Those figures are in addition to any pay from the military contractors, one of whom reportedly paid Bedard up to $10,000 a month to sell products to the Marine Corps.
The Marines spent $26 million on one such product, a video system, before concluding it wasn’t workable.
The USA Today story is very powerful, and follows one by the newspaper last month saying that “roughly 130 retired generals and admirals have held taxpayer-funded military job as ‘senior mentors’ while also working for defense contractors.”
Together, the pieces seem to flow from the extraordinary Pulitzer prize winning New York Times reporting by David Barstow, who reported in April 2008 that several dozen retired military leaders with ties to groups competing for hundreds of billions in government contracts had for years taken part in a Pentagon campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war. Included were a number of retired generals and other high-ranking officers who were regular contributors on op-ed pages and TV. Barstow did a follow-up piece in November 2008.
After Barstow’s first piece, I raised questions about the failure of other news organizations to do their own reporting on such a major story, or even to make note of what the Times had done. It looks now like USA Today was an exception.
The new USA Today piece raises important questions for the military and the Congress. But once again there’s also a question for the rest of the press: It’s well and good to award Pulitzers for this kind of work, but that’s not enough. How about joining the New York Times and USA Today and reporting the story?

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