MCCAFFREY…. David Barstow had a devastating New York Times piece back in April, documenting the practice of retired U.S. generals appearing on the major cable networks as “independent” media analysts, while they were simultaneously working for defense contractors, and repeating talking points from the Pentagon. The painted picture was a train wreck of conflicts of interest and journalistic ethical malpractice.
Today, Barstow has yet another blockbuster, directing his focus to one of the more prominent retired generals: Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general, military analyst for NBC News, and highly-paid consultant to defense contractors.
It’s really worth reading the whole piece, but Spencer Ackerman’s take was spot-on.
If this mammoth New York Times piece is wrong, Barry McCaffrey really ought to sue, because if it isn’t, he has no reputation for integrity left. […]
[T]he scope of McCaffrey’s hustle is really breathtaking. Barstow demonstrates that many, if not most, of the pronouncements he made on TV about the wars benefited one or another defense contractor who employed him. That’s the way the scheme worked: Company hires retired general to use his connections to its benefit. Retired general accepts special grants of access from the office of the secretary of defense that benefit both his TV career and his consulting career. Retired general proclaims on TV things that benefit both the secretary and the company — or, when circumstances necessitate, the company at the expense of the secretary. TV viewer, looking for informed analysis of confusing wars, is unaware of any of this. Welcome to the new military-media-industrial complex.
It’s that bad. As Barstow explained, “On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.”
After Barstow’s report in April, I largely expected the networks to reevaluate their relationships with these “independent” media analysts. That, apparently, hasn’t happened, and NBC News, in particular, seems unconcerned about the obvious conflicts of interest, the lack of disclosure, and the textbook ethical lapses.
The network’s viewers deserve an explanation.