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Posted on Jun 9, 2008
By Scott Ritter
Scott McClellan is correct to point out the complicity of the media in facilitating the rush to war. David Gregory is disingenuous in his denial that this was indeed the case. Jeff Cohen, a former producer at MSNBC, has written about the pressures placed on him and Phil Donahue leading to the cancellation of the latter’s top-rated television show just before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Katie Couric, the former co-host of NBC’s “Today” show (and current news anchor for CBS News), has tacitly acknowledged “pressure” from above when it came to framing interviews in a manner that was detrimental to the Bush administration’s case for war. Jessica Yellin, who before the war in Iraq worked for MSNBC, put it best: “I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings.”
Now, one would think that a journalist with the self-proclaimed integrity of Gregory would jump at the opportunity to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and focus on this story line, if for no other reason than to prove it wrong and thereby clear his name (guilty by association, at the very least) and the name of the organization he represents. The matter is simple, on the surface: NBC network executives either did, or didn’t, pressure their producers and reporters when it came to covering and framing stories. Surely an investigative reporter of Gregory’s talent can get to the bottom of this one?
While Gregory certainly does not need help from someone of such humble journalistic credentials as myself, perhaps my experience as a former weapons inspector in tracking down the lies and inconsistencies of the Iraqi government could be of some assistance. The first thing I would do is to frame the scope of the problem. The issue of Iraq as a target worthy of war really didn’t hit the mainstream until the summer of 2002, so I would start there. I would be interested in defining the potential sources of “pressure” that could be placed on NBC as an organization when it came to reporting on Iraq.
We do know, courtesy of the Pentagon, that throughout the summer and fall of 2002, NBC News, via its Pentagon bureau chief and other contacts, worked closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs, on the issue of media access in any potential future conflict with Iraq. We also know that these meetings were an outgrowth of a meeting held on Sept. 28, 2001, when the Pentagon and bureau chiefs, including representatives from NBC News, discussed how to balance the needs of the media to do their job with protecting national security and the safety of military personnel. The issue of embedding media personnel with the military was raised, with the Pentagon emphasizing that “security at the source” was the principle means for which to ensure no security breach occurred. This meant that if journalists were so embedded, they would have to be responsible about what they reported.
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However, in the interest of establishing a foundation of fact upon which to further any investigation into the possibility of pressure being exerted on NBC reporters and/or correspondents covering a war between the United States and Iraq, an intrepid investigator would want access to documents and records from those early meetings between the Pentagon and NBC News. What were the specific terms spelled out in those meetings? What derivative internal documents were generated inside NBC News, and its corporate master, General Electric, based upon those meetings, and what did those documents discuss? Unlike the situation faced by journalists during World War II, America and Iraq were not yet at war, so did NBC News establish policies on how to balance the operational security needs of the military while reporting on a war which, in the summer and fall of 2002, the Bush administration said wasn’t being planned?
Formal planning for “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (only later renamed “Operation Iraqi Freedom”) commenced early on in 2002. The U.S. Army began working on a public affairs plan early in 2002 and, in June of that year, briefed U.S. Central Command on a concept for large-scale media embedding for ground forces. U.S. Central Command expanded the Army’s plan to include the other services, and by September 2002 had prepared a draft public affairs annex to the overall war plan. Formal public affairs planning for U.S. Central Command was initiated in October 2002, when a planning cell was established. In its first meeting, from Oct. 2 to 7, the Pentagon reviewed past media operations in time of war, and recommended a break with the past practice of a media pool, and instead suggested a formal embedded media program. These and other media-related issues were consolidated into Annex F (Public Affairs) of the formal “Operation Iraqi Liberation” war plan. It is curious that the Pentagon acknowledges a formal war plan in existence at a time when senior Bush administration officials were telling members of Congress that there were no plans to attack Iraq and that the Bush administration was focusing its efforts on diplomacy.
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