Pentagon Pundit Expose Gets the Pulitzer

It was a shocking revelation. Exactly one year ago today, the New York Times published an in-depth account of the Pentagon military analyst program, a covert effort to cultivate pundits who are retired military officers as the Bush administration's "message force multipliers." The elaborate -- and presumably costly -- program flourished at the nexus of government war propaganda; the private interests of the officer-pundits, many of whom also worked as lobbyists or consultants for military contractors; and major news organizations that didn't ask tough questions about U.S. military operations while failing to screen their paid commentators for even the most glaring conflicts of interest.

The story was huge, but it wasn't easy to break. It took two years for reporter David Barstow and others at the Times to pry the relevant documents from the Pentagon. Seven months later, Barstow helped us further understand how the U.S. "military-industrial-media complex" works, with another front-page exposé on one spectacularly conflicted Pentagon pundit, Barry McCaffrey.

On April 20, David Barstow received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, for his work on the Pentagon pundit story.

He richly deserves the honor, which is his second Pulitzer. Barstow's meticulous reporting and understanding of the dire implications of media manipulation -- this is the same Times reporter who laid bare the federal government's increasing use of video news releases, or "fake TV news" -- are truly remarkable.

The Pentagon pundit program was illegal, as Sheldon Rampton and I have pointed out. From early 2002 right up until the program was outed by the Times, Defense Department officials secretly sought to influence U.S. public opinion, working through supposedly independent figures or "third parties" to obscure the government's role. Using high-level private briefings, specially-crafted persuasive materials and free overseas trips, the Pentagon easily spun media coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Guantanamo Bay detention center and warrant-less wiretapping.

Will the Pulitzer Prize remind members of Congress that no one has yet been held accountable? Will they find the political will to enforce and strengthen the restrictions on government propaganda? Will the Government Accountability Office and the Federal Communications Commission finally complete and release their investigations into the Pentagon pundit program, or will the Pentagon's whitewash job be allowed to stand as the only official report on the matter?

Hopefully this year's Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting will not only recognize a stellar journalist, but also renew our collective commitment to news media free of propaganda.

Diane Farsetta is the Center for Media and Democracy's senior researcher.

You can delve into the Pentagon pundit documents, too! CMD has made text searchable versions available via our SourceWatch site. You can also do keyword searches on; just follow this link to our "Pentagon pundit" document group. Please add your findings to the Pentagon military analyst program article and/or other relevant SourceWatch articles. Thanks!


I heard of one of those 'covert appearances': "Major General John Batiste was offered a promotion to become a three-star general, the second-highest-ranking military officer in Iraq. Instead, he quit over the war. After he appeared in a commercial for, CBS News fired him as a paid news consultant. collected 230,000 signatures on a petition demanding he be rehired." Funny thing about this "dissident general" - he's still for the Iraq War: "AMY GOODMAN: Do you think, General Batiste, that it was wrong for the United States to invade Iraq, March 19, 2003? MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: You know, that’s all hindsight, and we certainly could debate that forever. The point is, we are where we are." That's a funny kind of dissent... probably it was all just a staged event, part of the "new strategy" PR line put out around that time.