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May 2, 2008
Military ‘Analysts’ Are Not Journalists, And It Shows
There has been some sound and fury over The New York
Times investigation of former generals used as analysts for the
major cable networks. Sadly, as is so often the case, it misses the
of it supposes that the generals were easy dupes of the Pentagon, given
manipulated information that was simply issued forth during newscasts as
Well, what was anyone to expect? These are former generals, men trained
to command large groups of men in battle, not journalists.
There is good reason to point fingers at this small group of people.
They were, at one time, entrusted with some of the nation’s most
important national security secrets. They were, at one time, given the
responsibility, should circumstances dictate, to send men to their
deaths. And yet, when the nation needed them the most to question their
orders, they instead chose to buy the company line.
According to The Times article, former MSNBC military analyst
Kenneth Allard, who taught information warfare at the National Defense
University, said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”
the uninitiated, information warfare is precisely that . . . waging
warfare through propaganda. It’s been used throughout American military
history, from convincing the Germans that the Allies planned to land at
the Pas de Calais instead of Normandy, right up to the first Gulf War,
when airplanes dropped leaflets on Iraqi military formations warning of
imminent landings by U.S. Marines. It is irony at its most basic that an
information warfare instructor would have fallen prey to propaganda.
problem, however, is that these so-called former generals lack one thing
. . . they are not journalists. This is a phenomenon, it is worth
pointing out, that is rearing its ugly head at a time when the public
is an important distinction, because it strikes at how someone is
trained. Journalists, even those who don’t go to journalism school, are
trained to be skeptical of information. Generals have been trained
throughout their career for something else, which is to win wars. Some
may be equipped with a personal sense of skepticism, but this is about
an individual’s strengths and not a profession.
is troubling is that this appears to be something of a trend. Back in
the early ’90s, there were studies published that suggested successful
journalists would first be successful in their field because they would
There is something to that. Knowing and understanding something is
critical to being able to ask intelligent questions. On the other hand,
there is a price for that familiarity, which is that you don’t come to
the table with the same healthy skepticism that might help do what
journalism is designed to do – gore sacred cows, and ask questions no
one’s thought to ask.
is something that goes beyond generals and war. During big primary
elections this year, cable news networks have opted to go for partisan
talking heads rather than people who can offer insight. How else to
explain Bill Bennett, whose great claim to fame has thus far been as a
conservative morality scold, working as a political analyst for CNN?
ties this all together at its core is the difference in professions. It
can’t be said enough: You cannot expect honest, objective, useful
analysis out of people who have been trained to do otherwise. This is
true of generals describing war. Many of them can be expected to throw
their lot in unquestionably with how the war is being waged, not with
whether the war is warranted in the first place.
is difficult enough to get honest, important questions from the media as
it is today, without the added interference of people who cannot – by
virtue of training – be expected to pursue objective truth. That is why
it is important today that the quest for an informed public start with
asking whether those who present information are properly equipped to do
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