April 23, 2008

Did you say pretty please with sugar on top?

I'm reluctant to criticize David Barstow, whose New York Times article on the Pentagon's force-message multipliers was so terrific -- not just important but interesting. But I did find his answer to one reader's question somewhat... lacking.

Q. While this is an excellent piece of reporting in covering the relationship between the networks' star military analysts and the Pentagon, the networks themselves essentially get a free pass. To say that the networks simply neglected to investigate conflicts of interest obscures the fact that overall there was a huge gap between the picture of the war presented through news reporting and that presented through so-called expert analysis. That gap must have been as obvious to the networks themselves as it was to anyone else. The editors and executives who made no effort to close that gap have questions to answer. Why did you not dig more deeply into the network side of this story?

— Paul Woodward, Asheville, N.C.

A. We did dig into the network side of this story. Two networks, CBS and Fox News, declined to answer any questions about their use of military analysts, including what specific steps they took to vet them for business ties that could pose conflicts and what ethical guidelines they established for them. NBC would not allow any executives to be interviewed, but released a short statement saying it had “clear policies in place’’ to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. Spokesmen for CNN and ABC said that while their military analysts were expected to keep them informed of outside sources of income, neither network had written ethics policies governing potential conflicts of interest with their analysts. But the question you raise – why didn’t the network news executives try to “close the gap’’ between what journalists were reporting and what some analysts were saying – is a good one. One possible answer: Several analysts said in interviews that network news officials tended to defer to their experience and expertise in military matters.

Um, they declined to answer questions, released short statements and gave non-answers -- and that's the end of the story? I'm not exactly sure I'd call that "digging." Good thing Barstow had better sources in the Pentagon than at the networks -- but why didn't the Times pair him with someone who does have good TV news sources? Surely they can't all be working for the Journal.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


ah! the media and politics... how can we trust them?
check this video on youtube for a clue:


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