Few journalists are the target of as much (justifiable) criticism, here and elsewhere, as CNN's and The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz is. But one must give some credit where it's due. He's one of the very few establishment media figures to cover in any meaningful way what ought to be the "military analyst" scandal, first revealed by the New York Times' David Barstow. Kurtz has written a Post column on it, discussed it on his CNN show last week, and then again this week devoted a segment to the story that included a relatively decent, adversarial interview of former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita.
There are all sorts of valid criticisms one can make about how Kurtz has covered the story. But compared to the rest of the establishment press, which -- despite their being at the center of the scandal -- have clammed up in Kremlin-like fashion and ignored the story almost completely, Kurtz's attempt to cover the story and address its central points is commendable. Today, in his Washington Post chat, he opined as to why the media has largely refused to address the allegations against them:
I don't agree that the MSM cover war and economics poorly but I do think their coverage of this important issue has been pathetic. I covered the controversy stemming from the NYT story on "Reliable Sources" the last two weeks; yesterday I had Don Rumsfeld's former Pentagon spokesman and a retired colonel who was a military analyst for NBC. If there has been any coverage of this on CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC or Fox, I've missed it. The story makes the networks look bad, and their response, by and large, has been to ignore it.
Kurtz's specific criticism of the media's behavior regarding this story highlights a broader and even more important point. In general, the establishment media almost completely excludes critiques of their own behavior, and discussions of the role the media plays in bolstering deceitful narratives is missing almost entirely from media-controlled discourse.
One of the most significant political stories of this decade, if not this generation -- the media's full-scale complicity with the Government in the run-up to the Iraq war -- has never been meaningfully discussed or examined on any establishment television network, including cable shows. While piecemeal quibbles of media coverage can be heard (of the type Kurtz typically spouts, or the Limbaugh-driven complaint about the "liberal media"), no fundamental critique of the role the media plays, the influence of its corporate ownership, its incestuous relationship with and dependence on government power -- among the most influential factors driving our political life -- are ever heard. That is the case for exactly the reason Kurtz today pointed to in explaining the blackout of the military analyst story ("The story makes the networks look bad, and their response, by and large, has been to ignore it").
The military analyst story is far more about the corruption of our establishment media outlets than it is about Pentagon improprieties (though both are implicated). That's why protests and demands for information of the kind sent by Rep. Rosa DeLauro are being directed to network executives. As Rep. DeLauro pointed out, these networks served as an outlet for "a domestic propaganda program." It is hard to imagine an accusation against their integrity and core function more serious than that.
And yet, as Ari Melber of The Nation has pointed out, even the Pentagon -- which, after fighting the NYT's efforts to compel disclosure of these documents, announced that they were suspending their briefings of military analysts -- has been more responsive to the story than the media outlets which participated so actively in these propaganda efforts. The media organizations feel perfectly free not only to refuse to report on this story, but even to refuse to account for their own behavior. Media companies simply freeze out -- try to render invisible -- any matters that reflect negatively on what they really do, what their true function is. They propagandize most vigilantly when it comes to stories revealing the true role they play in our political culture.
UPDATE: The Nation's Ari Melber, who has been doing a superb job covering this story, has another piece with several new updates, including statements of condemnation from both the Clinton and Obama campaigns, issued for the first time today -- eight days after the story was first reported. McCain has still not commented at all. Melber notes:
McCain's refusal to comment on the program is unsurprising, given his staunch support for every major aspect of the President's Iraq policy. However, the Democratic candidates' delay in responding is more complicated. There has been a virtual blackout of the topic on television news, so the candidates have not been pressed in recent interviews, such as Obama's Fox appearance on Sunday. And the issue is politically delicate because it implicates the conduct of retired generals. The campaigns were careful to criticize the administration, not the generals, who hold a hallowed position in foreign policy discourse. The Clinton Campaign even stressed that its criticism did not impugn "the honor and patriotism of our dedicated career military officers," and neither candidate advocated a congressional or independent inquiry. . . .Most of the television networks, however, have repeatedly refused to comment on the story, let alone change their policies.
He also notes that "The Chairs of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee [Carl Levin and Ike Skelton] have also called for internal investigations by the Defense Department." Given that there are likely violations of federal law prohibiting domestic propaganda campaigns by the military, it is really Congress that ought to investigate, not "internal" investigators at the Pentagon. After all, as Melber notes, the Pentagon actively resisted disclosure of this story in the first place. The idea that they can be entrusted to investigate themselves -- the definition these days of "oversight" -- is absurd.