(updated below - Update II)
Throughout most of Donald Rumsfeld's tenure as Defense Secretary, his top aide, particularly for communications, was Larry Di Rita. Di Rita left the Pentagon in 2006 to become spokesman for the Bank of America Corp. His duties at the Pentagon included the maintenance of the "military analyst" program which was exposed recently by The New York Times' David Barstow.
As I noted over the weekend, it was DiRita who, in early 2005, received the most explicit and comprehensive Memorandum about the functions and purposes of the analyst program -- "we develop a core group from within our media analyst list of those that we can count on to carry our water"; "by providing them with key and valuable information, they become the key go to guys for the networks and it begins to weed out the less reliably friendly analysts by the networks themselves"; "This trusted core group will be more than willing to work closely with us because we are their bread and butter." In reply, Di Rita expressly endorsed this description: "I think it makes a lot of sense to do as you suggest and I guess I thought we were already doing a lot of this . . . . We ought to be doing this."
But before the DoD released these emails to the public, Di Rita -- on April 27, 2008 -- appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources, was questioned by Howard Kurtz about the program's purposes, and made statements that, as we now know from those documents, were completely false (h/t John Amato via email):
KURTZ: I talked to retired Colonel Bill Cowan, who was a Fox military analyst. He said that three years ago, after he criticized the war effort on "The O'Reilly Factor," he was booted off the group, was never invited to another briefing, never got another telephone call, never got another e-mail. So it sounds like access was provided to those who weren't too critical.
DI RITA: I don't know anything. I heard -- I saw that in the story. I've heard other assertions to that effect. It was certainly not the intent.
What Di Rita denied knowing about -- that "access was provided to those who weren't too critical" -- was exactly what the plan he endorsed provided (i.e., for the group "we can count on to carry our water": "by providing them with key and valuable information, they become the key go to guys for the networks and it begins to weed out the less reliably friendly analysts by the networks themselves"). The Memorandum Di Rita received and approved could not have been any clearer about the propagandistic and almost certainly illegal purposes of this program, and Di Rita's denial that he ever heard any such thing discussed is as brazenly dishonest as it gets.
I emailed Di Rita over the weekend, asking him to explain this obvious, glaring discrepancy (email is here). The same day, Di Rita sent two replies -- the first one was filled with formalistic denials of wrongdoing (here), while the second reply -- sent after he read the column I wrote about the Memorandum he approved -- was more rambling, informal and specific in its denials (here). There is little that is worth responding to in Di Rita's emails. The conflict between (a) what Di Rita said in the DoD emails (and how these emails demonstrate the program worked) and (b) what he told Kurtz (and Bartsow) is so transparent, glaring and irreconcilable that there is little for him to say in response.
In sum, Di Rita's claim that these discrepancies are created by "interpreting snippets" of 3-year-old emails is absurd. I quoted Di Rita's email in full, and quoted roughly 75-80% of the lengthy Memorandum he received laying out in crystal clear, extremely incriminating detail the true purpose and function of this domestic propaganda program. What Di Rita received and endorsed was not some "email snippet" but, rather, a formal, comprehensive proposal -- complete with section headings and formal recommendations -- and it is not subject to "interpretation." These are the contemporaneous documents which lay out how this program functioned, created in a setting where the participants never thought that anyone would find out what they were doing.
Additionally, Di Rita's claim that the briefing program constantly included critics of the administration is just false. The examples he cites -- Joe Galloway and Barry McCaffrey (one of the most vocal supporters of the invasion of Iraq) -- actually attended very few of the briefing sessions. Instead, as I've repeatedly documented, the program was filled with the same small group of retired military officers masquerading as independent analysts who explicitly sought to be told what to say, and were told what to say, in order -- as the Memo Di Rita embraced -- to "carry our water."
As for yet one more example, the Pentagon, on June 1, 2006, held a private briefing for their select group of analysts on the Haditha shootings and investigations, which was becoming increasingly controversial. Here is the email sent by CBS military analyst, retired Gen. Jeffrey McCausland, after he appeared on CNN to talk about Haditha:
So McCausland, while masquerading as an independent analyst for CBS and CNN, was telling the Pentagon that his real goal was "trying to put the best possible face" on controversies involving the Pentagon. There are literally countless examples of this over and over. Yet compare that to Di Rita's denial when asked by Kurtz about the goal of the program:
KURTZ: Larry Di Rita, were you, the Pentagon, Don Rumsfeld, trying to get a positive message out through these TV analysts, these retired military men, who appeared to the viewer at home to be Independent?
LAWRENCE DI RITA, FMR. PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Positive, no. I think our objective was a balance, a richer set of understandings.
The analysts themselves said their purpose was to "put the best possible face" on these matters, yet Di Rita can still, with a straight face, go on television and deny that the purpose of the program was "to get a positive message out through these TV analysts." The Memorandum which Di Rita approved explicitly said that the program was designed to weed out of media coverage any analysts who weren't "reliably friendly" by providing access only to pro-Pentagon sources, yet Di Rita sits there and denies that this was its purpose.
This brazenness is the result of allowing our high government officials to break the law and lie continuously with total impunity. There is no limit on their willingness to engage in behavior of this sort, because they remain secure that there will never be any consequences. Until that expectation is altered, the behavior will continue unchanged.
UPDATE: Within minutes of posting this, I received the following email from Di Rita:
You factually misrepresented in several ways what I said in my note to you yesterday. I have nothing to add about the program.
One factual error that I ask you to corect (sic): I did not tell you or anyone else that either Joe Galloway or Barry McCaffrey were part of any particular program. I said we reached out to them in various ways.
Please correct your inaccuracy in this regard.
I linked to both of Di Rita's email replies in full, so everyone can judge for themselves as to the validity of his vague, unspecified claim that I "factually misrepresented in several ways what [he] said in [his] note."
As to the one specific claimed inaccuracy, just compare what he wrote today ("I did not tell you or anyone else that either Joe Galloway or Barry McCaffrey were part of any particular program") to what he wrote in his email (citing Galloway and McCaffrey as examples disproving Col. Cowan's claim that they excluded people from the program who criticized them). In any event, if -- as Di Rita says today -- Galloway and McCaffrey weren't included in the military analyst briefings (and, for the vast, vast bulk of the briefings, if not all, they weren't), then, obviously, those aren't examples of retired Generals being included in this program despite being critics of the administration. To the contrary, as the Di Rita-endorsed Memorandum made clear, the program was only for people willing to "carry their water" and who would remain "reliably friendly." That's precisely why it's a "propaganda" program, by definition.
UPDATE II: In comments, Jestapelero, a criminal prosecutor, makes several good points about Di Rita's replies.
It should also be noted that this military analyst program is but one small sliver of the Pentagon's overall media management effort, which, in turn, is but one small sliver of the administration's general efforts to manipulate public opinion. We're only seeing these documents and the elaborate wrongdoing they establish because the NYT was so dogged in attempting to compel the DoD to disclose them, even while the Pentagon fought tenaciously to avoid having to do so, to the point where they were threatened with sanctions by a federal judge. But this is just one discrete, isolated program. Most of what this government has done -- including, certainly, its most incriminating behavior -- remains concealed by the unprecedented wall of secrecy behind which this administration operates.