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'Message Force Multiplier' Scandal: Networks Assailed For 'Deafening Silence'

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Michael Calderone and Avi Zenilman run down the ongoing effort to get network and cable news outlets to come clean on their use of "message force multipliers" - government employees who presented themselves as "retired" military analysts who have been dedicated and dutiful pimps of the White House diktat on the Iraq War.

In the face of what these Politico reporters capture as a "deafening silence," Democratic Reps Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and John Dingell (D-MI) have been joined by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John Kerry (D-MA), as well as FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, in calling for an accounting. DeLauro sent letters to executives at the networks named in the original New York Times storybreaker, to which only CNN and ABC have responded.

Calderone and Zenilman capture the networks in what amounts to a "blackout" of this story:

"We are in a time when stories can have a second life," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. A few years ago, if a story did not generate attention after a week, it could be considered dead, said Rosenstiel, who cited the instance of how bloggers revived the U.S. attorney firings story.

Rosenstiel's organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story and found that out of approximately 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts scoop -- both airing on PBS's "NewsHour."

Besides being "an important story," "NewsHour" executive producer Linda Winslow said that following up was necessary because of remaining concerns about information the public was given during the run-up to the Iraq war.

None of the analysts in the Times story appeared on "NewsHour," according to Winslow, but as Barstow reported, they did appear on NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and CNN.

Andrew Tyndall, an independent television analyst who monitors the nightly newscasts, said the broadcast networks rarely do "self-criticism stories." However, he added, "this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online."

The piece makes mention of the weak-kneed attempt made by NBC's Brian Williams to walk back the story. Williams received some furious pushback from Glenn Greenwald and Dan Kennedy, and the whole matter took on a different resonance entirely after MSNBC's Chris Matthews admitted that his bosses were, in his words, "basically pro-war during the war."

Of course, as we've documented here, the New York Times themselves have hardly been robust at following this story, but there are clear opportunities emerging now for this news to become amplified, even beyond the efforts of Congress. Yesterday, the Department of Defense did a made a plethora of documents related to the "message force multiplier" program available to the public. MediaMatters has already highlighted an audio exchange between then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and "several military media analysts":

...One of the documents released is an audio recording of an April 18, 2006, meeting that several military analysts attended with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During the meeting, one of the attendees tells Rumsfeld, "[W]e get beat up on television sometimes when we go on and we are debating" and says that he would "personally love" for Rumsfeld "to take the offensive, to just go out there and just crush these people so that when we go on, we're -- forgive me -- we're parroting, but it's what has to be said. It's what we believe in, or we would not be saying it." The individual adds: "And we'd love to be following our leader, as indeed you are. You are the leader. You are our guy."

The relevant transcript is available here, along with a list of "confirmed participants." MediaMatters asks the obvious question: "Will media outlets try to determine if they have hosted the person who asserted that Rumsfeld was 'our guy' and suggested that he would 'parrot[]' Rumsfeld's statements?"