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Shameful Days: Why Won't The Media Pursue the Pentagon Propaganda Scandal?

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The last ten days have been among the most shameful in the history of American journalism.

On April 20th, the New York Times published its expose of the Bush administration's use of Pentagon-approved, prepped, and financially-enriched "military analysts" to appear on TV to help sell the invasion of Iraq, and then put a positive spin on the occupation -- even as conditions on the ground deteriorated.

It was a powerful illustration of the Bush administration's commitment to propaganda and disinformation. But it was also a damning indictment of the mainstream media's complicity in the wholesale deception of the American public on the single most important decision a country can make -- the decision to go to war.

How big a story was it? John Stauber of the Center for Media and Democracy called it the Pentagon Papers of the Iraq war.

So it only stands to reason that a story this explosive would quickly become the subject of extensive follow-ups by TV and print journalists, and endless debate on the political talk shows, right?

Wrong.

Instead of opening their reportorial and analytical floodgates, the mainstream news media have all but ignored the story.

The Times did a brief followup to its original story and, six days later, published a single editorial. Howard Kurtz wrote about the story the next day in his WaPo column and discussed it on CNN. Keith Olbermann and Wolf Blitzer gave it brief mentions. And that's about it.

A Lexis/Nexis search turned up no other coverage of this should-be major story. Nothing from Brian Williams or Katie Couric or Charlie Gibson. Nothing from Anderson Cooper or Lou Dobbs or Larry King or Campbell Brown. Nothing from Chris Matthews or Dan Abrams. Nothing from Tim Russert or George Stephanopoulos or Bob Schieffer. Nothing from anyone on Fox News.

This near-complete blackout imposed by the culpable news organizations is a despicable abdication of their central role in our society -- and has raised the ire of many in the blogosphere.

Glenn Greenwald decries the media invoking "the Kremlin-like methods of Dick Cheney -- they refuse to comment, refuse to reveal even the most basic facts about what they did, and do everything possible to hide behind the wall of secrecy they maintain." And he's incredulous that "these news outlets misleadingly shoveled government propaganda down the throats of viewers on matters of war and terrorism and they don't feel the least bit obligated to answer for what they did or knew about any of it."

"Mum's been the word on [the Times'] bombshell throughout the megamedia," writes DailyKos poster Meteor Blades. "The talking point - or perhaps the memo from on high - seems to be: Don't talk.... A hundred years of scrubbing will not remove the blood from their hands."

We've been told again and again that when it comes to Washington scandals, the cover up is worse than the crime (see Watergate and Bill Clinton not having sex with that woman). In this case, the lack of follow up is at least as bad as the crime. It is indicative of the MSM's disdain for the public and their willingness to trade their commitment to the truth for access to the halls of power.

As I've been giving interviews and speeches about my new book, specifically the points it makes about the role the media have played in the allowing the Right to hijack our democracy, I've been struck by the public's frustration at the mainstream media's Attention Deficit Disorder -- the failure to pursue important stories that, once exposed, are quickly forgotten.

Whether it's the increasing use of mercenary soldiers like those from Blackwater, corporate profiteering in the wake of Katrina, the advice of military commanders in Afghanistan being rebuffed by the Bush administration, or the military analysts scandal --- the mainstream media repeatedly allow stories to, in essence, die on the front page.

Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in American life. And it seems as if the MSM are committed to there being no second acts in American political scandals. At the end of Act I, the curtain comes down and we are quickly asked to leave the theater, left to wonder about what happens next.

We should do more than wonder. We should demand that the media mavens who enabled the Pentagon's disinformation campaign -- and, indeed, the administration's across the board effort to sell us this war -- be held accountable.

Carl Levin and others are calling for investigations into the military analysts scandal. That's good, but the cozy relationship between the White House and ABC, NBC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, as well as the print outlets that gave space to the Pentagon's propagandists, should be investigated as well.

Mainstream news organizations have never be very good at self-scrutiny -- look how long it took the New York Times to offer its Judy Miller/Iraq war mea culpa. And some might suggest that expecting the MSM to publicly dissect their complicity in duping the American public would be like expecting OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, and Phil Spector to find the "real killers" of Nicole, Bonny Lee, and Lana.

But that deceitful trio doesn't claim to be in the business of uncovering the truth, or functioning as a constitutionally protected check on our government.

As Justice Potter Stewart wrote on the Pentagon Papers, "without an informed and free press there cannot be an enlightened people."

And, he might have added, a free press not in bed with the government it is supposed to keep an eye on.

Watch me debate Charlie Gibson on Iraq, McCain, Flag Pins, and the Lunatic Fringe

And here is the interview I did with Charlie Rose