FCC Seeks Info from Military TV Analysts

The FCC has sent letters to military TV analysts as part of inquiry into Defense Department media push
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An FCC spokesman confirmed Monday that the commission has asked for information from TV military analysts concerning their possible role in a Department of Defense program to recruit ex-military officers to express support for the Iraq war and other Bush administration policies.

"The [FCC] is looking into the allegations and has sent letters," said the spokesman, who said he did not know how many letters had been sent out.

The commission was asked by some legislators to looks into whether TV stations or networks bear any responsibility for not identifying the analyst's connection to the Pentagon or defense contractors.

U.S. News & World Report said it had obtained a copy of a letter from the FCC to one of the pundits. The FCC declined to make public the letters that were sent in connection with the inquiry.

Last May, House Energy & Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) asked the commission to look into a New York Times story  about the Department of Defense program.

Below is the letter Dingell and DeLauro sent to the FCC back in May:

The Honorable Kevin J. Martin 

Chairman 

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street , SW

Washington , DC 20554

Dear Chairman Martin: We write to express our deep concern with regard to a troubling story recently reported in the New York Times detailing an extensive program within the Department of Defense (DoD) to recruit ex-military officers to support the administration’s position on the war in Iraq, conditions at Guantánamo Bay and other activities associated with efforts to combat terrorism under the guise of objective analysis on major television news programs and 24-hour cable news networks.  Many of these military analysts were simultaneously representing more than 150 companies competing for billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts. While we deem the DoD’s policy unethical and perhaps illegal, we also question whether the analysts and the networks are potentially equally culpable pursuant to the sponsorship identification requirements in the Communications Act of 1934 (the Act) and the rules of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

As you may know, the program, which began in early 2002, ultimately included more than 75 retired military analysts who echoed administration talking points on television, radio, printed publications and websites.  According to the Times, internal DoD documents describe these “military analysts as ‘message force multipliers’ or ‘surrogates’ who could be counted on to deliver administration ‘themes and messages’ to millions of Americans ‘in the form of their own opinions.’” As a result of the program, analysts, many of whom represented military contractors or ran their own military consulting or contracting firms, were granted special access to the senior civilian and military leaders directly involved in determining how war funding should be spent.  According to the report, analysts that were critical of the administration’s policy could “lose all access,” creating an environment in which these analysts felt compelled, and at times eager, to convey specific Defense Department talking points to the American public, even when they did not necessarily agree with them.  It could appear that some of these analysts were indirectly paid for fostering the Pentagon’s views on these critical issues.

Our chief concern is that as a result of the analysts’ participation in this DoD program, which included the DoD’s paying for their commercial airfare on DoD-sponsored trips to Iraq, the analysts and the networks that hired them could have run afoul of certain laws or regulations, among them the sponsorship identification requirements in the Act and the FCC’s rules.  For example, we are concerned that the military analysts may have violated Section 507 of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 507, which, among other things, prohibits those involved with preparing program matter intended for broadcast from accepting valuable consideration for including particular matter in a program without disclosure.  Similarly, the Commission’s rules require a station to make an appropriate announcement when it receives a disclosure from someone involved with preparing program matter for the station, 47 C.F.R. § 73.1212.

When seemingly objective television commentators are in fact highly motivated to promote the agenda of a government agency, a gross violation of the public trust occurs.  The American people should never be subject to a covert propaganda campaign but rather should be clearly notified of who is sponsoring what they are watching.  We therefore respectfully request that you immediately commence a full investigation of this matter to determine whether any violations have occurred.

We thank you for your prompt attention.

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