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SPJ calls on NBC to rectify lack of disclosure of analyst’s conflicts of interest
For Immediate Release:
Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744,
Andy Schotz, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman, (240) 420-2993,
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee has issued a statement regarding Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s military analysis work for NBC:
The Society of Professional Journalists calls on NBC News President Steve Capus and NBC Nightly News Managing Editor Brian Williams to sever the network’s relationship with retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey to re-establish the integrity of its reporting on military-related issues, including the war in Iraq.
Gen. McCaffrey is knowledgeable about military matters. He served the United States in combat, has testified before Congress and teaches at the military academy at West Point. That is not the point.
When the retired general offers his insight on the air for NBC, CNBC and MSNBC, viewers are left with the impression he is an “objective” observer, a former military man speaking from the depths of his experience.
What the networks have failed to tell viewers is that McCaffrey has a financial interest in the war. His firm has earned millions of dollars in consulting fees from defense-oriented companies.
"By failing to be forthright and transparent, these networks — which are owned by General Electric, a leading defense contractor — are giving the public powerful reasons to be skeptical about their neutrality and credibility," said Andy Schotz, the chairman of SPJ's Ethics Committee.
The SPJ Code of Ethics advises journalists “to be free of any interest other than the public’s right to know.” NBC has failed to hold itself to that standard by relying on McCaffrey in its reporting without revealing his connections. This failure is a grievous violation of one of the most basic tenets of journalism ethics. SPJ’s Code of Ethics is available at http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp.
SPJ commends The New York Times and reporter David Barstow for making painstakingly clear McCaffrey’s obvious conflict of interest and NBC’s failure to address it. Barstow's piece builds upon The Nation's important reporting on the same topic in 2003.
In May, following an earlier report by Barstow, SPJ condemned news organizations that use military analysts while failing to disclose their ties to the war effort.
The Pentagon had recruited retired military officers to spread the administration's war philosophy, largely on TV networks, while appearing to be outside observers. Behind the scenes, the retired officers were getting special access to the Pentagon, furthering their interests as principals in defense companies that profited from military contracts.
Audiences have been led to believe these insights were based on the experiences of the best military minds who have served this country, when in fact those points of view were influenced by politics, pressure from the Pentagon and financial gain.
"These are raging conflicts of interest embedded into reporting on crucial news," Schotz said.
The Pentagon shut down its propaganda program after The Times' story this spring, but the news organizations have refused to acknowledge the conflicts. It's time they explain themselves, apologize and try to regain public trust through a renewed commitment to ethics.
It's also past time for the networks and other news organizations to review their own prior coverage in detail and put it into context for viewers, listeners and readers who may well have been misled by the false impressions conveyed of their analysts' impartiality and credibility. The review of past coverage should highlight not only the hidden conflicts of their analysts but the analysts' specific comments that might have been colored by previously unknown ties to Pentagon propagandists or defense contractors.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well- informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.