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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Award Winner: Newspaper Washington Correspondence


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Monday, July 13, 2009
SDX Award Winner: Newspaper Washington Correspondence

The New York Times

By Jim Poyser

Washington Correspondence

WINNER: DAVID BARSTOW, THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Message Machine”

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

The target audience was the American people. The pitchmen were military analysts who became ubiquitous on network and cable TV in the wake of 9/11. The “product” being pushed was the Bush administration’s terrorism policies, particularly the Iraq War. The mastermind of the sales campaign was the Pentagon.

But the public was unaware that these analysts were part of a nationwide information campaign until The New York Times published David Barstow’s series, “Message Machine.”

Barstow documented how the Pentagon constructed an elaborate apparatus to co-opt the analysts — mostly retired generals — to make its case for the war and long occupation in Iraq. He revealed they were fed talking points in high-level Pentagon briefings that they sometimes repeated word-for-word on television. He showed that most of the analysts had lucrative financial interests in military businesses benefiting from the very policies they were asked to assess. And Barstow showed how the Pentagon rewarded favorable television coverage with that most valuable commodity: privileged access to the Pentagon brass influential in contracting.

From the publication of the first article, reaction was immediate: The Pentagon announced it was suspending its programs of trips and briefings for favored analysts. Various governmental agencies began investigations, and several presidential candidates condemned the Pentagon program.

Judges call this “accountability journalism. Not only does this series hold accountable the government officials and retired military generals who perpetrated a multi-pronged fraud on the public, it shames the media outlets that prostituted themselves by turning a blind eye. The outrage factor is off the charts.

“The series stands out among its competitors for two other reasons: the newspaper’s unyielding commitment to obtaining the necessary documents in a court battle, and David Barstow’s ability to tell the story without relying on anonymous sources in every other paragraph. Excellent work!”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/cdza9v

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