In April, New York Times reporter David Barstow received a Pulitzer Prize for his story on the Rumsfeld-era public affairs outreach program to former military officers then working as journalists (the so-called “military analysts). The thrust of the article is that Mr. Rumsfeld and his subordinates used seductive perks like lunch at the Pentagon and access to top officials to manipulate these men into providing misleadingly positive (rosy?) media stories on the war in Iraq.
Thinking back it’s not clear that there was ever a positive media meme on “Bush’s War.”
But on the theory that “This Outrage Must Not Stand,” the ever-ready Inspector General’s office at the Pentagon launched into action and investigated the matter. Were reporters or the military analysts inappropriately influenced? Were they cashing in on their connections with corruptible men like Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno in the service of the dreaded defense industrial complex? Was the integrity of the media been compromised by DoD propaganda? Of course everyone assumed the answer was a resounding “Yes!” There might have even been some thought that hearings might have to be called on Capitol Hill, so we could see yet more of the moral preening and manufactured outrage that has become the staple of our elected representatives.
Then the wheels came off the bus.
The Pentagon IG came out with a report that declared the military analysts program a failure—that is if the intent behind it was to manipulate the stories that would emerge from the outreach effort. There was no evidence that those who enjoyed the increased access wrote any more positively or negatively than their less favored peers.
This bummer of a report was then far less satisfying than previous IG efforts for Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Something had to be done. Senator Levin wrote a strong letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates demanding that he investigate this inconvenient investigation that hadn’t sent back the right answer. Under the combined pressure of OSD and the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Senator Levin chairs, it appears the IG caved and retracted the report on the grounds that there had to have been a methodological problem somewhere. Just had to be.
Here’s the dirty little secret in all this: there is not currently a sitting Inspector General at the Pentagon. Secretary Gates should appoint one this year, and the nominee will have to be confirmed by none other than Carl Levin. Basically, the IG will be beholden on the Senator’s good will. Senator Levin obviously knows this, and has been accepting and rejecting IG reports according to how they suit his fancy.
This convenient and cozy arrangement is illegal: “The Inspector General and OIG staff must be free both in fact and appearance from personal, external, and organizational impairments to independence. .. External impairments to independence occur when the OIG staff is deterred from acting objectively and exercising professional skepticism by pressures, actual or perceived, from management and employees of the reviewed entity or oversight organizations.”
That includes United States Senators.
Senator Levin has a history of pre-empting and exploiting IG reports to suit his agenda. for which he has been given a pass because his staff has to “work under deadline.” There is no such excuse–however flimsy–in this case.
Senator Levin needs to explain why this particular IG report was so inconvenient that it had to be supressed. Secretary Gates needs to clarify his role in the retraction. And so far, John McCain, the committee’s ranking member, has been content to play the clown in the ugly, partisan circus that is Levin’s SASC. He might consider the ramifications that might ensue if the Pentagon’s chief whistleblower joins him in the ring.