Politics

Report: Pundits for war with Syria failed to disclose defense industry ties

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor

A new study shows that most of the talking heads urging war with Syria last month worked for powerful defense contractors, a fact rarely disclosed during interviews.

The left-leaning Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) released a report on Friday, listing 22 commentators who appeared on major media outlets during August and September to discuss what, at the time, seemed like impending military strikes against Syria for violating President Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons.

Most were extremely supportive of President Obama’s plan to bomb the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and all possessed extensive ties to defense companies and military contractors.

But out of the 111 total appearances by the pundits, the commentator’s relationship with the defense industry was disclosed in only 13 of those appearances.

“The public has a right to know that the pro-war analyst on their television is also working for the defense industry,” said Kevin Connor, director of PAI and the co-author of the report, in a statement. “The consistent failure of media outlets and experts to disclose these ties is an abuse of the public trust. It has a corrupting effect on policy debates like the one surrounding Syria.”

The report points to Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to George W. Bush, as a prime example. Hadley appeared on CNN, MSNBC and Bloomberg TV last month to tell Republicans they had “better be voting favor of this resolution [authorizing military force against Syria],” or else threats against Iran for pursuing its nuclear program would not be credible.

But none of those media outlets disclosed that he is on the board of Raytheon, the fourth-largest U.S. defense contractor and manufacturer of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were expected to factor heavily in any Syrian bombardment. In addition to a six-figure salary from Raytheon, Hadley also owns around $900,000 in the defense contractor’s stock.

There’s also General Anthony Zinni, a retired Marine Corp General and former commander of U.S. Central Command. Zinni appeared multiple times on CNN and CBS to talk about strikes on Syria. “We have to do something because the President laid a red line down,” he said on CBS. “I think we need to think in terms of a longer campaign, not that this shot might be just one act and then finished.”

Zinni is an outside director at BAE Systems, the third-largest military contractor in the world in 2011 and the recipient of $6.1 billion federal contracts in 2012. He was acting CEO of the company from 2009 to 2012. None of this information was disclosed during any of his media appearances.

NBC revealed their guests’ defense industry connections more than any other major outlet in the study, informing audiences of the commentator’s defense ties about one-third of the time. CNN disclosed industry ties in fewer than one out of every five appearances, while Fox News and Bloomberg never once acknowledged the defense affiliations of their guests.

After weeks of escalating rhetoric and the gathering of American warships off the Syrian coast, President Obama called off planned strikes in mid-September after Congress balked at another war and the Assad regime promised to destroy its chemical weapons. Should the U.N.-led disarmament plan fail, however, the Obama administration has indicated it would once again consider the use of force.

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