The main story looked at the public-affairs-office practice from 2002 to 2008 of inviting TV analysts to the Pentagon for private briefings. The story claimed improprieties and raised accusations against analysts of gaining unfair competitive advantage in winning contracts for companies they represented.
The April 2008 story sparked an investigation by the Pentagon inspector general, an office known for its independence. The office has not shied away from criticizing the tenure of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who started the briefings for 70 retired military officers.
In January, the IG released its report, which rebutted the New York Times’ major allegations.
On the practice of conducting meetings and conference calls with the analysts, the IG concluded:
“We determined that those activities were conducted in accordance with DoD policies and regulations. We found the evidence insufficient to conclude that [Retired Military Analyst] RMA outreach activities were improper. Further, we found insufficient basis to conclude that [the office of public affairs] conceived of or undertook a disciplined effort to assemble a contingent of influential RMAs who could be depended on to comment favorably on DoD programs.”
On the allegations of favorable contracting, the IG said:
“With regard to [retired military analysts] who had ties to military contractors, extensive searches found no instance where such RMAs used information or contacts obtained as a result of the OASD(PA) outreach program to achieve a competitive advantage for their company. We found that 20 (29 percent) had some type of corporate association. We examined publicly available contracting information involving RMA-affiliated companies to identify any pattern of contract award or contract type that might indicate an irregularity. We did not isolate such a pattern and concluded that further investigative work into this matter was not warranted.”
The Pulitzer prize citation reads, “Awarded to David Barstow of The New York Times for his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended.”
A number of military analysts believe they were smeared by the Times story and expressed dismay at it winning journalism’s most coveted prize.
“It shows how corrupt the system is,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, who appears on Fox News.
He co-authored an online article with retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely and conservative activist Annie Hamilton.
They wrote, “Why in the [expletive] would the Pulitzer committee give the New York Times one prize, let alone five, after the publication of the 85-page [IG] report exonerating these inappropriately targeted officials? Shouldn’t there be accountability, a day of reckoning for this so-called ‘Reporter’ who failed to meet the burden of proof in order to satisfy his story?”
They added: “It hardly requires genius to understand that Mr. Barstow’s intent was to damage the credibility and reputation of the Bush Administration, our Military and that his publicly discredited attempts to undercut our Nation’s bravest accomplishes little more than turning the Prize, his newspaper and his reputation into a laughing stock.”
Larry Di Rita, a former Rumsfeld aide who helped set up the program, told Inside the Ring, “It seems to violate the Pulitzer committee’s time-honored tradition of awarding the prize before the story is later debunked. This time they at least waited for the debunking to happen first. I look at it as just another laughable reminder that the establishment media are awarding themselves ever more grandiose awards in direct proportion to their increasing irrelevance and desperation.”
Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, another analyst, said, “I believe the DoD IG report completely exonerates the analysts and the Rumsfeld Pentagon. Did Rumsfeld and his team make mistakes? Yes. But equipping the analysts with updated and accurate information and providing us access to decision makers just increased our ability to communicate credibly to the American people.”