Many of the “experts” invited to discuss the need to intervene in the Syrian civil war by mainstream media over the past several weeks have close relationships with contractors and other organizations with a vested interest in involving the U.S. in another military conflict, according to a new report.
The thorough report, produced by the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative, reveals that 22 pundits who spoke to mainstream media during the public debate over whether the U.S. should attack Syria appeared to have conflicts of interest. It also details how seven oft-cited think tanks have possible ties to groups which would have benefitted from involvement in the conflict.
Some key findings from the report, via the Public Accountability Initiative:
22 commentators. The report identifies 22 commentators who weighed in during the Syria debate in large media outlets, and who have current industry ties that may pose conflicts of interest. The commentators are linked to large defense and intelligence contractors like Raytheon, smaller defense and intelligence contractors like TASC, defense-focused investment firms like SCP Partners, and commercial diplomacy firms like the Cohen Group.
111 appearances, 13 attempts at disclosure. These commentators made 111 appearances – as op-ed authors, quoted experts, or news show guests – in major media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Bloomberg, and the Washington Post. Despite the commentators’ apparent financial and professional stakes in military action, major media outlets typically failed to disclose these relationships, noting them, often incompletely, in only 13 of the 111 appearances (see table below for media outlet breakdown).
Varying types of conflicts of interest. In some cases, commentators have undisclosed industry ties that pose significant and direct conflicts of interest. In other cases, the undisclosed ties were less direct, but still suggest that the commentator has a financial interest in continuing heightened levels of US military action abroad. A number of consultants are included because their business relationships are foreign policy-focused and likely involve work for defense clients, though most do not disclose client lists. One consulting relationship highlighted in the report is with the Department of Defense – not an industry connection, but a significant conflict of interest.
Largely supportive of military action. The commentators profiled have largely expressed support for military action in Syria, and many have framed the decision as an issue of national security. However, the opinions they expressed were not uniformly supportive of military action. Several commentators identified, such as Robert Scales, opposed military intervention outright. (see correction)
The following is a selection of commentators, profiled at greater length below, who have multiple undisclosed ties to the defense industry and have expressed strong support for military intervention in Syria in multiple appearances:
Jack Keane has strongly supported striking Syria on PBS, the BBC, and Fox News. Though Keane is currently a director of General Dynamics, one of the world’s largest military services companies, and a venture partner of SCP Partners, a defense-focused investment firm, only his military and think tank affiliations were identified in all sixteen appearances.
General Anthony Zinni has expressed support for military action in Syria during three appearances on CNN and one on CBS This Morning, and has been quoted in the Washington Post. Though a director with major defense contractor BAE Systems and an advisor to defense-focused private equity firm DC Capital Partners, only Zinni’s military experience was considered relevant by the media outlets interviewing him all five times.
Stephen Hadley has voiced strong support for a strike on Syria in appearances on Bloomberg TV, Fox News, and CNN, as well as in a Washington Post op-ed. Though he has a financial stake in a Syria strike as a current Raytheon board member, and is also a principal at consulting firm RiceHadleyGates, he was identified all four times only as a former National Security Advisor to George W. Bush.
Frances Townsend has appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 six times strongly favoring action in Syria. Though Townsend holds positions in two investment firms with defense company holdings, MacAndrews & Forbes and Monument Capital Group, and serves as an advisor to defense contractor Decision Sciences, only her roles as a CNN national security analyst and member of the CIA and DHS advisory committees were revealed in all six appearances.
“If the recent debate around Syria is any guide, media outlets have done very little to address the gaps in disclosure and abuses of the public trust… Some analysts have stayed the same, others are new, and the issues and range of opinion are different,” the Public Accountability Initiative noted. “But the media continues to present former military and government officials as venerated experts without informing the public of their industry ties – the personal financial interests that may be shaping their opinions of what is in the national interest.”
Read the full report here.
Too bad the Nation failed to heed President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning that the U.S. must guard against unwanted influence by the military-industrial complex.