Wagging the Dog and Syria

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.

-opening caption from the 1997 film Wag the Dog, a black comedy about the attempts of a White House spin doctor to fake a U.S. war in Albania through manufactured media narrative and footage

Disgraced Syria "expert" Elizabeth O'Bagy. During the most intense two weeks of Syria debate in late August/early September, she was featured on multiple major news networks as an objective expert on the Syrian rebels. She was actually a paid advocate for the rebels through the D.C. based Syrian Emergency Task Force. She was fired from the hawkish Institute for the Study of War for lying about possessing a PhD from Georgetown University.

Disgraced Syria “expert” Elizabeth O’Bagy. Consistently presented as an objective commentator on the Syrian rebels, O’Bagy was actually a paid advocate on their behalf. She was fired from the hawkish Institute for the Study of War for lying about having a PhD.

If you want to understand the nature of the American propaganda system and how it impacts the way we receive information about contemporary foreign conflicts, see the bombshell report issued by the Public Accountability Initiative – Conflicts of interest in the Syria debate: An analysis of the defense industry ties of experts and think tanks who commented on military intervention.

Here’s the opening “Key Findings” section from the extensive report:

Key Findings

The media debate surrounding the question of whether to launch a military attack on Syria in August and September of 2013 was dominated by defense industry-backed experts and think tanks. These individuals and organizations are linked to dozens of defense and intelligence contractors, defense-focused investment firms, and diplomatic consulting firms with strong defense ties, yet these business ties were rarely disclosed on air or in print. This report brings transparency to these largely undocumented and undisclosed connections.

For more on the methodology used to identify commentators, think tanks, and industry ties, please see the “Methodology” section below.

Commentators

  • 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 the full report here.

Stephen Hadley, former national security advisor to George W. Bush, made multiple appearances on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, and Bloomberg News during the height of the national debate over Syria. In all of these appearances, as well as in an influential Washington Post op-ed piece, he argued for a U.S. missile strike on Syria as a matter of national security. In each case, Hadley was presented as an objective national security expert – it was only his role as former national security advisor that was revealed. Public Accountability Initiative’s conclusions are devastating:

In each case, Hadley’s audience was not informed that he serves as a director of Raytheon, the weapons manufacturer that makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were widely cited as a weapon of choice in a potential strike against Syria. Hadley earns $128,500 in annual cash compensation from the company and chairs its public affairs committee. He also owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate ($77.65 on August 23, making Hadley’s share’s worth $891,189). Despite this financial stake, Hadley was presented to his audience as an experienced, independent national security expert.

Though Hadley’s undisclosed conflict is particularly egregious, it is not unique. The following report documents the industry ties of Hadley, 21 other media commentators, and seven think tanks that participated in the media debate around Syria. Like Hadley, these individuals and organizations have strong ties to defense contractors and other defense- and foreign policy-focused firms with a vested interest in the Syria debate, but they were presented to their audiences with a veneer of expertise and independence, as former military officials, retired diplomats, and independent think tanks.

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