Multiple choice: Of the following, which outlet covered two recent major national security stories -- NBC, CBS, NPR, PBS, or ... Comedy Central?

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI & LAUREN AUERBACH

On April 22, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart highlighted two recent reports concerning national security that have been largely ignored by most television news outlets and NPR: a New York Times article reporting that "the Bush administration has used" media military analysts, many of whom have clients with or seeking Pentagon contracts, "into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks"; and a Government Accountability Office report that found that the "United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA."

During the April 22 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart highlighted two recent reports concerning national security that have been largely ignored by most television news outlets. The first was an April 20 New York Times article by investigative reporter David Barstow, who wrote that "the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform" media military analysts, many of whom have clients with an interest in obtaining Pentagon contracts, "into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks." The second was a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, "The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas," released on April 17, which found that "[t]he United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]. Since 2002, the United States relied principally on the Pakistan military to address U.S. national security goals. Of the approximately $5.8 billion the United States provided for efforts in the FATA and border region from 2002 through 2007, about 96 percent reimbursed Pakistan for military operations there." But while Comedy Central drew attention to the Times and GAO reports, an April 23 Media Matters for America search* of the Nexis database determined that, as of 11:59 p.m. ET April 22, none of these news outlets -- NBC, CBS, NPR, or PBS -- had mentioned either report during news programs whose transcripts are available in the Nexis database.** ABC and Fox News covered the GAO report. MSNBC and CNN covered both stories.

During the April 22 edition of The Daily Show, Stewart said:

STEWART: Now, another event making a recent cameo, the Iraq war. Remember? Remember when it started and it was kind of a big deal that some journalists were embedded with the troops? Well, this is great. As it turns out, it was more of an exchange program, because they actually also had troops embedded with the journalists. It's the subject of tonight's "The Less You Know."

[...]

STEWART: Well, it turns out many of these ex-military were not so "ex" -- working on behalf of defense contractors and the Pentagon itself. And while the news networks called them "military analysts," the Pentagon, in just released memos, referred to them as "message force multipliers" -- which sounds so much cooler than sneaky old guys. Message force multipliers. What are they, machine guns that shoot Post-it notes? By the way, message force multipliers? Worst Steven Seagal movie ever. They say he couldn't stay on message. They were wrong. They said he couldn't read prompter. All right. But have there been any reports about the broader war on terror that don't come in unreliable old-man form? Well, we're in luck, if by in luck you mean [bleeped out].

The Government Accountability Office just put out a report on America's progress pursuing the non-Iraqi perpetrators of 9-11, or as many of us refer to them, the perpetrators of 9-11. Now, the name of the report -- and this is admittedly a little coy -- is The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Or, for you anagram fans, TUSLCPTDTTTACTSHIPFATA. The report stated that despite all that has occurred these last seven years, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border now has vast unpoliced regions attractive to extremists and terrorists seeking a safe haven. Well, thank God someone's safe.

Stewart then interviewed "senior military analyst" Rob Riggle, who said of the GAO report: "[L]et me just give you the Cliff Notes, OK? In 2001, there was a memo: Bin Laden determined to attack the United States from a safe haven in Afghanistan. Now, seven years and $700 billion later, we get a new memo saying, bin Laden determined to attack United States from a safe haven somewhere around Afghanistan. We're right back where we started. We could have gotten here by doing nothing."

The New York Times/military analyst story

CNN aired three segments on the Times report. On the April 21 edition of The Situation Room, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, who hosts CNN's Reliable Sources, noted that "[t]housands of documents obtained by The New York Times reveal an extensive Pentagon effort to use the military pundits to carry the administration's message, even while some express private doubts. There were regular meetings with Donald Rumsfeld when he was defense secretary and government sponsored trips to Iraq." On the 10 p.m. ET hour of the April 20 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Rick Sanchez noted that the Times "investigation finds that the Pentagon was feeding biased information about the war in Iraq to the media through these military analysts that people like myself have been interviewing on TV, who were supposed to be given an objective assessment to the public of what was really going on overseas." Sanchez added that "we are -- I would believe, and I guess I can only speak for myself, guilty as charged, for maybe not vetting these properly. And I think all of the networks are going to be looking to make sure something like this doesn't happen again in the future." On the April 20 edition of Reliable Sources, Kurtz discussed the report with National Review contributing editor Jim Geraghty, AMERICABlog.com's John Aravosis, and George Washington University journalism professor Mark Feldstein.

Additionally, on the 6 p.m. ET hour of the April 20 edition of CNN Newsroom, Sanchez briefly noted the Times report, stating: "Also, the Bush administration manipulating the truth and using the military analysts who come on our shows -- on CNN, and MSNBC, and Fox, and ABC and so forth -- by getting to them before they supposedly get to us, before telling us that they've even been talking to members of the Pentagon or the Bush administration. This is a huge story. The New York Times is reporting about it. We're going to be getting into that." According to a review of Nexis transcripts, CNN next talked about the Times report on its 10 p.m. ET hour of CNN Newsroom, as previously noted.

MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann highlighted the Times report during the April 21 edition of Countdown.

The GAO report story

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre covered the GAO report during the April 18 edition of The Situation Room. The GAO report was also mentioned during the April 22 edition of CNN's Issue Number One when guest and talk radio host Michael Smerconish briefly noted the report while stating of Sen. Barack Obama: "What impressed me in my multiple interviews with him was his ability to differentiate himself on an issue that nobody talks about and I wish they would. We're six and a half years removed from September 11th. Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have never been brought to justice. There's a new report out today from the GAO that says Al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in those tribal regions of Pakistan. And none of the three, to any large extent, and not in the debates, has this really been a focal point. I wish that it had been."

During the April 18 edition of MSNBC's Verdict, host Dan Abrams highlighted the GAO report, saying: "Tonight's edition of 'Why America Hates Washington': The president's pledge to keep Al Qaeda on the run running out of steam. A scathing new report from the Government Accountability Office says the White House has no strategy to hunt down America's enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Even though the president says it's a top priority, he's basically left the job to Pakistan. And $10 billion later, officials there still haven't been able to catch bin Laden or his top lieutenant. The Bush administration seemingly dropping the ball, at least on a plan to catch bin Laden -- another reason why America hates Washington."

On the April 19 edition of ABC's World News Saturday, correspondent John Hendren reported on the GAO's findings and noted that "[t]he report pulls no punches. It says six years after President Bush pledged to take Osama bin Laden dead or alive, the Bush administration still has no comprehensive plan to find him or to deal with the al Qaeda network and its stronghold along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Congress wants to know why." On the April 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume noted the GAO report's findings:

HUME: A report from the Government Accountability Office says the U.S. lacks a comprehensive plan to deal with the terrorists along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. The government watchdog agency, a creature of Congress, says rogue elements are still operating freely in the region despite $10.5 billion in aid given to Pakistan by the U.S. government. The Defense Department agreed with the findings, but the State Department disagreed, saying a strategy does exist and indeed is being implemented.

From the April 22 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart:

STEWART: Now, another event making a recent cameo, the Iraq war. Remember? Remember when it started and it was kind of a big deal that some journalists were embedded with the troops? Well, this is great. As it turns out, it was more of an exchange program, because they actually also had troops embedded with the journalists. It's the subject of tonight's "The Less You Know."

[begin video clip]

STEWART: Look at these sweet, kindly former killing machines. The networks hire them to give expert analysis and insight into our country's war effort.

FMR. MAJ. GEN. PAUL VALLELY: We're winning the war on terror.

FMR. LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY: This was the best-trained force we have ever had.

FMR. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS: This is the best leadership our military has had in its history.

FMR. GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS: And when I ask senior army officials who are longtime friends who aren't going to give me a B.S. answer how we're doing, are we winning or losing? They're saying we're winning.

[end video clip]

STEWART: These people are old and trustworthy, like my grandpa who served in the war. They wouldn't lie to me -- right, Grandpa? You killed Hitler. And never cheated on my grandma with a French whore. Why would he? He was in love.

Well, it turns out many of these ex-military were not so "ex" -- working on behalf of defense contractors and the Pentagon itself. And while the news networks called them "military analysts," the Pentagon, in just released memos, referred to them as "message force multipliers" -- which sounds so much cooler than sneaky old guys. Message force multipliers. What are they, machine guns that shoot Post-it notes? By the way, message force multipliers? Worst Steven Seagal movie ever. They say he couldn't stay on message. They were wrong. They said he couldn't read prompter. All right. But have there been any reports about the broader war on terror that don't come in unreliable old-man form? Well, we're in luck, if by in luck you mean [bleeped out].

The Government Accountability Office just put out a report on America's progress pursuing the non-Iraqi perpetrators of 9-11, or as many of us refer to them, the perpetrators of 9-11. Now, the name of the report -- and this is admittedly a little coy -- is The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Or, for you anagram fans, TUSLCPTDTTTACTSHIPFATA. The report stated that despite all that has occurred these last seven years, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border now has vast unpoliced regions attractive to extremists and terrorists seeking a safe haven. Well, thank God someone's safe.

For more, we turn to our own message force multiplier, senior military analyst Rob Riggle. Rob, thank you so much for joining us. Rob, this is serious revelations -- serious revelations coming out of the Pentagon and the Government Accounting Office about progress in the war on terror. What is your take on these reports?

RIGGLE: My take?

STEWART: Yes.

RIGGLE: My take is that in the United States war on terror, we've been walking in a [bleep] circle.

STEWART: Really?

RIGGLE: I mean, have you read this report?

STEWART: I read the, I saw the title.

RIGGLE: Well, let me just give you the Cliff Notes, OK? In 2001, there was a memo: Bin Laden determined to attack the United States from a safe haven in Afghanistan. Now, seven years and $700 billion later, we get a new memo saying, bin Laden determined to attack United States from a safe haven somewhere around Afghanistan. We're right back where we started. We could have gotten here by doing nothing.

STEWART: It is discouraging to see that -- it is discouraging. You know what's interesting, Rob? It is discouraging --

RIGGLE: I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew this [bleep] didn't know where he was going. I mean, all of us, we were all in the backseat. America was just in the backseat. You know, you know, acting like, "I don't think this is the way to defeat Al Qaeda." And he's like, he's like, "I know what I'm doing. I know a shortcut through Iraq. Everybody, come on now, just trust me." And we're all like, "I don't know, maybe we should ask for directions. You know, I'm pretty sure Al Qaeda is the other way." And he's like, "Shut up, shut up. What the hell. I'll dump your ass in Yemen. You're just like your mother. Keep your hand off the radio, [bleep]."

STEWART: That's an interesting, that's an interesting -- Rob, that's an interesting metaphor.

RIGGLE: Man, shut the (bleep) up, all right?

STEWART: OK. So, do you think the president's going to make any changes based on these reports?

RIGGLE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, this will be a wake-up call. If there's anything this president responds to, it's written criticism.

STEWART: Well, thanks, Rob. That was a great report.

RIGGLE: Whatever. Whatever.

STEWART: Rob Riggle, everybody. We'll be right back.

From the April 19 edition of ABC's World News Saturday (via Nexis):

DAVID MUIR (host): Tonight, Congress says it will demand answers after the release of a scathing government audit that charges the Bush administration lacks a comprehensive plan to wipe out Al Qaeda and its safe haven in Pakistan. ABC's John Hendren is in Washington tonight.

HENDREN: The report pulls no punches. It says six years after President Bush pledged to take Osama bin Laden dead or alive, the Bush administration still has no comprehensive plan to find him or to deal with the Al Qaeda network and its stronghold along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Congress wants to know why. The head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee today says the panel will grill administration officials at a hearing May 7th.

REP. HOWARD BERMAN (D-CA): I wanna shine light on this. I want the American people to know what is not happening.

HENDREN: The U.S. has spent $10.5 billion in Pakistan since 2002, but nearly all of it went to the Pakistani military, which has essentially subcontracted the war there, but it has been unable to stop Al Qaeda's resurgence.

MICHAEL SCHEUER (former CIA officer): What was a foolishness from the start, to believe that Pakistan could go into their tribal area and do our dirty work for us.

HENDREN: The report from the Government Accountability Office concludes that Al Qaeda has regenerated its ability to attack the United States and has succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's border region.

Intelligence officials warn that al Qaeda is now using that safe haven to train recruits for attacks on the West.

FORMER REP. TIM ROEMER (D-IN): The next threat is likely to radiate from Pakistan and Afghanistan to come into our country, and we need to be focused in all three areas, not centrally focused only on Iraq.

* Search terms = publication (ABC or CBS or CNN or MSNBC or NBC or NPR or Fox) and (Pentagon OR (Department w/2 Defense) OR New York Times OR (military w/10 analys!))

Search terms = publication (ABC or CBS or CNN or MSNBC or NBC or NPR or Fox) AND Pakistan

** Programs searched on the Nexis database on networks that didn't mention either report include:

CBS = Evening News with Katie Couric, The Early Show, Face the Nation

NBC = Nightly News with Brian Williams, Today, Meet the Press

NPR = All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, Day to Day, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition

PBS = NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

Note: Due to Nexis archiving NewsHour without a 'PBS' publication identification, Media Matters instead used search terms = show (newshour) and (Pentagon OR (Department w/2 Defense) OR New York Times OR (military w/10 analys!)); show (newshour) and Pakistan. Because the April 17 edition of NewsHour was not available on Nexis, Media Matters accessed transcripts available on NewsHour's website.

Posted In
Government, Ethics, National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
PBS, CBS, NBC, NPR
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