Are broadcasters liable in Pentagon/ex-General scheme?


Commissioner Adelstein, this one’s for you: It has occurred to a pair of House members that in surreptitiously advancing Pentagon talking points on television, radio and other media, retired military officers (and current military vendors) were essentially speaking kindly on behalf of their benefactors while failing to properly identity their “sponsor.” The MOCs are John Dingell (D-MI) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).

The controversy dates back to a recent article in the New York Times noting how over 75 retired military analysts, many of whom work for companies that do business with the Pentagon, fanned out to forward the DoD’s story in the media. The medium of exchange was access: The analysts were forwarding the messages of active duty military and civilian leaders who also had a say in which companies received which contracts. Analysts openly criticizing DoD in the media lost access.

Dingell and DeLauro say the transactions may have been illegal and certainly were unethical, and want the FCC to determine if they violated the rules on sponsorship identification.

“When seemingly objective television commentators are in fact highly motivated to promote the agenda of a government agency, a gross violation of the public trust occurs,” wrote Dingell and DeLauro. “The American people should never be subject to a covert propaganda campaign but rather should be clearly notified of who is sponsoring what they are watching. We therefore respectfully request that you immediately commence a full investigation of this matter to determine whether any violations have occurred.”

RBR/TVBR observation: This is just the latest episode in the ongoing pay-for-say saga that has come out of various government agencies under the Bush administration, but it may be the most significant. It is also categorically tied to product placement issues and incidents when product “demonstrators” are paid to push a certain item. And it is in the same family as payola/pay-for-play. Many FCC Commissioners carve out an area of special interest, and this one belongs to Jonathan Adelstein (D). He will likely sponsor this issue at the Commission, making it unlikely that it can be quietly tucked away in some dusty cubbyhole.