FCC asked to probe TV ‘surrogates’

Top lawmakers blast retired military analysts

Two top lawmakers have asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the Pentagon’s use of retired military officers as “surrogates” on television news.

In a letter sent Tuesday to FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin, Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) requested that the commission “determine whether the news networks or the analysts violated the Communications Act of 1934 and Federal Communications Commission rules — specifically, the sponsorship identification requirements,” they said.

Recently, the New York Times disclosed the existence of the Pentagon’s so-called surrogates program, which provided secret briefings and information to retired military officers with ties to the network news ops at ABC, NBC, CBS and cable news nets Fox and CNN. The officers often appeared in newscasts as independent analysts offering assessments — usually favorable — of U.S. strategic operations in Iraq. The program has been suspended pending a review.

“While we deem the Dept. of Defense’s policy unethical and perhaps illegal, we also question whether the analysts and the networks are potentially equally culpable pursuant to the sponsorship identification requirements in the Communications Act of 1934 and the rules of the Federal Communications Commission,” Dingell and Rosa DeLauro said in their letter.

“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,” Dingell and DeLauro continued. Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement:

“Forty-seven years ago, President Eisenhower warned against the excesses of a military-industrial complex. I’d like to think that hasn’t morphed into a military-industrial-media complex, but reports of spinning the news through a program of favored insiders don’t inspire a lot of confidence. Chairman Dingell and chairwoman DeLauro are right to seek inquiries as to what went on and whether any violations may have occurred.”

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