The tone in reporting on a potential military conflict with Iran has entered a new phase in recent weeks, with the saber rattling seemingly reaching a fever pitch.
From the New York Times recently reporting on how Israel would carry out a strike against Iran, to pundits casually throwing around the words “bomb Iran,” to presidential candidates trying to out-tough each other on a daily basis, the prospect of a potential military conflict with Iran is increasingly discussed less in terms of “if” but of “when.”
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, mindful of the similarities in tone between now and the run up to the invasion of Iraq, reported Tuesday that retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an analyst for NBC News, met recently with the network’s executives, warning of the “significant probability of Iranian escalation in the coming 90 days.” A footnote on the first page of a PowerPoint presentation McCaffrey reportedly used predicts a “15% probability of major military action in the coming 90 days.”
As Greenwald points out, the reliability of McCaffrey’s predictions is questionable. New York Times reporter David Barstow described McCaffrey’s opaque role as TV pundit thusly in a Pulitzer Prize winning series from 2008:
On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.
NBC played down Greenwald’s report, calling it a “woefully inaccurate, ignorant, insulting” depiction of the network’s editorial process.
NBC News Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Lauren Kapp sent TPM this statement:
Mr. Greenwald has stumbled upon a defining journalistic and organizational tool that differentiates us as a global news organization: our longstanding tradition of editorial board meetings with leading analysts and news makers.
He chose to write the piece while not personally having one conversation with anyone from this news organization, so to critique how we do our reporting is quite ironic.
We listen to and value the views of retired Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey. He presented his thoughts on Iran in a recent editorial board meeting at NBC News. As have several senior officials from countries throughout the Middle East that represent vastly different world views. In similar sessions, we have received the views of current and former US government officials. We have been afforded the views of Israeli and other foreign governmental officials. We have heard from non-governmental organizations, respected journalists and opinion leaders.
There is no singular view of editorial issues that permeate our editorial discussions. Indeed, editorial board meetings, with diverse representation are an important part of any open-minded journalistic enterprise.
Greenwald has responded to NBC’s statement, saying it’s untrue he didn’t communicate with anyone at NBC. He did quote Kapp in his original post. “… despite its opening flurry of accusations, NBC does not even purport to identify a single inaccuracy in any thing I reported,” Greenwald writes in his updated post. “Replies like this one — that are long on screeching invective and short on any identified inaccuracies — do more to bolster the validity of the original article than anything else could.”
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com