While this blog generally focuses on how physicians sometimes manipulate information in response to financial incentives, last Sunday's New York Times covered another category of corrupted information brokers: military analysts hired to interpret the news. In a devastating expose, David Barsow details the ways in which the Pentagon has groomed former military men to deploy the official White House message to national TV audiences.
Any reader of this blog will immediately recognize the same techniques used by hired gun M.D.'s—the highlighting of the positive while downplaying the negative, the hidden conflicts of interests, the rationalizations, and, ultimately, the damage done to our nation’s sense of morality.
Television networks have long hired retired generals and colonels to serve as “independent” military analysts, brought on to help the public understand the meaning of the latest developments in war. Yes, they were once part of the military establishiment, but we assume that in their retirement they no longer have to answer to anyone, and they can provide a clear-eyed interpretation of confusing war-time events. At least, that’s the theory.
The truth is very different. “Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity,” says the Times, “is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration's wartime performance….”
As a result of a lawsuit, the Times forced the Defense Department to release 8000 pages of e-mails and meeting transcripts detailing how these analysts are paid to say nice things about the army. According to newspaper, “internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as ‘message force multipiers” or ‘surrogates’ who could be counted on to deliver administration ‘themes and messages’ to millions of Americans ‘in the form of their own opinions.’”
The parallels to the industry-sponsored CME industry are eery. In both cases, “key opinion leaders” are paid to deliver the company message (the Pentagon uses the term “key influentials”); old boy networks ensure that friends reward friends; and e-mail trails of damning communications eventually expose the sham.
Unfortunately, military analysts and industry-sponsored CME are not the only examples of our country’s burgeoning culture of deceptive information-brokers. In the last couple of years, we’ve read about college loan officers referring students to banks in return for kickbacks (1) ; financial analysts entrusting their customers’ money to certain stock brokers in return for golf and gambling vacations (2) ; and government officials accepting lavish gifts from lobbyists for decisions that enrich their clients (3).
The moral? As information becomes more complex and specialized, it becomes more valuable to stakeholders. And where there is value, there is the opportunity for corruption, whether in medicine, the military, or any other field.