Gen. McCaffrey Still Stoking Iran Fears at NBC

Three years after he was busted in a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigation, General Barry McCaffery is still stoking fears of Iran on NBC and consulting the network's executives and producers.

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Three years after he was busted in a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigation, General Barry McCaffery is still stoking fears of Iran on NBC and consulting the network's executives and producers.

It's hard to say which activity is more disturbing given that, in 2008, the Times' David Barstow revealed that McCaffrey was participating in a Pentagon program to make the case for war in Iraq and working for defense contractors—all the while infusing hawkish opinons presented as objective analysis on various NBC news programs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

The first bit of news, regarding McCaffrey's briefings to NBC employees, comes from Salon's Glenn Greenwald who confirmed last night that McCaffrey had presented a seminar to about 20 NBC executives and producers, including NBC News President Steve Capus, entitled "Iran, Nukes & Oil: The Gulf Confrontation."

"They are likely to further escalate," reads McCaffrey's PowerPoint slide on Iran. "They will not under any circumstances actually be deterred from going nuclear. They will achieve initial nuclear capability within 36 months."

Just as in the run-up to the Iraq war, McCaffrey's consulting ties are rarely cited in his title as "NBC military analyst." And when Greenwald called McCaffrey to ask if "any of his ample consulting clients would benefit from a war with Iran" he received no reply. (Greenwald offers the entire PowerPoint slide here.)

There are two facts about Greenwald's scoop that make this story a little less surprising but no less important. One, though Greenwald says he "obtained" the Power Point slide, it's actually been available on MSNBC's site in plain view right here. The second fact is that the views McCaffey expresses in PowerPoint slide, which Greenwald describes as "breathlessly hawkish," are not much different from what he has been saying on air on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC for sometime now.
For reasons we don't quite understand, McCaffrey's commentary-as-analysis on Iran isn't featured on his MSNBC landing page. However, his TV appearances are available elsewhere. In January, for instance, he echoed his opinion analysis that Iran is racing to get a nuclear bomb on MSNBC's Daily Rundown.

“In the coming five years the Iranians are going nuclear. Within 60 months they’ll have a dozen weapons. They’ve got Shahab-3 missiles. Probably more than 150 now that can strike Israel," he said. “We’re going to face a nuclear-armed Iran in the very near future. And this is bad news for the region and world peace.”

On Monday, McCaffrey talked about what a nuclear-armed Iran would mean for Israel on NewsNation with Tamron Hall. "The Israelis correctly see their national existence at stake so it's not beyond reason to imagine that Netanyahu will say we gotta roll the dice, we gotta gamble at stopping the program and getting the U.S engaged, bringing attention to this."
Assertions like that "correctly" shift McCaffrey from analyst to pundit, as even inside Israel, the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran being an existential threat is subject to debate. (In December, the former head of Israel's Intelligence agency Tamir Pardo criticized the view. “What is the significance of the term ‘existential?’” he said. “If you said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an ‘existential’ threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop. That’s not the situation. The term is used too freely.”)
Speaking on CNBC last year, McCaffrey repeated his predictions about Iran's nuclear intentions. "I'd be astonished if within five years they don't have three, four, five workable nuclear weapons perhaps disassembled and delivering means to use them against Israel at a range of 1,200 miles or more."
That's a lot of hawkish opinion for a straightforward "military analyst" to bring to the table.
Update: NBC News is defending its consulting relationship with McCaffrey and calling Greenwald's article "inaccurate" and "ignorant." The gist of the statement is that NBC News invites a broad spectrum of experts to weigh in on editorial issues, which is a fair argument. Though, for our purposes, it still doesn't explain why McCaffrey should be depicted as an impartial analyst every time he goes on TV. Below is the statement via The Huffington Post:

The Salon piece is a woefully inaccurate, ignorant, insulting depiction of our editorial process.
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.

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