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Food for Thought 

by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & fter decades of choking down prefabricated, fat-laden, fake-flavored foods, created in a lab and mass-produced in some factory, Americans started to rebel. Today there's a growing movement to make better choices about what we eat. People want to know where their food comes from and whether anybody is messing with it. It's partially a question of not trusting what the powers that be are feeding them and partially a question of how we can live a little better -- healthier, happier and more sustainably.





No, this is not going to be a column about organic vegetables, but there's a parallel here to the way we consume news. Food feeds our bodies, while knowledge feeds our minds and -- in the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson -- allows us to maintain our democracy and freedom.





But if crappy food is making Americans fat, sick and depressed, just imagine what artificially sweetened information is doing to our minds.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & hey say you wouldn't want to see how they make sausage or public policy. Now we can add journalism to that list. In Sunday's New York Times we got an ugly glimpse of how the news is made -- and unmade. In the massive report "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand," we find out that all those retired generals who have been offering their perspectives on the war in Iraq have been puppets of the Pentagon, often receiving a boost during their day jobs as military contractors supplying -- you guessed it -- the war in Iraq.





Here are some highlights:


& lt;li & In the thousands of pages of e-mails and other documents the Times was able to review, military analysts "were called 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.'" & lt;/li &


& lt;li & The impulse to create such a platoon of propagandists dates to Vietnam, which many generals believe was lost because America stopped supporting the war. "We lost the war -- not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped," wrote retired Army General Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001-07. "He called his approach 'MindWar,'" wrote the Times, "using network TV and radio to 'strengthen our national will to victory.'" & lt;/li &


& lt;li & Timur Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of a military contractor, told the Times he had not always been forthcoming with his own true opinions out of financial concern that, "some four-star could call up and say, 'Kill that contract.' " Eads added that he was well aware of the Pentagon's mission: "I know a snow job when I see one," he was quoted as saying. & lt;/li &


& lt;li & James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the analysts on a conference call that "The strategic target remains our population. We can lose people day in and day out, but they're never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen." At a different meeting, an unnamed participant put it even more bluntly: "Frankly, from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost ... is relative." & lt;/li &





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & C & lt;/span & onsider that for a second. We are told we are unpatriotic or worse if we don't do everything we can to support the troops, and now we come to find out this is how some retired generals support the troops. Dead soldiers are "relative" as long as those contracts keep coming. Like eating tainted beef, this makes me sick.





Knowing what I do now, can I trust any military person on the news? Unfortunately, I can't -- they may really all be cogs in what Dwight Eisenhower termed the military-industrial complex.





But I'm even sicker about American journalism. Trusted news sources amplified propaganda -- and it would have been easy to discover that these generals were meeting privately with Rumsfeld and held positions on a variety of defense corporations. The fact that these news organizations would not participate in the Times' story, either via silence or brief written statements, drives home their guilt. They are pawns in the war effort, and they won't even answer for it.





And when I start to look around, I can't help but see the hidden hands everywhere. George Stephanopoulos was widely criticized for the tabloid style of last week's Democratic debate, but what nobody talked about much was that his entire career was dependent on Bill and Hillary Clinton, whom he served as a trusted aide. Should he really have been asking questions? And over on Fox, where the bar of ethics is much lower, Karl Rove is trotted out as a pundit, talking about how much trouble the Democrats are in, but they don't bother to say he is an adviser to John McCain, as Politico.com reports.





We're on our own, it seems -- people need to be skeptical of anything they see in the media today. Americans need to start wondering where their news comes from and demand it be healthy and true. Like many of our institutions, the media are veering off course -- instead of informing the populace, they seem to be making us dumber by the day.





We need a way to enforce that the First Amendment is being used as intended by the Founding Fathers. Part of that means letting the media know when they screw up -- news organizations do listen to consumers who complain. But we may also need a bigger, meaner watchdog to keep track of that lazy old hound we used to trust. Maybe we need labelling of opinions and what's informing them -- the way food is labeled in the supermarket. Perhaps that could all come from some new media entity on the model of NPR or the BBC that is more publicly controlled and as independent as the judiciary.





But then, as the Times reported, even NPR featured a retired Army general, Robert Scales, who in one e-mail boasted to his Pentagon handlers: "Recall the stuff I did after my last visit [to Iraq]," he wrote in an e-mail. "I will do the same this time."
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