A person watching a video of General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander, as he speaks during a news briefing from the Pentagon on August 30, 2021. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)
Before Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, confirmed on Friday that an Aug. 29 drone strike previously claimed to have taken out an ISIS-K target in fact killed a family of ten, including seven children, the military-industrial-media complex never batted an eye.
Corporate media seem to have lost the journalistic skepticism so prevalent throughout the Trump years, as they often reported Trump officials said x “without evidence” before working tirelessly to find ways to prove x was false. In the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 29 drone strike, the usual suspects were happy to run with the Pentagon’s chosen narrative without much interrogation, just as they did with Iraq WMD. Perhaps this is the return to normalcy we were promised.
The Aug. 29 drone strike was the second in retaliation for the suicide bombing that killed at least 182 people, including 13 U.S. service members on Aug. 26. The first strike, launched a day after the suicide bombing on Aug. 27, claimed the lives of two ISIS-K terrorists and injured a third, the Pentagon claims. Days after the second strike, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley described the action as a “righteous strike” that followed proper operating procedures.
The narrative fed by the Pentagon to the public was questioned by Al-Jazeera and other outlets who had sources on the ground claiming civilian children had been killed by the U.S. drone strike, but were only briefly noted. The Pentagon’s narrative was ultimately shattered by a Sept. 10 report from the New York Times. McKenzie joined a Pentagon press briefing virtually Friday and corroborated the Times’ reporting, saying he was, “now convinced that as many as ten civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” and “that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those that died were associated with ISIS-K or a direct threat to U.S. forces.”
In other words, not a single ISIS-K terrorist was killed in the retaliatory strike. Lucky for McKenzie, who took full responsibility for the “tragic mistake” that killed up to seven children and offered his “condolences to the family and friends of those killed,” he can still expect to receive a comfortable position on the board of a defense contractor and lofty contributor title from a corporate media outlet when he retires from the military.
That is a well-blazed trail, taken by many of McKenzie’s peers. In fact, it is normal. It is more than reasonable to assume profit motive has the potential to corrupt the relationship between the policy-making apparatus, the press, and the public. This is not to suggest these military experts are simply lying (although many of them have) in their punditry to make a quick buck. Sometimes, the issue falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, when convictions become so dogmatic that any form of questioning is chalked up to leaving the troops high and dry.
Without any intention to disparage anyone’s service to the country, it is important to show that, just as policy makers turn to national security experts at beltway think tanks to form policy, the corporate media also turn to such experts to provide editorial direction, explanations, or advocacy for certain war policies to the American public. These experts have every incentive to think rather highly of their peers scattered throughout the public and private sector; dig a little deeper, and you find that many of the military figures the corporate media rely on have a vested financial interest in war making, financial interests not disclosed to viewers at home. The following examples just barely pull back the veil on the machinery of the military-industrial-media complex—imagine what it would look like if it had no clothes.
Retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane can certainly be considered a national security and military expert, which is why he is a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business bearing the title of senior strategic analyst.
In Keane’s military career, he served as a paratrooper in the Vietnam War before going on to lead troops in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo and then overseeing 1.5 million soldiers operating in 120 countries around the globe as the vice chief of staff of the United States Army from 1999 to 2003. Keane was the recipient of two Defense Distinguished Service Medals, five Legions of Merit, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, three Vietnam Service medals, and a host of other accolades over his nearly four-decade military career
All of this is why former President Donald Trump considered making Keane his secretary of defense on more than one occasion, and eventually awarded Keane the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But beyond the aforementioned, Keane is also the executive chairman of AM General, a defense contractor that hauls in about $160 million a year and is known for producing the Humvee, among other tactical military vehicles. Previously, Keane was also a director for General Dynamics—a defense contracting colossus worth over $50 billion—as well as a strategic advisor for the private military firm Academi, formerly known as Blackwater.
This isn’t a Fox News phenomenon. It happens throughout the entire political-media industry.
Retired Adm. James Stavridis, once NATO’s supreme allied commander, is not only the chief international security analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He is also vice chair, global affairs and managing director of the Carlyle Group, an American multinational private equity firm that ranks among the largest in the world and has controlling interests in a number of defense companies that hold billions in government contracts. What’s more, Stavridis is the chairman of the board of counselors at McLarty Associates, a defense and diplomacy consulting firm. In one of the more telling examples of the foreign policy and defense establishment’s uniparty, Stavridis was considered a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and then was reportedly on Trump’s shortlist for secretary of defense.
Former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. is CBS News’s military and homeland security advisor. He also holds a seat on the board of directors for Raytheon, a defense contractor giant with a market cap of more than $100 billion.
Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin had to give up his own seat on Raytheon’s board of directors to take his new role as Biden’s secretary of defense, but was estimated to receive between $750,000 to $1.7 million after selling his holdings in the company. During the confirmation process, Austin promised to recuse himself from Raytheon-related decisions.
CNN contributor David Urban, an advisor to both Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, also holds the title of president at the American Continental Group, a lobbying firm that has General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Textron in its clientele.
None of this is new, either.
From 2004 to 2007, retired Army Gen. James “Spider” Marks worked for McNeil Technologies on the procurement of military intelligence contracts, apparently unbeknownst to CNN, which had awarded him the title of analyst. Marks has since returned to CNN as a military analyst, although he no longer works for McNeil. Now, Marks is a venture partner in Stony Lonesome Group, a “Veteranpreneur” firm that has invested in veteran-led defense contractors.
Sometimes, there is more than just a revolving door of personnel within the media-industrial-media complex. General Electric (G.E.) bought back the Radio Corporation of America as well as NBC in 1986, more than 50 years since G.E. first sold the businesses due to changes in antitrust law. Prior to selling NBC to Comcast, G.E. owned the network during the Gulf War. At the time, G.E. manufactured parts for a wide variety of weapons used by the U.S. in the conflict, including the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, the B-52, and Patriot and Tomahawk Cruise missiles. As Norman Solomon and Martin Lee wrote in Unreliable Sources, “In other words, when correspondents and paid consultants on NBC television praised the performance of U.S. weapons, they were extolling equipment made by GE, the corporation that pays their salaries.” Huh, imagine that.