NBC ignored the SPJ entirely until Full Court Press asked NBC’s senior vice president for media relations, Allison Gollust, for a comment. Reaching for FCP’s chutzpah award of 2008, Sinner Gollust offered this response:
SPJ’s Ethics Committee came to its conclusion without seeking any information or facts from NBC News—they simply took the reporting of David Barstow as evidence of an ethical problem at NBC News. For a group of journalists in an organization that supposedly is committed to a “free-flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry,” we find this rush to judgement unfortunate and irresponsible.
Note to Gollust: The reporting of Barstow is indisputable evidence of a gigantic ethical problem at NBC News. That’s why it wasn’t necessary to contact you before making a very obvious recommendation.
FCP also asked, “Has NBC ever mentioned this controversy on Nightly News, or any of its other broadcasts? If so, please tell me when and where.” Gollust replied, “We covered it following the first article in April.” However, FCP is quite certain the controversy has never been mentioned on Nightly News, and Gollust ignored three requests to point us to specific broadcasts in which it was covered. According to one of Glenn Greenwald’s posts last week, Gollust’s answer is a lie: “Clocks were even created to count the number of days the networks blackballed Barstow’s story—and it currently stands at 223 days, and counting.”
Winner: Blogger Jerome Little for remembering that back in May of 2000, the indispensable Sy Hersh wrote 25,000 words in the New Yorker suggesting that McCaffrey might have committed war crimes during the first Gulf War, by carrying out an all-out attack on “a retreating Republican Guard tank division off Highway 8 west of Basra.” Hersh wrote,
McCaffrey’s assault was one of the biggest and most one-sided-of the Gulf War, but no journalists appear to have been in the area at the time, and, unlike the “highway of death,” it did not produce pictures and descriptions that immediately appeared on international television and in the world press….
McCaffrey refused to be interviewed by Hersh but issued a statement denying any wrongdoing. The bottom line in Hersh’s piece:
McCaffrey’s insistence that the Iraqis attacked first was disputed in interviews for this article by some of his subordinates in the wartime headquarters of the 24th Division, and also by soldiers and officers who were at the scene on March 2nd. The accounts of these men, taken together, suggest that McCaffrey’s offensive, two days into a ceasefire, was not so much a counterattack provoked by enemy fire as a systematic destruction of Iraqis who were generally fulfilling the requirements of the retreat; most of the Iraqi tanks travelled from the battlefield with their cannons reversed and secured, in a position known as travel-lock. According to these witnesses, the 24th faced little determined Iraqi resistance at any point during the war or its aftermath; they also said that McCaffrey and other senior officers exaggerated the extent of Iraqi resistance throughout the war.
Update: Yesterday, NBC News senior vice president Allison Gollust issued the statement above, attacking the Society for Professional Journalists for failing to contact NBC before it called upon the network to sever its ties to General Barry McCaffrey.
It turns out Ms. Gollust’s accusation is flatly false.
Today, Scott A. Leadingham, Communications Coordinator, Society of Professional Journalists, supplied FCP with a copy of this e-mail, which he sent to Ms. Gollust the day before SPJ issued its statement. Leadingham told FCP he also spoke with Gollust’s assistant twice on the day he sent the e-mail, but Ms. Gollust never responded to any of his messages. Here is the e-mail:
Hello, Ms. Gollust.
I’m contacting you in regard to the Society of Professional Journalists responding to media reports about NBC analyst Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Our ethics committee is preparing to issue a statement calling on NBC to sever its relationship with Gen. McCaffrey in light of a conflict of interest recently reported by the New York Times. Specifically, the ethic committee is calling on NBC News President Steve Capus and Nightly News Anchor/Managing Editor Brian Williams to respond.
Before issuing such a statement, however, SPJ would like to give NBC a chance to respond. If NBC so chooses, we will include your response in our statement, in the interest of fairness.
Please contact me by phone or e-mail at your earliest convenience. We would like to issue this statement before the end of the week.
Scott A. Leadingham Society of Professional Journalists
Update II: Ms. Gollust confirmed to FCP today that, contrary to another statement she made yesterday, no NBC News Broadcast has ever made any mention of the McCaffrey controversy since David Barstow’s first article ran in The New York Times last spring.