Last month, New York Times reporter David Barstow received a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into how the Bush Pentagon co-opted retired generals in its propaganda efforts.
“I take it as an affirmation of the principle that American journalism ought to be fiercely independent,” Barstow told Editor and Publisher upon winning the award.
But Barstow’s award was not positively received by allies of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. On Monday, U.S. News’ Paul Bedard reported that former Pentagon Assistant Secretary Dorrance Smith told him, “Does the Pulitzer give prizes for works of fiction? Perhaps they just got the wrong category.” Current Rumsfeld aide Keith Urbahn went further, citing a January 2009 Pentagon inspector general’s report to attack Barstow’s reporting:
Rumsfeld’s current spokesman, Keith Urbahn, cites a January 2009 Pentagon inspector general’s report debunking the story: “The Times’s reporting on DoD’s routine outreach to military experts didn’t merit a place in the paper, much less a Pulitzer.” [...]
Says Urbahn: “Between the New York Times and the Pentagon’s inspector general office, it’s pretty clear which is a more credible and non-partisan source.”
Just one day after Urbahn’s intemperate remarks, however, the Pentagon announced that it was withdrawing the IG report because it “did not meet accepted quality standards for an Inspector General work product.” In a memo announcing the withdrawal of the report, Donald M. Horstman, the Pentagon’s deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, told staff “do not continue to rely on its conclusions.”
In the New York Times today, Barstow notes that the report was controversial as soon as it was released, “with some members of Congress calling it a ‘whitewash’ marred by obvious factual errors.” In January ‘09, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt called the IG report “highly flawed,” noting that it “left its conclusions open to question by erroneously identifying several retired officers as having no ties to military contractors when in fact they did.”