MEDIA WATCH: Harsh criticism stymies future of Pentagon's futures market

When two Democratic senators held a press conference on Capitol Hill late last month to protest a secretive Pentagon program, the resulting uproar and subsequent termination of the terrorism futures market served as an excellent example of the power of the media and the impact of public opinion.

When two Democratic senators held a press conference on Capitol Hill late last month to protest a secretive Pentagon program, the resulting uproar and subsequent termination of the terrorism futures market served as an excellent example of the power of the media and the impact of public opinion.

The program, called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM), would have created by October 1 a geopolitical futures market in which speculators would bet real money on catastrophic terrorist attacks. Once Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) blew the whistle on the heretofore-unknown program, the bipartisan outrage and public opinion became so overwhelming that the closing of the program was announced with blinding speed. Fox News (July 29) reported, "Washington has been treated over the past 24 hours to one of those instant political storms that, like a summer shower, is over in less than a full news cycle." Media coverage was replete with indignation that the Pentagon would even consider creating and funding what several called a morbid betting parlor on death and destruction. In covering the story for NBC Nightly News (July 29), Tom Brokaw didn't mince words: "Critics call the idea...grotesque, morally repugnant, and incredibly stupid." A frequently voiced criticism was that terrorists might join the betting pool and actually profit by their own actions. CNNfn (July 29) aired a rhetorical question by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-MT): "Most traders try to influence their investments. How long would it be before you saw traders invest in a way that would bring about the desired result?" Nearly two-thirds of the stories either defended the program or gave a more detailed explanation of what the perceived usefulness of the program was meant to be. MSNBC anchor Pat Buchanan initially defended PAM: "This seems to me to be a project to get the benefit of all the best thinking of the smartest people in the world on where terrorism is going to happen and have it all of a sudden in one place." But by the end of that evening's broadcast, he, like the Pentagon, was backpedaling. Approximately half of the analyzed reporting focused on PAM being run by retired Admiral John Poindexter, President Reagan's national security advisor. Many media reports judged that PAM had even less credibility because of the baggage of Poindexter's involvement. He was routinely described as a tarnished figure because of his five felony convictions for lying to Congress over his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Poindexter was vilified even further as the media recalled that it was he who had tried to implement the Pentagon's post-9/11 Total Information Awareness program, which privacy critics and Congress derided as Orwellian in that it snooped into Americans' lives. A New York Times editorial (July 30) called for him to resign. On July 31, Poindexter bowed to the pressure and did just that. While thinking outside the box is normally seen as a good thing, there appeared to a very broad consensus that in this case Poindexter and other officials went way too far. There was broad support for the Pentagon to shut down PAM, but many questions have sprung up about the Pentagon because of this program, and that bad press may continue.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

  • Have you registered with us yet?

    Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

    Register
    Already registered?
    Sign in

    Would you like to post a comment?

    Please Sign in or register.