Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Did the Mainstream Media Get the Memo?

Rep. John Conyers: Did the Mainstream Media Get the Memo?

For the past few weeks, I and others on this blog (including its propreitor) have lamented the lack of mainstream media coverage of the Downing Street Minutes [which has been reported on numerous times here at "The Truth About Political Stuff" http://political-stuff.blogspot.com ]. Looking in from the outside of the networks and newspapers, we have been left to surmise just what the problem really is. On a story with constitutional implications, with life and death consequences, there was first silence. Then, there was a story here and there, but no meaningful, dogged and sustained coverage. What gives?

First, this morning, I came across an insightful column on this matter from a reporter named Jefferson Morley on Washingtonpost.com. For those of you who still get our news from a paper copy with a cup of coffee, don't bother -- it isn't in the Post today, just online. Mr. Morley's beat is covering the foreign press for the Post.

A couple of quotes from his column (and then on to the startling part): "It's not hard to see why this remarkable document, published in The Times on May 1 (and reported in this column on May 3), continues to attract reader interest around the world." At the end: "Far from being a dud, the Downing Street Memo may generate more stories to come." Great column. And why couldn't I read this in the Post this morning?

Mr. Morley answered my question later in the day, in an online chat at Washingtonpost.com. The exchanges with readers speak for themselves and I urge you to read the chat in its entirety. A few stunners:

When asked why there has been so little coverage of the Downing Street Minutes here in the United States, Morley replies: "I think some combination of cynicism, complacency and insulation has stifled the instincts of very good reporters. I also think there is also a failure of leadership at the senior editorial level. The issues raised by the Downing Street minutes are very serious. To pursue them is to invite confrontation. This means that 'beat' reporters cannot realistically pursue the story. I say all this way of explanation, not rationalization. There are several natural followup stories to the Downing Street memo that we should be pursuing right now."

Later he says: "I think its because the Washington press corps is oriented around "news" as generated by the White House and the executive branch. When it comes to Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the White House and the Congress have settled on the following narrative: that the U.S. government had every reason to fear the nexus of Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, that the intelligence community agreed that Hussein had WMD and therefore war was not only justified but necessary.

The Downing Street Memo invites the thought that maybe that was illusory, that in fact people in the Bush administration were having meetings dedicated to figuring how, as Richard Dearlove said, 'fix the facts and the intelligence.' I think its hard to journalist's born and bred in the ways of Washington to contemplate the implications."

This is a stunning account of the way our media has slid backwards from the days of Woodward and Bernstein. I'll let his candid remarks speak for themselves on that.

I would simply ask: after the abject failure of the media to expose the myth of WMD and Iraq, the cheerleading coverage of "embedded" reporters, and the transmission of propaganda to the American people (see Jessica Lynch story, Pat Tillman's tragic death, and the toppling of Saddam's statue), aren't we owed some good, sustained and thorough reporting on this?

A reader asks whether a Post reporter will ask about the Downing Street Minutes during the joint Bush-Blair appearances in Washington this week. Morley's reply: "If Post reporters don't ask Blair about the memo, they have abdicated responsibility in my view."

What more can I add to that?