What is media coverage of Iraq war good for? Absolutely nothing
On May 1, the British Sunday Times revealed a secret memo, dated July 23, 2002, that was circulated among British defense and foreign policy officials and staff. The memo read in part:
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC [National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. [Emphasis added.]
Salon.com's Joe Conason wrote of the memo:
There is a "smoking memo" that confirms the worst assumptions about the Bush administration's Iraq policy, but although that memo generated huge pre-election headlines in Britain, its existence has hardly been mentioned here.
[The memo read in part,] "The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
Those few lines sum up everything that went wrong in the months and years to come -- and place the clear stamp of falsehood on the Bush administration's public pronouncements as the president pushed the nation toward war.
A highly classified British memo, leaked during Britain's just-concluded election campaign, claims President Bush decided by summer 2002 to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and was determined to ensure that U.S. intelligence data supported his policy.
But beyond that, American media outlets have been largely silent about the memo -- despite paying great attention to the British elections upon which the revelation of the memo had considerable impact.
CNN, for example, aired only the briefest of passing references to the memo:
CAROL LIN (anchor): "Also, it's an election week in Great Britain. And Prime
Minister Tony Blair is on the defensive, mainly over accusations in British
press, reportedly from leaked secret documents that he and the U.S. president
had planned the invasion of Iraq and committed troops nine months before it
happened." [CNN Sunday Night, 5/1/05]
ROBIN OAKLEY (CNN European political editor): "But Tony Blair and his party
are not behaving as if they've got this election in the bag. And the reason is
the wrong subject keeps cropping up in the headlines. It's Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, day
after day, more revelations, leaked memorandums, leaked Downing Street about the
government, for example, committing itself to war in Iraq many months before it
has previously indicated that it did so. And Tony Blair is worried that in the
marginal seats, a lot of traditional labor supporters who didn't like the war
will fail to turn out in what may be a low turnout election." [News from CNN,
That's it -- and that's more than we can find on MSNBC or Fox News.
course, as we noted last
week, news organizations have a difficult task in deciding what is and isn't
In this case, for cable news outlets to have covered the disclosure of a memo that suggests that President Bush manipulated pre-war intelligence to support his agenda, they might have had to cut back on their wall-to-wall coverage of one of the most important issues of our time: the so-called "Runaway Bride," Jennifer Wilbanks. A search of the Nexis database yields 125 news reports about Wilbanks on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox since May 1 (including online news reports). Or perhaps they would have had to pare down their coverage of American Idol, or the Michael Jackson trial.
The cable "news" networks aren't alone in ignoring the story, though. The New York Times, which famously apologized for its pre-war coverage, apparently still hasn't learned its lesson -- the "paper of record" hasn't yet mentioned the British memo.
Maybe that will change now that 88 members of Congress have sent President Bush a letter demanding answers about the matter. If not, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who circulated the letter, might want to see if Paula Abdul will sign it.
(P.S.: After this was written, but before it was posted, CNN again mentioned the memo: Inside Politics host Judy Woodruff introduced the May 6 "Inside the Blogs" segment by saying, "A secret British government memo has been made public, and it has the blogosphere all abuzz. We check in now on that and more with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter." Woodruff offered no explanation for why CNN and other media outlets haven't been similarly "abuzz" over the memo. Regardless, it's a dark day when CNN's "witheringly bad" and "excruciatingly empty" blog segment actually does a better job of covering the news than the rest of the network.)