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But Is It Playing in Peoria? The Downing Street Memo and Our Hometown Papers


Published on Wednesday, June 29, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
By Cynthia Bogard

Jefferson Morley, a staff writer at washingtonpost.com, suggested recently that the Downing Street Memo (DSM) story continues to spread because it represents two stories, "an emerging alternative history of how the United States came to attack Iraq and a story of how the New Media has usurped some of the Old Media's power to set the agenda."

The "New Media" --the blogosphere and alternative news and views websites such as rawstory.com, buzzflash.com, commondreams.org and, especially pertinent to this story, afterdowningstreet.org--certainly deserve a lot of credit. On-line complaints about Old Media's neglect of the story have had a major impact. So has the "letters to the editors" campaign started by the original downingstreetmemo.com site that has deluged newspapers around the nation with reader demands for DSM coverage. Old Media--television and the major daily newspapers, The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and perhaps the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune--finally have begun to get the message that the DSM story is not going to go away because New Media is not going to let it.

But even if the DSM story helps to reshape the fourth estate as seems increasingly likely, it's the "alternative history" the DSM represents and its potential to end a needless war and rein in a rogue administration that must be focused on right now. If the DSM story is to be effective as a political story, the citizenry needs to be informed. And while New Media and Old Media fight their battle, it just might be our nation's first media--the hometown paper--that ensures that the DSM as a story about the world being misled into a illegal war continues to make its way into the nation's consciousness.

Is the DSM story playing in Peoria, that classic mid-country metaphor for small-town America?

You betcha it is.

Under the headline "House Forum Focuses on Downing Street," The Peoria Journal Star ran a substantial story on the Conyers hearing on June 17. It printed the memos. On June 19 it ran in full AP correspondent Thomas Wagner's detailed and lengthy story about the memos, their release and what new information about the run-up to the war they contained. On June 21, in an editorial about the war, the paper stated, "Americans need to hear a forthright and thoughtful response to the Downing Street Memo." On the web version of the paper, links to the memo story and the texts of the memos appeared on page one, adjacent to coverage of the June 28 Bush speech on the war.

And the folks in Peoria are far from alone in being informed by their hometown papers about the Downing Street Memo. It's clear from the dramatic increase recently in DSM mentions in articles, letters and editorials that the June 16 Conyers hearing marked a tipping point for the DSM story in hometown papers around the nation.

Smaller city papers do look to their wire services for what stories to emphasize. As Tom O'Hara, the managing editor of Cleveland's Plain Dealer said, "On international stories like this, we usually take our cue from the Associated Press and the New York Times wire service. The Downing Street Memo story was barely on their radar screen. We followed suit." That's why Knight Ridder's early and consistent coverage of the issue mattered and that's why AP obtaining copies of the last six of the documents (thus legitimating their interest through use of the "scoop") mattered. There's been a flurry of coverage from both these sources in the wake of the Conyers hearing. But newswire dependence, especially if that wire happened to be the MIA New York Times, also curtailed coverage in some papers, at least at first.

That's where citizens stepped in. While Plain Dealer editor O'Hara criticized the letters he'd received from "our loyal readers in California, New York, Wisconsin and other places," most other papers not only received many letters from local readers but printed them, sometimes in bulk. On June 19, for example, the St. Petersburg Times ran eight letters from readers responding to the previous week's editorial on the DSM. Two were supportive of the president, the rest criticized the media or the Bush Administration or called for further investigation. On June 21 the Sacramento Bee ran ten letters, nine of them critical of the media's job in covering the issue or the Bush Administration's actions as revealed by the memos. Eugene Kane of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the letter writing campaigns "a form of electronic chain-letter designed to tweak the consciences of journalists such as me."

Other papers have forums for reader views. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, under the banner "The Vent," publishes one-line complaints, which on June 20 included a call for more DSM story coverage. The Seattle Times publishes Northeast Voices, which features multiple letters from readers on whatever subjects they'd like to discuss. A reader of that paper also wrote in to complain about lack of DSM coverage by the media in general.

Unlike the New York Times, which only prints letters related directly to one of its stories (so if they aren't covering the issue, a letter about that fact will at best appear in the ombudsman column, not the letters column), many hometown papers print letters from their readers that directly contain their views, independent of the paper's articles. In paper after paper, letter writers wrote in to complain about lack of DSM coverage, to demand more coverage or to thank their paper for its coverage. In the week following the Conyers hearing there were letters about the DSM in at least 22 of the country's second-tier papers from the Hartford Courant to the San Antonio Express News, the Akron Beacon Journal to the Rocky Mountain News.

Wire services and citizens' demands helped to drive DSM on to the pages of hometown papers. But their editors also oftentimes took the initiative. Not many papers assigned a reporter to the story like the Star Tribune in Minneapolis did. But in small papers as diverse as The Billings Outpost (Montana), the Bangor Daily News (Maine), and The Free Lance Star (Fredricksburg, Virginia), editors have begun to weigh in on the DSM in corporate and signed editorials. Cathy Siegner of the Billings Outpost for example notes, "Deliberately misleading Congress is an impeachable offense. Two recent presidents were impeached for far less." The Bangor Daily News calls for a nonpartisan 9/11-like commission to investigate the memos. And Rick Mercier, writing for the Free Lance Star, sarcastically notes that "those waving the memos around and yelling for impeachment proceedings to begin say it is, too, news that the United States' closest ally thought the case for war was 'thin'."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune flatly states that "both British and American citizens were duped" into hoping the U.N. process could prevent the war. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mark Morford calls the lies that led us into this war "staggering, appalling" and concludes, "Of course Bush deserves to be impeached." Even the conservative Tampa Tribune, which, in its editorial doubted the authenticity of the memos and called the DSM "a small piece of inconclusive evidence," did call for Bush to respond and "talk frankly" with his doubters.

Syndicated columnists have also played a strategic and significant role. Though his paper all but refuses to cover the story, the New York Times' Paul Krugman has written editorials on the Downing Street Memo on May 16 and June 24 that were reprinted in many smaller city papers. Molly Ivins' columns likewise appear in small papers as disparate as Boulder, Colorado's Daily Camera and Fort Worth, Texas' Star Telegram. Both these columnists are taking the story seriously and calling for more reporting and a public airing of what happened. Though LA Times editor Michael Kinsley and Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank have written dismissively and mockingly of the story, their widely reprinted columns also have created a momentum of reader reaction.

So how is the story cutting? Unsurprisingly, papers in towns with large middle class Black populations and papers hailing from well-known liberal bastions are leading the way in coverage of the issue and in calls for further investigation. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Detroit Free Press, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Seattle Times and Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times have all given substantial coverage and editorial space to the DSM story.

There is a definite Red State/Blue State difference in coverage, with some dailies in Red States either all but ignoring the story, covering it dismissively or echoing the Bush Administration take on it. The Dallas Morning News unsurprisingly quoted White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's view that "this is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed" and ended with Bush's assertion that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein but did include information from the memo itself. A letter writer to Ohio's Akron Beacon Journal was scolded for complaining about the lack of DSM coverage in the paper because, as public editor Mike Needs said, "On May 6 this newspaper carried a prominent front-page article about the DSM."

But the story is being covered in unexpected ways in unexpected places too such as in the hometown paper of the U.S. military, Stars and Stripes, which quoted Celeste Zappala, a gold star mother from the anti-Iraq war group Military Families Speak Out. Likewise, the Lexington Kentucky Herald carried a story about Cindy Sheehan, also a gold star mother and one of the citizens who testified at the Conyers hearing. The Houston Chronicle, like Peoria's paper, printed the entire June 20 AP story.

The Downing Street memo story definitely has legs. It has survived the "court of appeals" as Jay Rosen has termed the process by which a story ignored by the mainstream media can be given new life via the Internet and rebound from the blogosphere back on to the radar of the mainstream media. When it comes time to look back on what might prove to be a critical incident in American history, we'll be lauding the independence of America's hometown dailies for helping to raise the consciousness of the nation. You betcha we will.

Cynthia Bogard (Cynthia.J.Bogard@hofstra.edu) is a sociology professor at Hofstra University in New York. She was born and raised in small-town Wisconsin.

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The true conservative Republicans are making the same mistake liberal Democrats made when congress impeached Clinton. Clinton was clearly a liability to the Democrats as he scandalized the nation, his party and his family with his sexual escapades. The man was clearly flawed and politically wounded; as a lame duck president he was not going to accomplish jack squat in the next two years. The smartest thing for the Democrats to have done was to take the high road get rid of the scoundrel and declare to the nation that they had cleaned up the party and the mess. Al Gore was virtually untouched by all the scandal, he could have served the next two years as president, if he had kept his mouth shut and not done anything stupid he would have run as an incumbent and would have beaten little George Stupid.

Un fortunately the liberal Democrats put party loyalty and ideology way above the good of the country and stood firmly behind the flawed Clinton, and the rest is history.

Even though the comparison of the Clinton scandals is not analogous to today’s situation, the Republicans are making the same mistake of loyalty to little George, to party and ideology and screwing the nation in the process. The final result will be the same as they continue to lose power as they let little George squander what little political capital they have left. The true conservatives of the Republican Party desperately need to clean house and get rid of the fake conservative Bush and his fascist cohorts. What is totally amazing is that the conservatives continue to support this lying SOB who does not have a clue what a true conservative is. Wake up Republicans you have been f####d by little George Stupid along with the rest of the nation.

The analogy of Clinton and Bush is a little silly, in my opinion. Yes, Clinton was a scoundrel, but come on... As the bumper sticker says, "Nobody died when Clinton lied".

It is nice to get some perspective on how the DSM is playing out across America. This story must not die. Bush and his merry men must pay.

I agree with anonymous that an effective strategy would be to do whatever it takes to fuel a civil war within the GOP. If a few more old conservatives like this one below started making waves it would surely help:

***************************************************

The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon
June 26, 2005

Guest Viewpoint: The party's over for betrayed Republican
By James Chaney

As of today, after 25 years, I am no longer a Republican.

I take this step with deep regret, and with a deep sense of betrayal.

I still believe in the vast power of markets to inspire ideas, motivate solutions and eliminate waste. I still believe in international vigilance and a strong defense, because this world will always be home to people who will avidly seek to take or destroy what we have built as a nation. I still believe in the protection of individuals and businesses from the influence and expense of an over-involved government. I still believe in the hand-in-hand concepts of separation of church and state and absolute freedom to worship, in the rights of the states to govern themselves without undo federal interference, and in the host of other things that defined me as a Republican.

My problem is this: I believe in principles and ideals which my party has systematically discarded in the last 10 years.

My Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, and George H.W. Bush. It was a party of honesty and accountability. It was a party of tolerance, and practicality and honor. It was a party that faced facts and dealt with reality, and that crafted common-sense solutions to problems based on the facts as they were, not as we wished them to be, or even worse, as we made them up. It was a party that told the truth, even when the truth came hard. And now, it is none of those things.

Fifty years from now, the Republican Party of this era will be judged by how we provided for the nation's future on three core issues: how we led the world on the environment, how we minded the business of running our country in such a way that we didn't go bankrupt, and whether we gracefully accepted our place on the world's stage as its only superpower. Sadly, we have built the foundation for dismal failure on all three counts. And we've done it in such a way that we shouldn't be surprised if neither the American people nor the world ever trusts us again.

My party has repeatedly ignored, discarded and even invented science to suit its needs, most spectacularly as to global warming. We have an opportunity and the responsibility to lead the world on this issue, but instead we've chosen greed, shortsightedness and deliberate ignorance.

We have mortgaged the country's fiscal future in a way that no Democratic Congress or administration ever did, and to justify the tax cuts that brought us here, we've simply changed the rules. I matured as a Republican believing that uncontrolled deficit spending is harmful and irresponsible; I still do. But the party has yet to explain to me why it's a good thing now, other than to say "... because we say so."

Our greatest failure, though, has been in our role as superpower. This world needs justice, democracy and compassion, and as the keystone of those things, it needs one thing above all else: truth.

Republican decisions made in 2002 and 2003 have killed almost 2,000 of the most capable patriots our country has to offer - volunteers, every one. Support for those decisions was gathered through what appeared at the time to be spin and marketing, but which now turns out to have been deliberate planning and falsehood. The Blair government's internal documentation only confirms what has been suspected for years: Americans are dying every day for Republican lies first crafted in 2002, expanded and embellished upon in 2003, and which continue to this day. This calculated deception is now burned into the legacy of the party, every bit as much as Reagan's triumph in the Cold War, or Nixon's disgrace over Watergate.

I could go on and on - about how we have compromised our international integrity by sanctioning torture, about how we are systematically dismantling the civil liberties that it took us two centuries to define and preserve, and about how we have substituted bullying, brinksmanship and "staying on message" for real political discourse - but those three issues are enough.

We're poisoning our planet through gluttony and ignorance.

We're teetering on the brink of self-inflicted insolvency.

We're selfishly and needlessly sacrificing the best of a generation.

And we're lying about it.

While it has compiled this record of failure and deception, the party which I'm leaving today has spent its time, energy and political capital trying to save Terri Schiavo, battling the threat of single-sex unions, fighting medical marijuana and physician-assisted suicide, manufacturing political crises over presidential nominees, and selling privatized Social Security to an America that isn't buying. We fiddle while Rome burns.

Enough is enough. I quit.

James Chaney is a Eugene attorney who has been in private practice for more than 20 years, and who has been a registered Republican since 1980.

Dear Attorney Chaney,

Let me applaud your candid and well reasoned observations. While I am not and never have been associated with the Republican Party, as an attorney, I share a great many of the goals and aspirations which you outlined in your piece. I do not think intelligent policy on fiscal and civil liberties issues need run along party lines. There are some basic tenets in our democracy which can not be politicized. I believe you did a masterful job of accentuating that point with grace and dignity.

I can only hope that more true American patriots will reach the same level of disgust and dismay with this Administration and its lack of respect for American ideals. Now more than ever our nation needs all individuals of good will to rise up and stem the tide of deceit and legal and moral corruption. The current Republican Party just can no longer be trusted with the reins of power.

Please feel free to e-mail me at richschaedler@mail2.myexcel.com

I'm excited about DSM day.
I would encourage people trying to organize an event that day to contact their local DFA chapter, they are sure to find a lot of people interested in helping.

http://dfa.meetup.com

Generating support for a Congressional investigation of DSM 6/29/05

In attempting to generate support for Sen Conyers petition for a formal investigation of the Downing St. Memos, its apparent there are
a number of objections.
1.The Congress will not vote for it: This is perhaps the most frequent response. It kills the search for the truth before it has a chance to begin. It indicates a belief that this majority party is above the law and that their control of power makes them immune or unaccountable for their actions. It signifies a loss of hope in the democratic process and the balance of powers. It reflects a cynical view of a govt in which truth no longer matters. It demonstrates the successful use of spin, deception and fear tactics. Propagandistic manipulation of emotional issues like 911, patriotism, national security and support for the troops has discouraged many from honest debate, critical thinking and dissent.
If a significant number of americans request this formal investigation; a sufficient number of republicans may abandon what they percieve as a lost cause and drop their efforts to cover up the truth. The one thing many politicians respond to besides money and power is the changing tide of political support. Bush only won by two or three percentage points. The decision to abort this investigation before it gets started because it might not be supported is a very despairing attitude and also illogical.
2.The country cannot stand the upset: Consider the alternative; at least 3 ½ more years of “staying the course

RE:point 1-congress won't vote for it anyway- A] that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. congress won't vote UNLESS they see overwhelming public support. B]it would be wrong of congress not to vote on this issue. it would be wrong of YOU not to vote on this issue just because you think congress might not vote on this issue.two wrongs don't make a right.make your voice heard.
point 2-the country can't stand the upset- I couldn't agree more.that's why we need to fix it. Unfortunately,we can't change what's happened. We can take steps to prevent more of the same from happening. By doing so, we can make great leaps towards restoring the global trust that has been eroded so completely by this administration. If they've done so much damage that america couldn't cope with it' the last thing we need to do is cower with our heads in the sand while they continue to do even MORE damage.
point 3-calling for investigation dishonours the military- no,the military HAS been dishonored...by our president. it is our DUTY to protect them from being put in harm's way based on lies and deception .the relationship between civilians and the military is synergistic.They protect us,we protect them. Their weapon is the sword, our weapon is the pen. The military has done their job admirably. Are you doing yours? pick up your pen. How many more deaths and grievous injuries will it take?

So there saying that we should just let them get away with starting a war because they wanted to.
That's a load of crap.Men are dying becuase these men wanted to make $$$$$$$$$$$$$.The foundation of why they told us we were there is false.The president told the entire United States of AMerica and world a big fat LIE.
This is a very serious crime,starting a war knowing men would die,because you wanted to,is a think called treason.

I wish the Republicans against Bush,Republicans for America would mail everybody information on this and other matters,of what is happening under the Bush Mafia.
The Yahoo,stock market board under the stock JDSU,going back about 5-6 days has information under the name JOHNLENNON SHALLRI that is a good start.
Americans are not hearing the news and this would be a good way to inform the people.
It would reach there homes and would be read.
I can't believe they didn't think of a way to get around the big medias and inform the people.
Also a campaign of reaching the medium and smaller papers is good.

I know this as I was a life time long Republican and I fell for this propagand being pushed by the Bush administration and the Big Medias.
Thank God I got off the main stream medias and hackers and started reading smaller papers and articles from professors and scholars and experts in there fields.

I am so angry for being duped!

I good example of BS.
Yesterday AP had an article,mind you it was a day after Bush's LIE rally,with a heading something like this.
'The military is reaching it's recruiting goals in June.'
Something that looks real good after bush's rally.
Well the title was BS,because they had lowered the recruitment numbers and you can be assured they played games so they could have this printed after bush spoke.
The truth be known the recruitment is down as much as 48%.

The reporter knew this,the assistant editor knew this and the editor knew this.Before that story was printed it went throgh many people.
The big medias are owned by Republican and there ALL working for BUSH.
Not to forget the hackers on the radios.

The analogy of Clinton and Bush is a little silly, in my opinion. Yes, Clinton was a scoundrel, but come on... As the bumper sticker says, "Nobody died when Clinton lied".

I would like to address the issue of the PJ Star. I live near Peoria and began to write to pj star's editors every since the DSM became public. Jerry Smith was the key editor I had correspondance with. I wrote I believe something like six letters to him before anything was printed in the star about the DSM. On June 19th the day they Devoted the entire A-15 page to the DSM I was asked by Jerry to submit a letter to the editor to be published in the opinion section so I did. The article was published in the Friday June 24th opinion section. I am glad to know that there are other people paying attention to PJ star maybe together we can keep the momentum growing and keep this story in the papers. Only this way can we gain enough momentum to force the republicans to allow an inquiry! thanks for you comments and if you are interested in the article I wrote here is a link: http://www.pjstar.com/stories/062405/FOR_B6ORKN2D.059.shtml

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