THE SAD AND CONTINUING SAGA OF THE DOWNING STREET MEMO'S 'COVERAGE' IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
By David Michael Green
George Bush�s poodle, as he�s known at home in the UK, came from across the Atlantic
for a visit the other day. Master and hound were both asked at a press conference about
the Downing Street Minutes, and both gave preposterously duplicitous answers to the
The good news is that Bush�s American poodle � the New York Times � gave the issue
coverage, and it has moved over the last month from Page Zero to Page 10 to Page 7.
They even got the headline right this time: �Bush and Blair Deny �Fixed� Iraq Reports�.
But the bad news is still considerable. The obvious starting place in this sorry litany is the
fact that a Page 1, screaming headline story is still being buried, when it is not ignored
entirely (as has so far been the case, apart from one other short and distorted article, and
some original references to the Minutes in the context of covering the British election).
Smoking gun evidence has surfaced to prove that Bush lied America into a war in which
perhaps 100,000 people have died, and $300 billion has been wasted. Nor is this a
random, wild accusation made by his critics. It is a leak from the highest levels of the
British government, and it is massively corroborated by other evidence and testimony.
What story is bigger than that?
Still, the Times� coverage this time out was considerably better than in the past, not least
because they really weren�t covering the story in the past. This time, they actually get the
thrust of the issue correct. The DSM does prove that the decision for war was made
earlier than Bush asserts, before the Congressional vote, the UN vote or the insertion and
�urgent� withdrawal of the inspectors, and while the president was insisting that no war
plans were on his desk and that war was his last resort. This was a crime, to be sure, but
not the biggest scandal proved by the DSM. So, emphasis on this point both obscures the
much greater issue and also allows administration defenders to make (erroneous) remarks
like �I�m happy that my president was pre-planning this war in advance�.
The much bigger issue, of course, is the �fixing� matter � the intentional program of using
distorted intelligence to lie to the American public, Congress, the UN and the world about
the supposed threat posed by Saddam. Here, unlike previously, the Times at least got the
emphasis right, and devoted most of the article to this most important aspect of the DSM
The Times also did a respectable job of providing some context on this story to its readers,
who would badly need it if they had no other news source these last weeks, or, more
generally, if they just happened to live in America. The article notes how the DSM �has
created anger among the administration�s critics�, but then goes on to describe that anger
as being based on the belief that �the president was intent to go to war with Iraq earlier
than the White House has said�, once again shifting the emphasis to the lesser, and � to
a casual follower of this story, perhaps innocuous � critique. But the article partially
redeems itself from there, by providing background description of the Memo, its role in the
British election, the letter sent by 89 Democrats to the White House, and Scott McClellan�s
�no need� non-response.
The bigger problems with the article fall, as usual, in the category of omissions rather than
printed distortions. Which is not to say that such omissions are lesser problems � they can
be equally or more distorting. For example, the article has Blair denying the central
premise of the DSM, saying �No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all�.
But it does not note that Blair has never said this before, or that his initial comment, during
the heat of his campaign, was only that �there�s nothing new there�. Nor does it note that
the fixing referred to in the DSM was purportedly being done by the Yanks (though the
Blair team contributed more than their share), and he presumably would not be in a
position to comment on whether the Bush administration actually did nor did not distort
facts and intelligence. Nor does the article mention that Blair�s denial provides a direct
contradiction to the content of the DSM, and thus creates a highly unresolved and highly
But what�s really missing from this coverage is a basic connection to the known historical
facts which make vital connections for readers, and which render this so much more clearly
a scandal. The Memo talks about spikes of militarized activity already going on in the
summer of 2002, and we�ve now learned that the US and UK had massively increased their
bombing runs at that time, hoping to bait Saddam into war. But you won�t find reference
to that fact in this article. The Memo talks about fixing intelligence, and we have in the
historical record an almost endless litany of claims made in late 2002 and early 2003 by
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., which are now known to be bogus, and which are also
now known to have been known to the claimants to have been bogus at the time they
made them. But, again, almost no mention of these in the NYT article.
What�s more, the article does not report on other commentary made at the press
conference, which is highly relevant to this scandal. In response to the reporter�s question
about the DSM, you have both Blair and Bush telling the Big Lie about how they didn�t
want to go to war, but that Saddam �made the decision� (Bush) by failing to comply with
UN Security Council resolutions. But, of course, this is utter nonsense. Saddam declared
that he had no WMD, and he didn�t. Bush called him a liar and went to war, even though
it was Bush that was lying, not Saddam. Worse still, in the DSM you have Blair thinking
out loud about how nice it would be if Saddam refused to allow inspections, so that they
could have a pretext for war!
None of this is covered in the Times article. Perhaps there is only so much space, but
then again, about a third of the article discusses other issues, like how Tony Poodle, who
was reported as �generally unsmiling through the 25-minute news conference�, got stiffed
on his pet aid to Africa and global warming projects (so much for the �special relationship�).
These issues and this one-sided relationship deserved a separate article, while the DSM
scandal should have been given (at least) all of the quarter-page of space underneath its
Bottom line: Progress in Timesville, but still a long ways to go.