U.S. media produce excuses, not stories, on Downing Street Memo
Extra! July/August 2005
Julie Hollar and Peter Hart
Journalists typically condemn attempts to force their colleagues to disclose anonymous sources, saying that subpoenaing reporters will discourage efforts to expose government wrongdoing. But such warnings seem like self-puffery after one watches contemporary journalism in action: When clear evidence of wrongdoing emerges, with no anonymous sources required, major news outlets can still virtually ignore it.
A leaked British government document that first appeared in a London newspaper (Sunday Times, 5/1/05) bluntly stated that U.S. intelligence on Iraq was shaped to support the drive for war. Though the information rocked British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s re-election campaign when it was exposed, for weeks it received little attention in the U.S. media.
What was dubbed the Downing Street Memo was a record of a July 23, 2002 meeting in Blair’s Downing Street office with the prime minister’s top advisors. The meeting was held to discuss Bush administration policy on Iraq, and the likelihood that Britain would support a U.S. invasion. “It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided,