US Editors Persuaded “That this was a story they could afford to ignore”

So says the Washington Correspondent for the UK’s Times Online about the Downing Street Memo. This is, of course, yet another story about the media coverage of the Memo, but it’s slightly more informative in terms of why, exactly, it’s been considered a nonstory, instead of just repeating that it is a nonstory. And it’s interesting that at least one reporter who’s working the “media coverage of the Memo” angle seems to think the media’s finally just getting started.

President George W. Bush has finally responded to a question that much of America has been asking: did a secret memo prove that Washington was gearing for war in Iraq months earlier than the White House has admitted?

The Downing Street memo on US preparations for war in Iraq was revealed in The Sunday Times five weeks ago. But it wasn't until Tony Blair's visit to the White House this week that the resulting controversy made waves in Washington, and revived a long-dormant American debate about President Bush’s march to war from the summer of 2002.

It has also provoked embarrassed questions in the US media as to why so many newspapers and broadcast outlets here ignored the story for so long.


Both Mr Blair and Mr Bush attempted to dismiss the memo’s central implication that Washington was gearing for war months earlier than has been admitted. But their denials opened the door to an American media scrutiny that had previously been notable for its absence.

Despite attempts by some of Mr Bush’s Democratic opponents to portray the memo as a potential Watergate-style scandal – one newspaper dubbed it "memogate" – most US media outlets ignored the original Sunday Times story on the grounds, now regarded by some as excessively cautious, that they could not verify the memo’s authenticity and were unable to obtain copies of their own.

There was also suspicion in Washington that the timing of the memo’s publication, a few days before the British elections, was a politically-motivated ploy intended to damage Mr Blair. President Bush suggested as much on Tuesday, when he declared at his White House press conference that "they dropped it out in the middle of the race".

All of which persuaded US editors that this was a story they could afford to ignore.


One senior US editor frankly admitted this week that his paper hadn’t touched the Sunday Times memo because it hadn’t been able to obtain a copy from its own sources. Jim Cox of USA Today said his newspaper had tried calling Downing Street, but not surprisingly had failed to obtain "explicit confirmation of [the memo’s] authenticity".

It was not until President Bush was asked about the memo on Tuesday that USA Today mentioned it to its readers for the first time.


Yet now the controversy is out in the open and there is no further doubting of the memo’s authenticity, or excuse for media foot-dragging. The original Sunday Times report was widely quoted in leading newspapers this week. A Democratic senator entered the memo into the record of a meeting of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

A group of 89 Democratic congressmen has already written to the President questioning him about the claims in the memo, and several of their number have told The Sunday Times they do not intend to let the matter drop, despite the White House’s refusal so far to respond.


At Tuesday’s press conference, Mr Bush and Mr Blair managed to dodge serious examination of their preparations for war, but the issue does not look like going away soon.
Not if Congressman Conyers,, the Big Brass Alliance, and everyone else who’s determined to pursue this thing until the very end, whatever that end may be, can help it.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus