David Swanson: Media Black Out Downing St Minutes
Media Black Out Downing Street Minutes
By David Swanson
Aggressive followers and participants in U.S. politics often have strong opinions about the Downing Street Minutes. Most other Americans have not heard of or are not clear about what the Downing Street Minutes are.
How is this possible? Here we have the official government minutes from a meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security officials, including a briefing by Richard Dearlove, then-director of Britain's CIA equivalent, MI-6, who had just returned from meetings with high U.S. Government officials in Washington. While the meeting recorded in these minutes occurred on July 23, 2002, months before President Bush submitted his resolution on Iraq to the United States Congress and months before Bush and Blair asked the United Nations to resume its inspections for alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the minutes make clear that Bush had decided to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by launching a war which, Dearlove reports, would be "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]." Dearlove continues: "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
In other words, here is an official document confirming the earlier reports of various former Bush Administration officials that Bush had decided to invade Iraq long before he made that public, and that he manipulated evidence to provide a bogus justification for the attack. Here is a smoking gun if there ever can be one. How can people not know about this?
Media critic Norman Solomon offers evidence for the following analysis: "Big media outlets shun the idea that the president might really be a war criminal."
Maybe they do, but they still have to report the facts, don't they? They are the news media, right?
To check this out, I went to the Nexis database, which does not include every single article and transcript produced by major US media, but which comes pretty close to doing so, and which certainly offers a representative picture.
In order to gauge the sort of reporting I ought to find on this topic, I did a couple of quick searches for major news stories of vital importance to our democracy. I searched, between May 1 and May 30 in English language media, for "Michael Jackson" and for "Star Wars." For each of those searches, however, I found over 1,000 articles, which is too many for Nexis to display.
I was sure I would run into the same problem when I searched for "Downing Street Memo." To make that even more likely, I searched for "Downing Street Memo" OR "Downing Street Minutes" OR "Bush lied." Amazingly, however, I found only 123 articles in May in English-language media. Even odder was the nature of those articles. Unlike most searches I've done in Nexis, this one found a large percentage of articles (about half) that were not articles at all. They were letters to the editor. Of these letters, 39 informed the public about the Downing Street Minutes, the majority of these also complaining about a lack of media coverage. One letter argued against paying any attention to the Minutes. Meanwhile, 23 letters included the phrase "Bush lied," 21 of them arguing that he had lied about Iraq, two suggesting that he had lied about something else. (There's some overlap in these numbers, in that some letters cited both the Downing Street Minutes and Bush lying.)
But letters weren't the only non-article articles found in this search. Three of the articles were just lists of articles. Three more were identical copies of the same transcript from a White House briefing at which the White House Press Secretary was asked about the Downing Street Minutes. Another three were guest columns about the lack of media coverage. Yet another three were columns by newspapers' in-house columnists about the lack of media coverage. Four were the transcripts of chats on washingtonpost.com in which people asked about the Downing Street Minutes and the Post employees quickly dismissed the subject. And one was a press release put out by a member of the www.AfterDowningStreet.org coalition.
Of course, after eliminating all of those, the rest must have been substantive articles reporting on this important document and what it means for the Bush Administration's record of veracity - right? Well, wait a minute. One was a transcript from Fox in which a guest devoted part of a sentence to the Downing Street Minutes. Two were transcripts from CNN devoting a combined total of two sentences to the matter. One was a transcript in which the actor Tim Robbins complained on "Hard Ball" about the lack of media coverage. And another was from The O'Reilly Factor on Fox, in which host Bill O'Reilly read and lied in response to a viewer's letter thus:
"Carol Bagagush (ph), Cleveland, Ohio: 'I would believe Margaret Carlson before I would believe our lying president, as proven recently in the Downing Street memo.'
"Not that you would care, Carol, but the memo is not a primary source, which is why it didn't get much press attention. Anybody can write an opinion memo about anything. If you have proof Mr. Bush has lied about anything, please send it along to me."
The New York Times has also dismissed these minutes as "second-hand," yet they are the undisputed official minutes of a government meeting. No one has hypothesized a scenario in which the information contained in the minutes was false. And Knight Ridder has reported that a top US official characterizes these minutes as accurately describing what went on in the Bush Administration. In fact, these minutes mesh so well with existing evidence, including the testimony of former Bush Administration officials, that others in the media have dismissed them as unworthy of coverage because what they reveal is "old news." It's hard to see, however, how the addition of official minutes to the accumulated evidence is not significant or how something can be old news before most Americans ever hear about it.
But I digress. To return to the counting of non-articles: one of the 123 articles was a column from the Washington Times dismissing the Downing Street Minutes as not providing any interesting evidence. Fifteen were serious columns making good points about the minutes, but one was from a college paper, five were all the same column from the New York Times' Paul Krugman, and seven were all the same syndicated column by Molly Ivins. And columns never carry the weight of articles. What about articles?
Well, 13 were articles from the British press. One was a wire service article about the British elections. One was an article about Bush lying, but not about the Downing Street Minutes. Two were articles suggesting that Bush did not lie. One was a broadcast transcript in which someone said that Bush lied. One was a broadcast transcript in which someone said that Bush did not lie. One was a column about Clinton lying. And one was an article about how liberal college professors are.
That brings us to the actual news articles on the topic. There were five that covered a letter that 90 members of Congress sent to the President demanding answers to questions about the Downing Street Minutes, and two of these were the same one repeated. One was an article about a hearing organized by Congressman John Conyers on the poor media coverage of this issue.
Only two articles found in this search, one from Salon, and one from the Chicago Tribune, were what anyone would call substantive articles focused on the Downing Street Minutes. I know there have been others that didn't show up in the Nexis search. The Washington Post provided prominent coverage within an article that began on page 18. A handful of other papers have published articles. On May 30, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorialized on the issue. And the New York Review of Books has published a serious look at the Minutes. Even so, imagine that there are 20 articles instead of two, or even that there are 200, how can that compete with Michael Jackson or Star Wars?
Yet, I agree with Solomon that there is hope. Progressive Democrats of America has set up a page that allows people to easily Email their local media outlets a press release:
Democrats.com is offering a reward of $1,000 to anyone, professional journalist or citizen activist, who gets President Bush to answer this question: "In July 2002, did you or your administration 'fix' the intelligence and facts about non-existent Iraqi WMDs and ties to terrorism -- which were disputed by US intelligence officials -- to sell your decision to invade Iraq to Congress, the American people, and the world - as quoted in the Downing Street Minutes?"
The Independent and Internet Media have done an outstanding job of covering this story already. Blogs and websites are overflowing with great research and investigations. RawStory.com announced the launch of the www.AfterDowningStreet.org coalition. Randi Rhodes on Air America immediately covered the coalition's campaign to demand a resolution of inquiry in the House of Representatives into possible grounds for impeachment of Bush. Other radio shows that have covered this campaign in the past few days or plan to do so this week include: the Thom Hartmann Show, KPFK Pacifica, Subject to Discussion, the Jon Elliot Show, Outrage Media, the Bernie Ward Show, the Lizz Brown Show, and others.
Never have I seen a campaign take off so quickly or heard from so many progressive media outlets. Slowly but surely we are becoming the media, without - I hope -- becoming like the media that we call "mainstream."
David Swanson is an organizer of the www.AfterDowningStreet.org coalition.