Corp. Media's Failure to Cover Downing St Memos
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release June 27, 2005
Progressive Activists and Legislators Challenge Corporate Media's Failure to Cover Downing Street Memo
- Interview with Danny Schechter, journalist and filmmaker, conducted by Scott Harris
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The Downing Street memo, first published by the Times of London on May 1st, is a document that records the minutes of a July 2002 meeting of British government officials that indicates that the Bush administration had already made a decision to invade Iraq, justified by intelligence and facts that were being fixed around the policy.
Although the document had been released just before Britain's May parliamentary election -- generally believed to have reduced the margin of Prime Minister Tony Blair's victory -- most major U.S. corporate media outlets have either refused to cover the memo or relegated the story to the back pages. But after a surge of grassroots activism pressuring government officials and media companies to pay more attention to the story, the document that many observers believe is a smoking gun in a potentially damaging scandal has begun to command a little more attention. Reporters are beginning to ask more questions of Bush administration officials, while Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has collected more than half a million signatures demanding that President Bush answer questions about the memo. Conyers also conducted a June 16th unofficial hearing on the Downing Street Memo that heard testimony from administration critics who maintain the document confirms that President Bush was dishonest in his justification for launching the Iraq war.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with author and filmmaker Danny Schechter of Media Channel.org. Schechter, whose documentary film, "Weapons of Mass Deception," examines how the media failed to challenge the government's dubious rationale for the Iraq war, discusses why U.S. corporate media has thus far again failed to cover a critical news story damaging President Bush and his administration.
DANNY SCHECHTER: The coverage of the government's claims on the war in this country are not covered very well. It's not surprising that a British memo wouldn't be covered very well, we don't even cover American memos very well. But even though there has been coverage of the report, for example, that showed there were no WMDs in Iraq, the meaning of it really wasn't explained very clearly. You know, it's not enough just to report something, you really need to explain it, you need to analyze it. You need to put it into context, make people aware of why it's important to know about it.
We're inundated with so much information every day. It's very hard to keep up with it; there are so many media outlets now. And so, when you get the sort of simplistic "more news, less time" approach, the consequence is that people don't learn very much when they're surveyed afterward about news they've heard. Many of them can't remember it, don't know it's important. So, in terms of the Downing Street memo, this was a group of British policymakers including the head of intelligence in Britain, came back to Britain in 2002 and said "Hey, the Bush people are going to war, they're going to need intelligence to be fixed, so that we can sell this policy to the British people. A bunch of new memos have come out since, and of course, this wasn't really discussed very much because the whole strategy, the whole relationship between Blair and Bush has barely been touched on. We're a very parochial media, we don't discuss or pay a lot of attention to the rest of the world. We'd rather cover Michael Jackson trials than African deaths, you know. This is one of the reasons why most Americans don't know very much about the world, don't have opinions because they don't have information.
And this is why many people feel that our media system is undermining our democracy rather than strengthening it. That's why this issue is so important. And you know what, the American people know that, because when they're surveyed on the media, which isn't too often, but when they are, 70 percent of the American people say they don't like the media for different reasons. Some think it's too left-wing, believe it or not, Scott. Some think it's too right-wing. Some think there's too much sex, some think there's not enough sex. Whatever the reasons, there's a consensus of complaint, as if feeling that our media is not doing the job it's supposed to be doing, and a lack of respect for it.
And that's an important sign. Recently, the Boston Globe reported that the support for the war is waning. Now that doesn't mean that the coverage critical of the war has increased, it's just that people are no longer trusting what they're seeing and reading and hearing, so they're making up their own mind. Then, we have a lot more people saying, "Hey, let's get out of there, this isn't working. Look at all the Americans that are dying, look at all the people that are being killed. It's not worth it."
BETWEEN THE LINES: USA Today had an interesting article where they explained that they themselves held off on covering the Downing Street memo and its contents because they could not "authenticate" the memo, which seemed to me ludicrous given the fact that it was floating around in Britain and the United States for about a month.
DANNY SCHECHTER: It was reported in Britain, by the way, not by the left-wing press, but by the right-wing press. It was The Times of London, which is owned by, guess who -- Rupert Murdoch -- that reported it. So this is preposterous. When you look at what is covered, the number of rumors, the number of stories that are sourced by one source that are never verified, that are constantly in our media -- to select this out and say, hey we can't even report it by attributing it to somebody else: "The Times of London is reporting 'X.'" It's not up to USA Today to authenticate it, it's to report what leading journalists in other countries are reporting. This is part of the way in which there's always an excuse about why they can't tell the truth about something, there's always a reason given. But usually, when you examine it closely, it doesn't hold up. You know, this is one of the problems here.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Danny, I wanted to ask you about some positive signs you might be seeing out there in terms of people finding alternative ways to get information. I know the Internet has facilitated hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions across this country, to break through the information blockade and go directly to BBC, and some of the British publications -- the Guardian and the like to get some information that our own media is not providing. Is that something that we can count on in the future to become more accessible?
DANNY SCHECHTER: You know the media itself is a battleground. The big interests often want to keep us from getting access to things, challenge it, and all the rest of it. You know, we have to push ahead with some sort of public interest agenda. And one of the elements of that agenda is to have a media that we can be proud of that is meaningful and all the rest.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What's the most effective thing you think people can do in this country to get at the heart of the contents of the Downing Street memo, and other such information widely publicized? What can we do?
DANNY SCHECHTER: Well, first of all, find the websites that are reporting on all of this, there are many of them. Patronize them, and support them. Support independent media. It's not enough to just assume it's going to be there for you. The big media is funded with millions of dollars of investor money and all kinds of government deals and tax breaks and the like. Independent media, like your radio show, and like MediaChannel.org we need support, too, in order to stay alive, to stay in business, to keep on serving the public that we serve. This is something that you know, we all have a responsibility to try to support each other, and support progressive media.
Danny Schechter's latest film, "Weapons of Mass Deception,"examines the media's coverage of the Iraq War. See a trailer of the documentary at http://www.WMDTheFilm.com
Related links on our website at
* " Why the Memo Matters," by Mark Danner, TomDispatch.com, June 20, 2005
* "What the Hell is the Downing St. Memo -- and Who Cares?" by David Benjamin, CommonDreams.org, June 19, 2005
* " Mocking the Downing Street Memo," by Robert Parry, Consortium News, June 18, 2005
* "Democratic Members of House Judiciary Committee: Meeting on Downing St. Memo and Iraq War," C-SPAN3, June 16, 2005 (Needs RealOne Player or RealPlayer)
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending June 24, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.
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