Salon’s Eric Boehlert has an interesting look at the apparent reluctance of the American media to cover the “Downing Street Memo,” a top-secret British intelligence report that was leaked to the Times of London and published on May 1. Coverage in Denver’s mainstream media was non-existent until today — and that mention was a lesson in irony.
Dated eight months prior to the invasion of Iraq, the memo makes it clear that the Bush administration had already decided on war and was hard at work, looking for a way to justify its actions.
The memo provides plenty to talk about — particularly the passage (no doubt memorized by agitated war critics) that refers to Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (referred to only as “C” in the memo), and his impressions from a visit to the United States:
“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route … There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”
The memo has made headlines around the world, but not in the United States. According to Boehlert, NBC’s first mention of the memo didn’t come until this Sunday’s edition of “Meet the Press.”
Yet despite the news peg, the mainstream media demonstrated a breathtaking lack of interest. According to TVEyes, an around-the-clock monitoring service, between May 1 and June 6 the story received approximately 20 mentions on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS combined. (With Blair’s arrival in Washington Tuesday, there was a slight spike in mentions but still very little reporting of substance.) By contrast, during the same five-week period, the same outlets found time to mention 263 times the tabloid controversy that erupted when a photograph showing Saddam Hussein in his underwear was leaked to the British press.
Until Tuesday, the number of U.S. newspaper articles reporting on the Downing Street memo could be counted on two hands, including two articles in the New York Times, two in the Washington Post (print edition), and one each in Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune. Only the Chicago Tribune article ran on Page 1, and it focused on how little commotion the memo had caused in the United States, noting, “The White House has denied the premise of the memo, the American media have reacted slowly to it and the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or unwilling to rehash the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for the war.”
Locally, a Lexis search reveals that the Downing Street Memo’s first mention in a Denver daily wasn’t until today, when, ironically enough, Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Littwin notes that the memo has been ignored in favor of less-important topics, most notably Ward Churchill.