May
10
2005

Smoking Gun Memo?

Iraq Bombshell Goes Mostly Unreported in US Media

NOTE: Please see the Action Alert related to this Advisory.

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 mere self-congratulation when clear evidence of wrongdoing emerges, with no anonymous sources required-- and major news outlets virtually ignore it.

A leaked document that appeared in a British newspaper offered clear new evidence that U.S. intelligence was shaped to support the drive for war. Though the information rocked British Prime Minister Tony Blair's re-election campaign when it was revealed, it has received little attention in the U.S. press.

The document, first revealed by the London Times (5/1/05), was the minutes of a July 23, 2002 meeting in Blair's office with the prime minister's close advisors. The meeting was held to discuss Bush administration policy on Iraq, and the likelihood that Britain would support a U.S. invasion of Iraq. "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided," the minutes state.

The minutes also recount a visit to Washington by Richard Dearlove, the head of the British intelligence service MI6: "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."

That last sentence is striking, to say the least, suggesting that the policy of invading Iraq was determining what the Bush administration was presenting as "facts" derived from intelligence. But it has provoked little media follow-up in the United States. The most widely circulated story in the mainstream press came from the Knight Ridder wire service (5/6/05), which quoted an anonymous U.S. official saying the memo was "an absolutely accurate description of what transpired" during Dearlove's meetings in Washington.

Few other outlets have pursued the leaked memo's key charge that the "facts were being fixed around the policy." The New York Times (5/2/05) offered a passing mention, and the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette (5/5/05) wrote an editorial about the memo and the Iraq War. A columnist for the Cox News Service (5/8/05) also mentioned the memo, as did Molly Ivins (WorkingForChange.com, 5/10/05). Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler (5/8/05) noted that Post readers had complained about the lack of reporting on the memo, but offered no explanation for why the paper virtually ignored the story.

In a brief segment on hot topics in the blogosphere (5/6/05), CNN correspondent Jackie Schechner reported that the memo was receiving attention on various websites, where bloggers were "wondering why it's not getting more coverage in the U.S. media." But acknowledging the lack of coverage hasn't prompted much CNN coverage; the network mentioned the memo in two earlier stories regarding its impact on Blair's political campaign (5/1/05, 5/2/05), and on May 7, a short CNN item reported that 90 Congressional Democrats sent a letter to the White House about the memo-- but neglected to mention the possible manipulation of intelligence that was mentioned in the memo and the Democrats' letter.

Salon columnist Joe Conason posed this question about the story:

"Are Americans so jaded about the deceptions perpetrated by our own government to lead us into war in Iraq that we are no longer interested in fresh and damning evidence of those lies? Or are the editors and producers who oversee the American news industry simply too timid to report that proof on the evening broadcasts and front pages?"

As far as the media are concerned, the answer to Conason's second question would seem to be yes. A May 8 New York Times news article asserted that "critics who accused the Bush administration of improperly using political influence to shape intelligence assessments have, for the most part, failed to make the charge stick." It's hard for charges to stick when major media are determined to ignore the evidence behind them.