Like millions of us, John Kerry is vexed by the media’s wholesale neglect of the administration-damning Downing Street memo. “I think it's a stunning, unbelievably simple and understandable statement of the truth and a profoundly important document that raises stunning issues here at home. And it's amazing to me the way it escaped major media discussion.” He added that he intends to go to the mat Monday: ”When I go back [to Washington] … I am going to raise the issue.”
Kerry has a long media-goading road ahead of him. After reading his observations yesterday I decided to see precisely how much the Downing Street memo (technically, minutes) has “escaped major media discussion” in domestic newspapers. So I entered the three-word phrase in LexisNexis™ and came up with this:
Twenty-four matches. Not so hot, but on the other hand, nearly 24 more than I expected. But this was a domestic search, so I had to ignore the foreign press items: three. Then I discovered that 14 entries weren’t news pieces, but letters to the editor complaining about the memo’s lack of coverage. There were also duplicate stories in the count, so they had to go: three more. And finally, within the list were two editorials (not news stories) on the memo and one piece from a paper’s ombudsman defending the dearth of coverage (pretty much a “We rely on wire services” for this kind of thing).
If you were doing the math while reading, you know the results: Precisely one domestic piece on the Downing Street memo since the (London) Sunday Times broke the story May 1.
In fairness to newspapers, LexisNexis does not compile stories from every source, and my search term, “Downing Street memo,” precluded results not containing that exact phrase. Consequently other searches outside LN revealed stories from the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post. But let’s get real: Only one printed story matching “Downing Street memo” in a scandal known throughout the world as, well, the Downing Street-memo scandal? That’s scandalous itself.
Within LN’s results, the one story listed was by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, on May 13. And that piece was more of a “Why no story?” story than actual coverage. Nevertheless it was a fascinating read, especially since two experts interviewed had some oddly fascinating things to say.
”The underlying reality is that the United States has moved beyond the debate over the reasons for invading Iraq, said Daniel Hofrenning, a political scientist at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Most Americans are focused on seeking positive outcomes from the war, not reason to blame the Bush administration for starting it. ‘It doesn't mean President Bush gets a free pass, but the evidentiary standard has to be pretty high before he suffers from something like this,’ Hofrenning said. ‘At the end of the day, citizens are going to judge him on whether a viable democracy is established in Iraq.’”
Several counterpoints spring to mind regarding Professor Hofrenning’s observations. First, to say we have “moved beyond” debating an illegal invasion is the stuff that slippery-slope militarism is made of, though I doubt the good professor meant to condone or identify with that. Second, the Downing Street memo’s “evidentiary standard” of criminality is about as high as standards get: The conspirators cited in the memo haven’t even troubled disputing its accuracy. And third, given that Bush is already suffering in the polls as a result of botching Iraq, how much more would he suffer if the media were to inform the public of the “pre-botch” conspiracy as revealed in the memo?
Also interviewed was John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military and intelligence information organization. In the newspaper’s words, Mr. Pike noted that “it is not surprising that the [Downing Street memo] has drawn little attention in the United States, where Bush was reelected even while polling found that half the electorate believed Bush either lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence to justify going to war.” But Pike was confusing two separate issues, adding, “I didn't think anybody felt there was a need for more smoking guns. Didn't we already know that?”
At its core the memo wasn’t about questioning the presence of Iraq’s weapons. WMD were a mere convenience, as later talk about humanitarianism and democracy became once WMD were, literally, not found to be a casus belli. It was about the Bush administration’s fundamental predetermination to go to war, even in the absence of any justification.
That -- not the WMD exaggerations -- was the fundamental crime perpetrated by the Bush administration. It didn’t just stretch the received truth and fix facts “around the policy.” The policy itself was a crime: Bush & Co. deceived the nation about its unalterable premise -- an illegal invasion.
That was the administration’s Original Sin -- and impeachable offense.
Sitting in for the NYT’s Maureen Dowd, columnist Matt Miller has pondered, “Is it possible in America today to convince anyone of anything he doesn't already believe?”
It is, Matt, as long as the “anything” is made publicly available. That’s the first and overlooked step the media must take. So go push ‘em, Senator Kerry.