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Five Years Ago: When the Media Ignored the Downing Street Memo | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Five Years Ago: When the Media Ignored the Downing Street Memo

FIVE years ago, in early May, the “Downing Street Memo” hit the headlines—at least on progressive and British blogs. That formerly secret British document revealed that almost a year before the attack on Iraq,  the British government had become convinced that the Bushites had "fixed" the intelligence to mislead everyone into supporting an invasion. I did a couple of pieces about it when I was editor of Editor & Publisher, but few others in the mainstream media followed suit.

In fact, it took months to get much traction at all, and even then was widely ignored or mocked by major U.S. news outlets.

Since this is also Huff Post’s fifth anniversary, let me credit Arianna Huffington for doing some valuable research for her 2008 book Right Is Wrong.

Arianna in her book contrasted that submerged coverage of the Downing Street Memo in May 2005 with the massive attention lavished on the Natalee Holloway disappearance and the Michael Jackson child molesting trial. She even published a network-by-network scorecard.

For example, ABC News had nothing on the memo, 42 segments on Natalee, 121 pieces on Jacko. CBS News was even worse, while NBC did better (six segments mentioning the memo). Fox News had 10 segments mentioning the memo -- but 148 on Natalee and 286 on Jacko. Arianna then hit the network execs' tired old argument that "we're just giving the people what they want."

Talk about "fixed intelligence"!

Later in the book, she cited former GOP chief Ken Mehlman on Meet the Press on May 22, 2005, asserting re: the memo, "that report has been discredited by everyone else who's looked at it since then."  Tim Russert actually challenged him on this, saying that the memo's authenticity had not been discredited. Mehlman replied: "The fact that the intelligence was somehow 'fixed' have been totally discredited by everyone who's looked at it." With that,  Arianna concluded, ‘Bulldog’ Russert “just gave up."

Of course, nothing since then has either discredited the memo—nor the view that the intelligence was, indeed, fixed.

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