Friday, May 20, 2005

Another Action Alert

This is from FAIR and concerns the relative invisibility of the Downing Street Memo in the U.S. media:

Network Viewers Still in the Dark on "Smoking Gun Memo"
Print media continue to downplay story

May 20, 2005

Following FAIR's call for more mainstream coverage of the "smoking gun
memo"--the secret British document containing new evidence that the Bush
administration manipulated intelligence to justify its plan to invade Iraq--a
steady trickle of news reports have appeared. But that coverage has been
downplayed in general and is still completely absent from the nightly news.

The Los Angeles Times published a page 3 story on the memo on May 12, and the
Washington Post ran a page 18 story the following day. More than two weeks after
the story broke in the Sunday Times of London (5/1/05), it finally made the
front page of a major U.S. newspaper, the Chicago Tribune (5/17/05).

After referring to the memo (5/2/05) in a story on the British electoral
campaign, the New York Times failed to report on the document's implications
about the Bush administration until today (5/20/05); the one-column story didn't
mention the manipulation of intelligence until the eighth paragraph. (Times
columnist Paul Krugman also discussed the memo on the paper's opinion page on
May 16.)

The Washington Post's ombudsman, Michael Getler, who the previous week (5/8/05)
had mentioned reader complaints about the Post's lack of memo coverage without
evaluating their substance, revisited the issue with a much more critical eye in
his most recent column (5/15/05). (The ombud gave back-handed credit to FAIR and
the group Media Matters for America--both "self-described media watchdog
organizations"--for prompting him to delve into the story.) Getler wrote
that Post editors initially told him they didn't pursue the story because they
were "tied up with election coverage"--this despite the fact that the
leaked memo became a major election story in Britain and likely contributed to
Tony Blair's weak returns. When he questioned them again after the email
campaign, Getler wrote, "editors agreed that this story should be covered
and said they were going to go back and do that"; the Post's May 13 story

Getler called investigation of the memo's conclusions "journalistically
mandatory" and suggested that the Post story should have been placed on the
front page.

While the memo has begun to get wider coverage in print, broadcasters have
maintained a near silence on the issue. The story has turned up in a few short
CNN segments (Crossfire, 5/13/05; Live Sunday, 5/15/05; Wolf Blitzer Reports,
5/16/05), but the only mention of the memo FAIR found on the major broadcast
networks came on ABC's Sunday morning show This Week (5/15/05), in which host
George Stephanopoulos questioned Sen. John McCain about its contents. When
McCain declared that he didn't "agree with it" and defended the Bush
administration's decision to go to war, Stephanopoulos didn't question him
further. A look at the nightly news reveals not a single story aired about the
memo and its implications.

When finally questioned by CNN (5/16/05), White House press secretary Scott
McClellan claimed he hadn't seen the memo, but that "the reports"
about it were "flat-out wrong." British government officials, however,
did not dispute the contents of the memo--which can be read in full online at ht
tp:// --and a former senior American official called it
"an absolutely accurate description of what transpired" (Knight
Ridder, 5/6/05).

The Chicago Tribune (5/17/05) named several factors that had caused a "less
than robust discussion" of the smoking gun memo: Aside from the White
House's denials, and the media's slow reaction, the paper asserted that
"the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or unwilling to rehash
the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for the war." Of course, it's
hard to judge the public's interest in a story the media have largely shielded
them from.

Please contact the nightly news programs and ask them to investigate and report
on the new evidence that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to
support its plan to invade Iraq.

ABC World News Tonight
Phone: 212-456-4040

CBS Evening News
Phone: 212-975-3691

NBC Nightly News
Phone: 212-664-4971

PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Phone: 703-739-5000

As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a
polite tone.