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Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

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Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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June 19, 2005

The Downing Street Memo and the Court of Appeal in News Judgment

News judgment used to be king. If the press ruled against you, you just weren't news. But if you weren't news how would anyone know enough about you to contest the ruling? Today, the World Wide Web is the sovereign force, and journalists live and work according to its rules.

About the Downing Street Memo—which I think deserves sustained news attention, real Congressional hearings, questions and answers at White House briefings, continued blogging, serious examination by all Americans (including the President’s supporters) and the interest of future historians, essentially for the reasons articulated here—I have one thought to contribute.

“News stories,” Joshua Marshall once said, “have a 24 hour audition on the news stage, and if they don’t catch fire in that 24 hours, there’s no second chance.” His observation appears in the Harvard Kennedy School case study on the fall of Trent Lott (published in March 2004, a pdf.)

But that’s not the way world works anymore. The 24-hour audition still happens, and the big winners are still big news. But now there is a Court of Appeal in the State of Supreme News Judgment, and everyone knows the initial verdict can be reversed. Reversal on appeal came last week for the Downing Street Memo (now memos, plural) about 45 days after the first story broke.

We should use the opportunity to understand how the court works. (Others cases include the fate of Trent Lott, and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.) For if the news judgment of journalists is not final anymore, this only reminds us that it was never good enough to be as final as once it was.

The traditional press is “no longer sovereign over territory it once easily controlled,” I wrote in Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over (Jan. 15). “Not sovereign doesn’t mean you go away. It means your influence isn’t singular anymore.” The Court of Appeal for news judgment, which sits on the left sometimes, and other times on the right, is an example of that.

What journalists call news judgment used to be king. If the press ruled against you, you just weren’t news. But if you weren’t news how would anyone know enough about you (or care) to contest the ruling? That’s what having singular influence was all about. The way it works today, the World Wide Web is the sovereign force, and journalists live and work according to its rules.

Now if there’s something newsworthy coming out of the U.K. but neglected in America the political blogs in America and other activists online keep talking about it. Quickly the story’s unjust obscurity will reach a political player who can change that by acting in a newsworthy way, lending fresh facts and additional reason to cover the story.

By such means the appeal of news judgment starts to take shape. This happened within a week when Conyers began circulating a letter to President Bush—signed by 88 Democrats—that demanded from Bush an explanation. The Knight-Ridder Washington bureau, increasingly a dissident voice on these matters, treated that letter as news in a May 6 report. (The signers were up to 122 by the time Conyers sent his letter.)

Players in politics, reading the blogs (or in the case of Conyers, writing for them), pick up the chatter and amplify it. Radio talk show hosts, also reading the blogs, and getting the e-mails from activists, amplify the chatter some more. Columnists who weren’t a part of the consensus pay attention, seeking vindication for their own judgment. And all these players together mount the appeal. They go into Supreme News Court and say: “the press denied us, but we have a case.”

On June 7, for example, Jefferson Morley of the Washington Post (who wrote about the memo May 3 for the Washington Post, but only in the online edition) pointed out that “the so-called Downing Street Memo remains among the top 10 most viewed articles on The Times of London site.” All those clicks are part of the appeals process. Web users are speaking. “Reader interest” (one factor in news judgment) is being shown. So too with calls and e-mails to ombudsmen at newspapers. These helped trigger Barney Calame’s report about the New York Times’s coverage, and two Michael Getler columns about the Washington Post’s decisions.

At the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, reader representative Kate Parry forwarded a reader’s e-mail to nation & world editor Dennis McGrath. She asked him if he knew anything about the story. Parry describes what happened:

McGrath knew about the memo — but not from the traditional news wires. In this country, wire services had provided only a brief mention of it May 2 deep in a New York Times advancer on the British election. McGrath knew about it because he had started getting the e-mails, too.

He and his wire editors began watching for a wire story. A week later, they were still watching.

“We were frustrated the wires weren’t providing stories on this,” McGrath said. Finally, he gave up waiting for the wires and assigned reporter Sharon Schmickle to write about it — despite the geographic disadvantage of reporting from Minneapolis on a story breaking in London.

Parry added that the Downing Street memo story had “played out almost identically to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story last year. McGrath learned about the group and its ads from the Internet long before the wire services offered stories. He had a local reporter do that story as well.” That’s the Court of Appeal in session.

In any successful appeal, when the press digs in and ignores the story, this creates a second story, the subject of which is faulty news judgment. It’s usually phrased as a question: Did the (news) judges rule in error? (Christian Science Monitor, May 17: “Why has ‘Downing Street memo’ story been a ‘dud’ in US?”) Howard Kurtz finally made the case Thursday. The question, What about the Downing Street memo? had been asked so often, he wrote, it “forced the mainstream media to take a second look.”

NPR’s ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin told Salon, “It’s a bigger story than we’ve given it. It deserves more attention.” He added, “It may have been blog-induced in the beginning, but now it has legs of its own.”

When the second look was taken, some key editors judged themselves at fault. USA Today’s senior assignment editor for foreign news, Jim Cox said not reporting on the memo was a mistake. “I wish we’d had something in early on, and I wish we’d been able to move the memo story forward. I feel like we missed an opportunity, and that’s my fault,” he said to Salon’s Eric Boehlert. Deborah Seward, AP’s international editor, issued a statement, “There is no question AP dropped the ball in not picking up on the Downing Street memo sooner.” (See this weekend’s AP story.)

That’s called winning on appeal.

Mark Danner writes in the June 9 New York Review of Books that the ultimate importance of the leaked memo “has to do with a certain attitude about facts,” namely that they can be “fixed around the policy,” as the document states. He points out that this is “an argument about power, and its influence on truth.”

Power, the argument runs, can shape truth: power, in the end, can determine reality, or at least the reality that most people accept—a critical point, for the administration has been singularly effective in its recognition that what is most politically important is not what readers of The New York Times believe but what most Americans are willing to believe.

I don’t think the press has learned how to deal yet with “power shapes truth,” or the extreme contempt for reason-giving the Bush Administration has shown on matters of war and peace. For example, in judging whether a story deserves further play the press will ask, “were the facts in it previously reported?” (a news test) rather than asking: having the facts in it been successfully denied at the top? (which is a power-shapes-truth question.) Ultimately this confusion helps explain the original judgment that the memo was not news, and the success of the appeal.

Post-script, June 20. With “I don’t get it” irritation, someone asked in comments: Why are you making such a big deal of the Downing Street Memos, which are “old” and second-hand news?

Here’s one reply. A representative democracy requires an elected commander-in-chief not only to have reasons, but to give reasons, publicly, for what he chooses to do. This is all the more vital post-1945, where we Americans make war without officially declaring it in order to give the President a freer hand, suspending our own Constitution in the bargain.

With this war, the reason-giving part of the operation totally failed. But that isn’t, as Jeff Jarvis says, “a scandal of bad PR.” No. If you think reason-giving is PR you have already lost the battle for public choice in politics. It is a basic failure of national legitimacy to have your reason-giving go so awry as it did with this war. If you are a Bush supporter, my view is you should be doubly concerned because, as things stand, actions in Iraq you believe fully legitimate have seen their official rationale (that is, their reason-giving) fail.

I don’t agree with those who say that because no weapons were found, the war lacks all logic or legitimacy. It might have an alternative logic, a broader and more expansive rationale than: Saddam has weapons, he must be stopped. The broader case has been made, after the fact. Jarvis lists it, point-by-point, in his post. But that isn’t what people voted for, or Congress “voted” on. Something went seriously awry in the reason-giving. (Dan Gillmor: “What Jeff fails to note is that Congress would never have backed the war so fecklessly had the phony WMD issue been off the table.”)

Just as some of you don’t “believe” the big deal some of us are making about the Downing Street Memos, I don’t believe your small deal making about the Memo’s story of reason-giving and war. Doesn’t ring true to me.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Here’s another reply to why are the memos news? Tom Englehardt at “If Post editorialists and Times journalists can’t tell the difference between scattered, generally anonymously sourced, pre-war reports that told us of early Bush administration preparations for war and actual documents on the same subject emerging from the highest reaches of the British government, from the highest intelligence figure in that government who had just met with some of the highest figures in the U.S. government, and was immediately reporting back to what, in essence, was a ‘war cabinet’ — well, what can you say?”

And see Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books at Englehardt’s site, explaining how the category “truths successfully denied” operates:

A story is told the first time but hardly acknowledged (as with the Knight Ridder piece), largely because the broader story the government is telling drowns it out. When the story is later confirmed by official documents, in this case the Downing Street memorandum, the documents are largely dismissed because they contain “nothing new.”

Set aside some time, get a glass of wine, and absorb Terry Teachout’s very absorbing and learned essay, Culture in the Age of Blogging, parts of which run parallel to ideas in this post and other posts in the archives. It begins: Two years ago next month, I started a blog—that is, a “web log,” a website on which I keep a public journal, written in collaboration with the Chicago-based literary critic Laura Demanski (who is known on the blog as “Our Girl in Chicago.”) Here is a main theme:

One thing of which I am sure is that the common culture of my youth is gone for good. It was hollowed out by the rise of ethnic “identity politics,” then splintered beyond hope of repair by the emergence of the web-based technologies that so maximized and facilitated cultural choice as to make the broad-based offerings of the old mass media look bland and unchallenging by comparison.

Teachout’s blog is About Last Night.

Michael Smith of the Times of London, who broke the original story, continues his reporting: British bombing raids were illegal, says Foreign Office: “A sharp increase in British and American bombing raids on Iraq in the run-up to war ‘to put pressure on the regime’ was illegal under international law, according to leaked Foreign Office legal advice.”

See also his online chat with Washington Post readers (June 16) where Smith gives his view of reaction in the U.S. press:

Firstly, I think the leaks were regarded as politically motivated. Secondly there was a feeling of well we said that way back when. Then of course as the pressure mounted from the outside, there was a defensive attitude. “We have said this before, if you the reader didn’t listen well what can we do”, seemed to be the attitude.

I was on the radio with Michael Smith of the Times of London this week. We joined in Christopher Lydon’s venture in blog-aware public radio, called Open Source. Also a guest was Bob Fesmire of You can listen here.

Michael Smith’s op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times: “The way in which the intelligence was “fixed” to justify war is old news. The real news is the shady April 2002 deal to go to war, the cynical use of the U.N. to provide an excuse, and the secret, illegal air war without the backing of Congress.”

Stephen Spruiell at National Review’s Media Blog responds to this post: “A quelling of the insurgency, a successful truce with Sunni leadership or some other triumph and the Downing Street Memos will be, if not forgotten, at least relegated to a more fitting place in the public discourse.”

See Captain’s Quarters for the Right’s attempt to suggest the memos are fake because, according to Smith, they were re-typed from the originals to protect the leaker. Kevin Drum calls this “desperate.” I would have to concur. It’s pretty thin reasoning to say: because they were re-typed they must be fake. And to proclaim it with such confidence!

I am a little surprised that otherwise intelligent people would go for “re-typed therefore fake.” You would think after this embarrassment for Powerline…

We have written extensively about the fake “talking points memo” on the Schaivo case that ABC News and the Washington Post publicized, beginning on March 18. We have pointed out, most comprehensively in the Weekly Standard, that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the memo originated with the Republicans, and considerable reason to think it may be a Democratic dirty trick.

…where the “fake” memo turned out to be real and written by a Republican that a little caution would prevail. But the Dan Rather case has bred over-confidence on the Right, and this is another example of it. Now see John Hinderaker of Powerline on the Downing Street Memos: “I very much doubt that the documents are fakes.”

The “Downing Street memos” are much different from the CBS National Guard documents in this important respect: the CBS documents were ostensibly authored by Jerry Killian, who had been dead for twenty years. The Downing Street documents, on the other hand, were allegedly authored by, and relate to meetings recently conducted by, a group of men who are very much alive and well. I can’t conceive of a reason why they would fail to attack the documents’ genuineness if there were a basis for doing so.

Exactly. But ideology sometimes turns people’s minds to mush. Jonah Golderg of National Review separates himself from the mush: “I would also say that if I had to bet, I’d bet Drum is right and the memos are real.”

A key point made by Slate’s Fred Kaplan: the memos show that the Bush and Blair teams thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s Iraq: “the memos reveal quite clearly that the top leaders in the U.S. and British governments genuinely believed their claims.” I agree the memos show that. It was this strong belief that led to the distortion of intelligence and the fixing of facts around a pre-determined policy.

The New York Times reporting on the unofficial hearing oganized by Rep. John Conyers (June 17):

Asked about Mr. Conyers’s letter and the British memo, Scott McClellan, the president’s chief spokesman, described the congressman as “an individual who voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed.”

“And our focus is not on the past,” Mr. McClellan said. “It’s on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq.”

Dan Froomkin at White House Briefing has the full exchange, a miniature classic in non-communication. McClellan wasn’t just asked about the letter and memo. He was asked if there was going to be any reply at all, even a courtesy or form letter, to Conyers and the 88 (at the time) signers, all of them members of the United States Congress.

In the Washington Post (June 17) Dana Milbank ridicules the Conyers event: “In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe.” Here is the letter Conyers sent in reply, and a Michael Getler ombudsman column about it (June 19). It includes this e-mail from Milbank to Getler about his use of the term “wing nut” to refer to some of the meeting’s enthusiasts:

While you have been within your rights as ombudsman over the past five years to attempt to excise any trace of colorful or provocative writing from the Post, you are out of bounds in asserting that a columnist cannot identify as ‘wingnuts’ a group whose followers have long been harassing this and other reporters and their families with hateful, obscene and sometimes anti-Semitic speech.

The Washington Post editorial page: “The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration’s prewar deliberations.”

Paul McLeary in CJR Daily May 20: “If a nervous and uncertain runaway-bride who comes home can generate wall-to-wall coverage, laden with excruciating detail of that hapless soul’s forlorn 3,000-mile round trip, then surely a found document that cuts to the heart of just how two mighty nations find themselves mired in a two-year-old bloody guerilla war on the dusty plains and in the crowded cities of Iraq deserves more play than it has gotten to date.”

This post ran as one of the featured ones at The Huffington Post. Arianna Huffington then wrote her own commentary on it, in which she compared television news coverage thusly. Natalee Holloway is the missing-in-Aruba teenager:

ABC News: Downing Street Memo: 0 segments; Natalee Holloway: 42 segments; Michael Jackson: 121 segments.
CBS News: Downing Street Memo: 0 segments; Natalee Holloway: 70 segments; Michael Jackson: 235 segments.
NBC News: Downing Street Memo: 6 segments; Natalee Holloway: 62 segments; Michael Jackson: 109 segments.
CNN: Downing Street Memo: 30 segments; Natalee Holloway: 294 segments; Michael Jackson: 633 segments.
Fox News: Downing Street Memo: 10 segments; Natalee Holloway: 148 segments; Michael Jackson: 286 segments.
MSNBC: Downing Street Memo: 10 segments; Natalee Holloway: 30 segments; Michael Jackson: 106 segments.

Harry Jaffe of Washingtonian magazine lists his top political blogs— left, right, libertarian and non-partisan.

Posted by Jay Rosen at June 19, 2005 11:43 AM   Print


Jay, its really wrong to compare the Swift Boat Liars story with the Downing Street Minutes story. The Swift Boat Liars were part of a highly orchestrated and choreographed media smear of John Kerry for which there was no basis in fact, told by people of (at best) dubious credibility. It was never a legitimate news story to begin with, but more the creation of the right-wing noise machine.

DSM, on the other hand, was an official British Government document that proved that Bush and Blair had been lying throughout most of 2002 (and continue to lie to this day) about their intentions with regard to Iraq. It was not merely a legitimate news story, but a critical one, as long as the Bush regime continues to lie about its actions in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

Posted by: rsmythe at June 19, 2005 1:23 PM | Permalink

Recycled News, Anonymous Sources, No Originals

The Downing Street memos: fake but accurate.

The eight memos — all labeled “secret” or “confidential” — were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

Smith told AP he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals.

Link to LGF.

Posted by: Fashion Idol at June 19, 2005 4:24 PM | Permalink

They probably also used a typefont that wasn't available in 2002.

Posted by: pebird at June 19, 2005 4:36 PM | Permalink

Congrats on the RSF award, Jay.

Posted by: The Liberal Avenger at June 19, 2005 5:16 PM | Permalink

I predict this will be the most extreme leftish moonbat thread ever. Look for lots of "Bush Lied", "Halliburton", "We Did It For Israel" and "Blood for Oil" posts. The thing the left does best is paranoia and conspiracy theories---you'll see them here aplenty!

Michael Smith tells the AP that he retyped the "memos", then destroyed the originals---it's a page torn out of the Dan Rather, Lucy Rameriz, fake but accurate (tm) playbook.(Did we ever find out who produced those fake, but accurate memos?) Good luck with authenticating the originals, because there ain't none. Just an "unnamed source" who thought they were authentic--hey, I'm convinced.

The old cliche needs to be revised: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice means I'm a Democrat.

Fetch the popcorn Mabel, it's showtime!

Posted by: kilgore trout at June 19, 2005 5:43 PM | Permalink

Jay --
Pause for a commercial interruption -- or, rather, a non-profit interruption:
Paul McLeary of CJR Daily has been tracking the struggle of the Downing Street memo to get journalistic traction since May 20.
All credit goes to Paul; it was his sharp eye that caught the initial obtuseness of the mainstream media, not mine.

PS -- And thanks for pointing out in the previous thread that Victor Navasky has neither horns, nor tail nor cloven hoofs. What he has is smarts -- and knowledge about how to make a small opinion magazine, right, left or center, self-sustaining.
That's a valuable commodity.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 19, 2005 6:22 PM | Permalink

Jay makes excellent points about how the public obtains information suppressed or ignored by mainstream press. For those who wish to dismiss "Downing Street," let's flash backward to how the public learned of the lies and deception about US involvement in Vietnam. Who was paranoid? The Vietnam veteran who leaked the true story (aka Pentagon Papers)? Or Nixon's minions who sought not only to cover it up, but to destroy those who revealed it?

Posted by: Jay, Congratulations on excellent story at June 19, 2005 6:36 PM | Permalink

Nice try, guys, but no one involved has disputed the authenticity of the Downing Street memo -- not Tony Blair; not Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intellgence who wrote it; not the CIA; not the FBI; not the Defense Department; not the White House.
And they've all had seven weeks in which to do so.
Personally, I think the memo, while incriminating, is not exactly fresh news. There have been earlier reports -- including in Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War, released last year -- that showed that plans for the invasion were under way as early as November 2001, when the president ordered Rumsfeld to begin drawing up invasion scenarios, based on no intelligence whatsoever.
Still, the memo is another piece in the puzzle that will be invaluable to historians. That's why it's an indictment that most journalists -- the supposed authors of "history's first draft" -- didn't recognize it for what it was when it slapped them in the face nearly two months ago.
Not a red-letter day for the corporate press, that's for sure. Of course, they were busy with the runaway bride and with Michael Jackson. Google those three -- the memo, the bride and Michael -- and you'll get the whole depressing picture.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 19, 2005 8:05 PM | Permalink

I see. No 'liberal moonbats' here. But the rightwing meme 'it's all fake' arrives right on time.

Posted by: David McLemore at June 19, 2005 8:21 PM | Permalink

Great post, Jay. I had been anxiously waiting for it since you mentioned you were working on it in a previous thread.

Although...I think the 350 plus Big Brass Alliance that was started by Melissa McEwen of Shakespeare's Sister deserves credit for helping the Downing Street minutes finally become "news." And we've been mentioned a few times on CNN and MSNBC for our "blog swarms." After Downing Street also merits a mention.

As aside to rsmythe:

I don't think Jay was trying to compare the DSM blog push with the Swift Boat offensive offensive on a factual basis. But there is a similiarity between the tactics used. That's not saying they're equivalent stories, at all.

Although I disagree (and so do the official military records as reported in the NY Times) with the veracity of much of what the Swift Boat veterans claimed...I do think it was a legitimate news story and should have been covered (and exposed as fraudulent) earlier than it was.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at June 19, 2005 9:37 PM | Permalink

Tim Cavanaugh expresses my thinking about DSM when he says that the value of the memo was the meta-story that if the MSM was ignoring DSM, it must be important---once the memo was out in the open for all to see, ZZzzzzzz. Even Lovelady gets this.

Posted by: kilgore trout at June 19, 2005 9:56 PM | Permalink

One problem I still have with the coverage of the DSM story is that it is being reported as "history" --- but the real importance of the story (IMHO) is that it appears that we are going through the same process all over again with regards to Syria and Iran. We're being exposed to stories that turn out to be false (or 'thinly sourced') such as the one about Zarqawi holding a meeting in Syria, and the one about Iran producing weapons grade plutonium.

In other words, DSM should be more than just a "scandal" about what happen three years ago, it should be reported as relevant to the information we are getting today, because the same group of people are still running things in DC, and it sure looks like "the facts and intelligence are being fixed around the policy" when it comes to Syria and Iran...


Ron, Jay's talking about how the rules are changing --- how stories get "second chances" thanks to the internet. In the case of the SBLiars, this was not a story that was ignored by the press --- the advertizing was designed specifically to create a controversy and get the right-wing noise machine involved, and it was successful in doing so. The SBLiars story was "rolled out" as it were.

This is entirely different from the true "second chance" that Jay is talking about as it applies to the DSM story. That is a major story that has been ignored --- and that a very large chunk of the corporate press continues to ignore/belittle (see Milbank, Dana) as much as possible.

Posted by: rsmythe at June 19, 2005 10:09 PM | Permalink

Aw, no guts, no glory, Trout! Giving up so soon? You mean you aren't going to hold to your ideology-saturated view that the memos are fake because they were re-typed? Come on, show some gumption. Show some style.

Was it John Hinderaker of Powerline ("I very much doubt that the documents are fakes") or Jonah Goldberg of National Review ("I would also say that if I had to bet, I'd bet Drum is right and the memos are real") who convinced you to back off?

Just a few posts ago (four short hours, Trout) this was you: "Michael Smith tells the AP that he retyped the 'memos,' then destroyed the originals---it's a page torn out of the Dan Rather, Lucy Rameriz, fake but accurate (tm) playbook."

Now your story is that they're real, alright, but soooo boring? I am sooo disappointed. Won't you consider switching back-- a flip flip flop?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 19, 2005 10:09 PM | Permalink

A brief aside:
I hate the change the subject, because, despite Kilgore's blithe characterization of my views, the subject is an important one and it should be on the front-burner.
But, Kilgore, since you directed us to Tim Cavanaugh, can you -- or anyone else who knows the answer -- tell me why all these right-wing-cum-Libertarian blogs feature that weird ad showing the truly grotesque body of the shaved-head guy who wants people to subscribe to his anti-weightlifting fitness program ?
He looks frighteningly like the world's most famous male escort, Jeff Gannon. But, whoever he is, he's obviously supplying most of the ad revenue for these sites.
Anyone have a clue ?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 19, 2005 10:25 PM | Permalink


Probably because "Combat Conditioning" allows chickenhawks to pretend like they are in the of like Jeff Gannon.

The swift boat story was ignored for months until Kerry responded. I think it should have been covered...they were all veterans and they deserved to be heard...and if they were exposed before Kerry fought back perhaps things would have gone differently (instead Kerry was attacked for responding).

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at June 19, 2005 11:34 PM | Permalink

My only point in this post was that reporters who had judged the Swift Boat Vets not newsworthy were later writing news stories about their effect on the race. In that sense the story won on appeal. It got into the news, and affected the race.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 19, 2005 11:43 PM | Permalink

I'm not certain what the memos are supposed to tell us that we didn't already know. Was no one paying attention during the run-up to war? It seems many here weren't.

Posted by: Brian at June 20, 2005 1:47 AM | Permalink

Fascinating thesis. I've posted a response.

How Supreme is the Internet Court of Appeal

Posted by: Mark Anderson at June 20, 2005 3:53 AM | Permalink

Since the MSM is so full of Bush-bashing, any appeals to the MSM are bound to be somewhat anti-Bush-bashing.

The Swift Vets are more reliable than Kerry signing, er, something or other -- but they were an anti-Kerry story that was ignored.

Especially good is Fred Kaplan's note that the DSM, plus other documents, clearly show Bush and Blair thought Saddam had WMDs and wanted him out.

"They're framing a guilty man in there."

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at June 20, 2005 5:41 AM | Permalink

Tom Englehardt:

So how have the various memos defied a mainstream media consensus and over these weeks risen, almost despite themselves, into the news, made their way into Congress, onto television, into consciousness?

Well, for one thing, the political Internet simply wouldn't stop yammering about them. Long before they were discussed in print, they were already up and being analyzed at sites like the War in Context and So credit the blogosphere with this one, at least in part. But let's not create too heroic a tale of the Internet's influence to match the now vastly overblown tale of the role of the press in the Watergate affair. Part of the answer also involves a shift in the wind -- the wind being, in the case of politics, falling polling figures for the President and Congress. Can't you feel it? The Bush administration seems somehow to be weakening.

The mainstream media can feel it, too, and weakness is irresistible. Before we're done, if we're not careful, we'll have a heroic tale of how the media saved us all from the Bush administration.

Posted by: Andy Vance at June 20, 2005 6:13 AM | Permalink

I just wince at the thought of originals being destroyed because we don't know the status of any other copies. Can you imagine if he really did destroy the only copies? Sorry, I've just spent time in too many archives -- I just find that almost sinful.

In any event, I'm willing to buy the idea that there's now an appeal where there never was one before, but, first, I suspect that's true for a very limited category of stories that can be defined in some way as for some reason having a value that doesn't go stale. The memos, for example, are of historical value. That won't change over the course of a month.

Second, notice that this only works one way: you can't talk the media DOWN from something they've decided DOES have news value. No amount of negative blog discussion was going to get them off the Runaway Bride or, apparently, off Aruba. If you figure out the secret to get this to work in that direction, let me know.

Posted by: dauber at June 20, 2005 6:41 AM | Permalink

I don't understand your logic Jay, "boring" and "fake" are not mutually exclusive; why can't DSM be both? I have done some more reading on the "fake but accurate" aspect of DSM and comments by the Powerline guy and Eugene Volokh have made me reconsider. Just put me in the agnostic column for now.

I don't think there is any point in raging about what Scott McLellan or GWB have to say or not say about the memo, because it will never be enough for The Froomkins or The Conyers----it will always be "questions remain", and the only thing to satisfy them will be either impeachment or resignation---- there's no point in pretending more "explanation" will do.

Truthfully Lovelady, I never noticed the muscular, semi-nude guy on the Reason website until you drew my attention to him. Enquiring minds want to know why you noticed him.

One last thing here, and I mean this sincerely; would somebody please explain to those of us who think DSM is old news what all the excitement is about? I honestly don't get it.

Posted by: kilgore trout at June 20, 2005 10:55 AM | Permalink

There is no question about it that Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister is instrumental in making this come to the attention of the media with her efforts to get the more than 450 blogs in the Big Brass Alliance to do weekly, sometimes daily blogswarmings about this cover-up.

Next time an idiot asks where are all the good women pundits, tell him we're swarming the blogosphere or hitting the pavement turning our fantastic political insight and analysis into effective activism.

BlogSheroes rule!

Posted by: liza sabater at June 20, 2005 11:11 AM | Permalink

One last thing here, and I mean this sincerely; would somebody please explain to those of us who think DSM is old news what all the excitement is about? I honestly don't get it.

perhaps its because it exposes the "fake but accurate" nature of the Bush regime's presentation of intelligence matters to justify the invasion of Iraq -- and how despite overwhelming evidence presented to the Bush regime that the authenticity of the intelligence was highly questionable and could not be verified, the Bush regime pushed on, insisting that its story was reliable --- only to be embarrassed when it turned out that the intelligence was completely dubious.

The primary difference between CBS's use of the Killian memos, and the Bush administrations' claims regarding WMDs, is that CBS's larger narrative still holds up, even if the reliability of the memos can be questioned --- while we now know that by ignoring the contrary evidence and twisting the facts to fit the policy, the Bush regime was passing off nothing more than a pack of lies.

The secondary difference is that while Rathergate resulted in a few jobs being lost and reputations being tainted, Iraq-gate has cost the lives of 1700 American military personnel, tens upon tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, 300 Billion US taxpayers dollars, and the loss of credibility of the US as the leader of the free world.

Both CBS and the Bush regime should have known better -- they both believed in their stories, and ignored evidence that raised questions about the reliability of their presentations. CBS may have been "Fake But Accurate", but Bush was "Fake But....nothing but Fake" And the Downing Street Memos show that.

Posted by: rsmythe at June 20, 2005 11:44 AM | Permalink

Now that the Downing Street memos are gaining the national press attention bloggers have been calling for since the story first broke in the London Sunday Times May 1, it is time to revisit my reporting for the New York Times on the run up to war in Iraq from January through March of 2003 - and to connect some dots.

Anyone with a fully functioning brain, which obviously doesn't include White House spokesman Scott McClellan or his boss, should now be able to see that the British intel memos prove Bush and company planned to go to war no matter what the analysts or the U.N. had to say about it.

Now for the additional proof that the war was planned prior to September 11, 2001, and that the New York Times had the opportunity to get out in front on this story in the winter of 2003.

The Proof Is In The Memos

Posted by: fast2write [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 20, 2005 12:20 PM | Permalink

I interviewed Julian Borger, the US bureau chief of the Guardian of London, about a year ago for my documentary project on the media's performance during the build-up to the war in Iraq.

I asked him about the British stories on the Dodgy Dossier and NSA spying on the UN that failed to break through the US media bubble in the lead-up to the war.

I think Borger's response is just as applicable to the Downing Street Memos as it was to these two stories.

I think professional pride has a role to play here. If a story breaks abroad, especially in Britain, and the American press haven't got there, the instinctive reaction is, "Well, Ah. Those Brits -- Who knows if it's true?" And there's almost more of a tendency to ignore the story rather than even to check it out. And I found that again and again. If a story breaks in Britain, there's almost the automatic reaction is "Ah. It's the British press. It's tabloid. It's sensational" -- which is justified in many, many instances. The tabloid press and some of the broadsheet press in Britain can be fairly wild, and a lot of unsubstantiated stories get out. But on top of that instinctive reaction of "Well, it must be sensational because it was in the British press" is a reluctance to check it out properly. Or an over-readiness to accept assurances from the institutions -- the White House, whatever -- that although -- "There's nothing to the story. It's just a British story. Ignore it." There's a lack of -- almost a lack of hunger when it comes to stories that question the Administration's position. Until, that is, the Administration was so weakened by the failure of any WMD to appear. There was almost a turning of tides sometime last year, in 2003, when you suddenly saw a greater readiness to go over these stories. It was like the herd changing direction. It was very visible.

Posted by: Kent Bye at June 20, 2005 12:57 PM | Permalink

The reason the Downing Street Memo(s) generate(s) so many yawns is that they are largely annonymous, second-hand accounts of British Labour Party officials' opinions inferring Bush's predetermined intentions toward Iraq. Tough to get even the Bush-loathing dominant liberal media to credibly promulgate that as news.

For my part, I hope the Adminsitration doesn't fire back at this story too soon. It is best for conservatives if public awareness the Democrat-left's apparent indifference to emerging national security threats, such as Iraq, peaks during election season. When the Bush communication team does launch it's torpedoes on the DSMs, you'll hear more claims for our freinds on the left that "This was another Karl Rove mis-direction operation."

Posted by: Trained Auditor at June 20, 2005 1:08 PM | Permalink

...with a side helping of "why did the Bush Administration wait so long to confirm or deny the memos?"

Posted by: Trained Auditor at June 20, 2005 1:16 PM | Permalink

If you have not seen the three part BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares download a copy from

"Both [the Islamists and Neoconservatives] were idealists who
were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better
world. And both had a very similar explanation for what caused that
failure. These two groups have changed the world, but not in the way
that either intended. Together, they created today's nightmare vision
of a secret, organized evil that threatens the world. A fantasy that
politicians then found restored their power and authority in a
disillusioned age. And those with the darkest fears became the most

Posted by: David Mohring at June 20, 2005 1:52 PM | Permalink

I'm sure your intentions are good, David Mohring, but you should know that when some of us read hyperbole like "today's nightmare vision of a secret, organized evil that threatens the world...", our reaction is not to be persuaded, but to smirk. But, OTOH, many here will say amen, brother---so ya win some, ya lose some.

Posted by: kilgore trout at June 20, 2005 2:14 PM | Permalink

kilgore trout: Have you seen the documentary?

Posted by: David Mohring at June 20, 2005 2:45 PM | Permalink

No, David, I haven't seen the documentary, and I never will. The whole "today's nightmare.." blahblah tells me all I need to know about it. Do you really think documentaries tell the whole truth and not just the "truth" they want to tell?

Posted by: kilgore trout at June 20, 2005 3:04 PM | Permalink

Seek other opinions.

Do you really think the current US administration tells the whole truth and not just the "truth" they want to tell?

Posted by: David Mohring at June 20, 2005 3:29 PM | Permalink

I have no idea what your link to Google means, David, but I do seek other opinions, just not extremist opinions.

Now for something completely different, I want to comment on Navasky. A while back I read somewhere that the addition of Navasky to CJR would pull CJR to the right. At the time, I thought it was a joke about how left-wing CJR and CJR Daily was. Now that I've read your comments Jay (with added value by Lovelady), I'm thinking it wasn't a joke, but the truth.

Posted by: kilgore trout at June 20, 2005 3:44 PM | Permalink

I've never sat in on a CJR story meeting -- the Daily has different funding, a different editor (me), a different mandate, a different staff and different space -- but somehow I suspect the print guys don't sit around assigning labels like "right" or "left" to the various trial balloons that get floated.
Or then puncturing the balloons labeled "right" and inflating the balloons labeled "left."
And that would be true whether or not Navasky was sitting in.
Navasky's assignment is to build readership ... not to marginalize the magazine.
And at that, he has a spectacular record.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 20, 2005 4:21 PM | Permalink

The primary difference between CBS's use of the Killian memos, and the Bush administrations' claims regarding WMDs, is that CBS's larger narrative still holds up, even if the reliability of the memos can be questioned --- while we now know that by ignoring the contrary evidence and twisting the facts to fit the policy, the Bush regime was passing off nothing more than a pack of lies."


A lie is something you claim IS true when you know it's not true (i.e. "I never had sex with that women"). The DSM shows Bush, like Blair, like Clinton in 98, "knew" that Saddam had WMDs. Knowing something is "true" when it's not, and acting on that "truth", and spreading that "truth", is not lying. It's being wrong about something.

Bush was doing EXACTLY what the Leftist media does: take a "story", fix it, and report only the facts that fit that story. What facts were twisted? Intelligence gives only "estimates" -- taking only the half of the estimates you like is unbalanced, but not twisting.

But, as Tony Blair says -- AFTER the memo, they went to the UN. War wasn't the next step.
Burden of proof was on Saddam. In Feb. Blix said he wanted more time, he did NOT report that "He is 100% certain that Saddam has no WMDs". Why not?

Prolly because Saddam knew he had successfully bribed France to avoid any further UN Action resolution -- so Saddam thought he could keep feeding Blix "something" and one inspection at one place at one time; another at another time -- and at the end of the runaround, Blix would have found nothing and Saddam would be the "heroic Arab Fox" who is too clever for those silly UN and US. And of course, he still "has them". Ha ha!

If, after invading Kuwait, Saddam is unwilling to PROVE he had no WMDs, I'm glad he was invaded. And in summer 2002, it wasn't clear if Saddam would keep up his bluf or cave in and show his emptiness -- but I think Bush was pretty sure Saddam would never provide proof of "no WMDS". Good judgment on Bush's part about Saddam.

2500 American soldier lives is a big loss, yet also a small loss to free 25 mil. Iraqis -- even if too many prefer death squad gov't to democracy.

And the elections in Lebanon are FAR more important; so were the elections in Mugabe's starving Zimbabwe (weren't a lot of Leftists keen to give that guy power?); even the suddenly disappeared child-raping UN peacekeepers is more important (any accountability? No? Business as usual, and that's OK for the alternative world cop?).
But these stories don't have that Bush-bash cachet...

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at June 20, 2005 7:22 PM | Permalink

Tom, Bush lied. He acted with complete and reckless disregard for the truth, exaggerating and distorting the "thin" intelligence that he did have in order to present a false impression to the American people of what Iraq's true capabilities were. It doesn't matter if you believe something is true overall, when you support your position using lies and disinformation (not only on WMDs, but on the whole Iraq-al Qaeda connection which nobody's intelligence services were saying existed) you are telling lies. Period.

But, as Tony Blair says -- AFTER the memo, they went to the UN. War wasn't the next step.

If you read the minute and the memos, one thing stands out --- the entire British government understood that British support for an invasion of Iraq would be illegal absent a new UN resolution, because Iraq posed no threat to Britain or its allies. If you read all the memos, you will note that "going to the UN" was specifically designed to "wrongfoot" Saddam in order to get the Security Council to back the use of military force.

And Bush (and Blair) consistently lied about trying to "disarm Iraq" peacefully.

Digby at Hullaballoo has rather conveniently laid all of this out for people like you...

and (getting back to the topic at hand) digby also notes the utter dereliction of the US media on this issue...

But that was slick spin that the press was too lazy to unwind. What is stunning is that all through the campaign, almost until election eve, Bush continued to say that Saddam refused to disarm, defying the world and the UN. The truth was that even at the time the consensus was that Saddam was giving the inspectors unprecedented cooperation. And more importantly,by the fall of 2004, for at least a year we had known definitively that Saddam had no arms. Therefore, Bush's reasonsing, quite artfully put together I admit, is nonetheless adsurd --- so much so, I suspect, that people couldn't quite figure out a way to approach it. It truly is the best example I've seen of "The Big Lie." It's almost as if Bush was daring people to refute him, knowing full well that it was such an illogical claim that it would make people uncomfortable to call him on it. (Indeed, he had ample reason to think so --- nobody had called him on his earlier assertion that Saddam refused to let the inspectors in at all, which is simply delusional.)

Today the media are yawning and telling us that Bush making an irrevocable decision to go to war almost immediately after 9/11 is old news. "Everybody already knew that," they say. And yet the president of the United States, time after time after time, lied directly to Americans in his campaign speeches, in addresses to fundraisers and, by extension, on the local news throughout the country by saying that the United Nations backed his decision to invade on the basis of the fact that Saddam refused to disarm. Everything about that statement is false. And yet even though he said it hundreds of times, and the press also now says they knew that Bush had decided tyo go to war as early as 2001, nobody said a word.

I didn't either. I'll be honest. I didn't because I couldn't bear to listen to Bush's stump speech so I didn't realize that he said this every day. However, the campaign press corpse, if they could hear the speech over the cacophany of piped in applause and the sound of their own drooling over all that delicious campaign food, never bothered to report this glaring lie. Neither, for some reason, did the Democrats. It's almost as if everybody just accepted the fact that the Big Lie was unstoppable and assumed that there was nothing they could do about it.

But there is really no excuse for the press to let this lie go unaddressed. He was saying this constantly all over the country and it was being picked up by local news and newspapers and repeated verbatim. I know it's hard to believe, but not everybody reads the NY Times and the Washington Post. A hell of a lot of Americans heard, without refutation, that Bush had the backing of the UN for the invasion and that he invaded as a last resort because a defiant Saddam refused to disarm. Again, that entire premise is false.

This is another reason why the Downing Street Memos mean something. It's not just that Bush and his cadre decided to go to war long before they admitted it --- they also lied repeatedly after the fact about their reasons and legal basis for doing it. It may be the most baldfaced lie a president has ever made to the American public --- even eclipsing "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" which Clinton only said on television once (and was repeated as evidence of his lying, thousands of times by the news media.)


On another note, Milbank seems to be intent upon digging himself an even deeper hole on his coverage of the Conyers hearings.

Rick Heller of the Centrist Coalition writes to the Post about Milbanks' response to the controversy over his report, and copies the letter to TPMCafe

Dear Sirs,

On Sunday, June 19, 2005 on page B06, Ombudsman Michael Getler wrote

'Here's Milbank's view: "While you have been within your rights as ombudsman over the past five years to attempt to excise any trace of colorful or provocative writing from the Post, you are out of bounds in asserting that a columnist cannot identify as 'wingnuts' a group whose followers have long been harassing this and other reporters and their families with hateful, obscene and sometimes anti-Semitic speech."'

The group that Mr. Milbank was referring to is

As a centrist who favored going into Iraq, I have frequently been subject to abuse from "wingnuts," including charges that I am a bigot and that I have the blood of thousands of Iraqis on my hands, wishes that I suffer grievous bodily harm and die, and also some statements I consider anti-Semitic.
But in dealing with Bob Fertik, President of, I have found him to be not of that ilk, but rather a left-wing activist who is interested in building bridges with political moderates. On listening to a conference call sponsored by, I was impressed that the participants, while clearly hoping to target Republicans, were concerned about professional standards of evidence-gathering, and did not leap to conclusions as is so common among "wingnuts."

I don't know if Mr. Milbank's view was meant to be communicated publicly, because I doubt he can prove the vile individuals who harassed him are associated with Because this statement, especially the charge of "anti-Semitic speech," is damaging to the reputation of, he should either back it up or back off the allegation.

Rick Heller Centrist Coalition

Posted by: rsmythe at June 20, 2005 8:35 PM | Permalink

"Bush was doing EXACTLY what the Leftist media does: take a 'story', fix it, and report only the facts that fit that story."

Except the cost is a little higher when a president does it, isn't it Tom?
Especially a president tossing aside 200 years of American history and launching a "pre-emptive" war when there is nothing to pre-empt, and he knows it.
That's the real value of the Downing Street memos -- in revealing that awful truth.
Who knows why he did it ? I doubt if we'll ever know. Nothing will come of the speculations of armchair pop psychiatrists -- most of which seem to consist of "Look at me now, Daddy," which seems a little too facile.
We'd be better off, now and later, concentrating on the consequences, not on the tangled motivations for an utterly irrational act. Of course, concentrating on the consequences is not real popular right now; but it's beginning to build a base. You can only deny the evidence for so long. The public is not stupid; it can be late, very late; but eventually it bends to the facts.
"I did not have sex with that woman" does not even begin to compare. (How many prosthetic limbs, flattened villages and misbegotten foreign adventures do you suppose that statement led to ?)

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 20, 2005 9:40 PM | Permalink

Here's my explanation: Bush had his reasons for going to war in Iraq. Some may have been good, some less good, some terrible. A representative democracy requires an elected commander-in-chief not only to have reasons, but to give reasons, publicly, for what he chooses to do. This is all the more vital post-1945, where we Americans make war without officially declaring it in order to give the President a freer hand, suspending our own Constitution in the bargain.

With this war, the reason-giving part of the operation totally failed. But that isn't, as Jeff Jarvis says, "a scandal of bad PR." No. If you think reason-giving is PR you have already lost the battle for public choice in politics. It is a basic failure of national legitimacy to have your reason-giving go so awry as it did with this war. If you are a Bush supporter, my view is you should be doubly concerned because, as things stand, actions in Iraq you believe fully legitimate have seen their official rationale (that is, their reason-giving) fail.

I don't agree with those who say that because no weapons were found, the war lacks all logic or legitimacy. It might have an alternative logic, a broader and more expansive rationale than: Saddam has weapons, he must be stopped. The broader case has been made, after the fact. Jarvis lists it, point-by-point, in his post. But that isn't what people voted for, or Congress "voted" on. Something went seriously awry in the reason-giving.

Just as some of you don't "believe" the big deal some of us are making about the Downing Street Memos, I don't believe your small deal making about the Memo's story of reason-giving and war. Doesn't ring true to me.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 20, 2005 10:12 PM | Permalink

Oh, and Trout? Next time you voice a view on the likelihood of documents being fake, I think you should add the word: developing... Then when you come with the fake confidence that you've spotted a real fake ("it's a page torn out of the Dan Rather, Lucy Rameriz, fake but accurate (tm) playbook...developing") it's funny, see?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 20, 2005 11:03 PM | Permalink

It seems to me the case of the Swift Boat liars indicates that the news world's Court of Appeal can be gamed by little more than astroturfing "reader interest"... but, that said:

I would say that the subsequent stories did little to contrast their lies with known facts, such as their earlier glowing statements about Kerry, nor did they often try to explain to readers O'Neill's weaselling misleading statements ("He was 'on the same boat' at completely different times", for instance.) In other words, that a media largely content to -- at best! -- put up lies side by side with the truth as if reality lay somewhere in between, was certainly complicit as well; I don't mean to lay all the blame at the feet of astroturfed "reader interest".

Posted by: ArC at June 21, 2005 3:47 AM | Permalink

This post ran as one of the featured ones at The Huffington Post. Arianna then wrote her own commentary on it, in which she compared television news coverage thusly. "Natalee Holloway" is the missing-in-Aruba teenager of tabloid, er network TV fame:

* ABC News: "Downing Street Memo": 0 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 42 segments; "Michael Jackson": 121 segments.
* CBS News: "Downing Street Memo": 0 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 70 segments; "Michael Jackson": 235 segments.
* NBC News: "Downing Street Memo": 6 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 62 segments; "Michael Jackson": 109 segments.
* CNN: "Downing Street Memo": 30 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 294 segments; "Michael Jackson": 633 segments.
* Fox News: "Downing Street Memo": 10 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 148 segments; Michael Jackson": 286 segments.
* MSNBC: "Downing Street Memo": 10 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 30 segments; "Michael Jackson": 106 segments.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 21, 2005 9:00 AM | Permalink

In newspapers at least, it's not enough to measure coverage as #articles:

My local paper finally ran an AP article on the DSM yesterday - page A9, with a teaser(?) headline on the front page. I made an informal survey - showed the front page text to about 8 people, asking them what they thought the article was about.

All but one had no clue.

The one person who knew, was an NPR listener.

Unfortunately the headline of the article itself was just as obscure. My guess is that maybe 2% of the paper's readers learned anything from the article.

When papers create "Readers' Circles", why don't they use this pool of readers to find out how well they're informing their readership?

Posted by: Anna at June 21, 2005 3:59 PM | Permalink

Above, Jay states:

"With this war, the reason-giving part of the operation totally failed... The broader case has been made, after the fact. Jarvis lists it, point-by-point, in his post. But that isn't what people voted for, or Congress "voted" on."

If the implication is that the Administration's case for regime change rested solely on WMD, I'm afraid I have to call B.S. on that. Bush explained his reasons, Congress acknowledged and agreed, Bush Administration officials promulgated them in public communications (I couldn't find a link to the Wolfowitz interview in which he listed reasons other than WMD; developing...). Though the threat of WMD in Saddam's hands was prominent (and I would argue sufficient, given information at the time), they were not the only reason.

But accepting Jay's proposition for sake of argument, can the failure be ascribed to the Bush Administration? If all the reasons for regime change given by our Congress and the President were not communicated to the public, one must instead eye our self-appointed "interlocutors" between that public and the government, rather than lay it at the feet of the Administration.

The larger point is that our anti-war freinds appear to be mistaking their perceived 20-20 hindsight with a claimed foresight that was impossible given the information at the time - - and even now the whole WMD question will remain unsettled until we determine with certainty what happened to Saddam's WMD before the war began (which the Deulfer report doesn't pretend to answer).

Posted by: Trained Auditor at June 21, 2005 6:07 PM | Permalink

I regret that my above link to Congress' approval of House Joint Resolution 114 on October 11, 2002, authorizing use of force against Iraq, doesn't appear to be working. It lists reasons other than WMD.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at June 21, 2005 6:13 PM | Permalink

jay--this is really too trivial to post, so I e-mailed you instead, but NYU bounced the message back. So, I'll remind you in public that Natalie Holloway is the missing Aruba teenager and Jennifer Wilbanks is the Runaway Bride, as we'll all be reminded tonight in primetime as Katie Couric tries to get her to reveal all. Enjoy your evening's viewing--andrew

Thanks Andrew: I fixed that. -- J.R.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at June 21, 2005 7:31 PM | Permalink


I think that the Huffington "segments" piece deserves its very own thread --- "everyone knows" what a vast wasteland that television news has become, but your focus and insights on this travesty might actually have some effect.

Posted by: rsmythe at June 21, 2005 8:09 PM | Permalink

The memo is obviously not a "smoking gun." If anything, in its unsubstantiated vagueness, it makes the case that Bush & Co. really did believe Saddam was a a threat as much as it makes any other case.

But that's immaterial to Jay's point--that blog's gives news stories a second life. Still, I'd like to see a little discussion on the fact that not all news stories are the same. A second chance at a career for John Travolta in Pulp Fiction is not the same as a second chance for Corey Dillon in some celebrity smackdown on MTV. In other words, I knew the forged CBS memo on Bush and you (Downing Street Memo), sir, are no CBS memo. In other words, the blogosphere in giving that story a second chance brought down Rather. The DSM--in being mostly a puff of air--is unlikely to bring down anything or anyone. Just watch. Some stories fail even their second audtion. In short, Jay's point that stories at least get a second chance is a good one. I would add that most stories (e.g., DSM) will fail that second chance too.

Posted by: Lee Kane at June 21, 2005 11:13 PM | Permalink

I like this idea of Court of Appeal. I would even like the web to be an arraignment court -- to get to some pieces that get left on the cutting room floor and never get "to trial" on the airwaves.

I'm haunted by this story that Rebecca MacKinnon told me. She was at CNN and spent weeks, maybe months, trying to get an interview with the Japanese premier. But CNN never aired it, said it wouldn't be interesting to the US audience.

Why does so much of everybody's work end up in the trash?

Why when we have the Net do programmers take big risks, and presumably lots of TUMS, trying to decide and often failing at figuring out which stories will be popular?

It would be an interesting experiment to put unaired stuff -- notes, clips, research material, links to releases that first got the producer or reporter's attention, and unaired footage -- on the net.

Stories that are particularly interesting can then be aired in the medium where distribution and space is at a premium.

(Next up, CPB?)

Posted by: Lisa Williams at June 22, 2005 12:58 AM | Permalink

Also, am I reading this right? Milbank calls Democrats wingnuts because he's personally angered by negative mail? Well, he is a columnist...

Posted by: Lisa Williams at June 22, 2005 1:01 AM | Permalink

Millbank is about proving the innocence and independence of Millbank, and every time he writes one of these columns angering people he figures another deposit is made in the innocence account via his "colorful or provocative writing."

rsmythe: "Your focus and insights on this travesty might actually have some effect." I doubt that very very much. I have never seen complaints about Absolute Commercialization have any effect.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 22, 2005 1:19 AM | Permalink


If you can be bothered to ask a direct question, what do the memos tell us that we didn't already know?

Posted by: Brian at June 22, 2005 9:25 AM | Permalink

Regarding Brian's question:

Whether the "memos" (they are minutes, actually) tell us anything new in the instrumental sense of delivering fresh information is somewhat beside the point.

The point (as Jay and James Carey will tell you) is that they symbolize documentary evidence for one side of one of the biggest arguments of our times: whether the American invasion of Iraq was wise and just.

As pieces of content with tremendous symbolic value, the Downing Street memos join the Abu Ghraib photos, the CBS memos, the Watergate tapes, and the pumpkin papers as shuttlecocks in the badminton game that ritually occurs whenever one side in a partisan disputation seeks an edge by attempting to scandalize the debate.

Because the DSMs are pieces of content with tremendous symbolic value IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET, the game/ritual now has many more players and proceeds much faster. One consequence of the accelerated process, as Jay pointed out, is that the pieces of content (or memes) have second, third, and fourth chances to catch on in public. It's also a consequence of the unbounded and ungated architecture of the internet.

That's the "new thing" the memos tell us: our public sphere is evolving.

Posted by: Michael Cornfield at June 22, 2005 10:15 AM | Permalink

If you can be bothered to ask a direct question, what do the memos tell us that we didn't already know?

That depends upon who "we" is.

If you are a Red State wingnut, it doesn't tell you anything you didn't know already, because you are impervious to information that is inconsisent with your opinions.

If you are a Blue State moonbat, it tells you that all of your conspiracy theories were correct.

If you are somewhere in between it tells you that:

1) The presentation of intelligence materials was specifically designed to provide public support for the invasion of Iraq, rather than allow for informed debate on the question of whether an invasion was justified. (This is the most generous reading of the "fixed" quote possible.)

2) In the opinion of the British government, it would have been completely illegal for Great Britain to provide any support whatsover (i.e. US planes could not even stop at British air bases to refuel) to an American invasion that was not specifically sanctioned by a new resolution of the UN Security Council.

3) The British government was fully aware of the challenges that would arise from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as they pertained to the political organization of a post-Saddam Iraq.

from these facts, we can draw certain conclusions

1) Bush lied, people died. The effort to present a completely false and misleading view of Saddam's WMD capacity, the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, and the overall threat represented by Saddam Hussein was deliberate and pre-meditated.

2) There was no effort to achieve a peaceful disarmanent of Iraq. The sole reason that Bush went to the UN was military necessity -- absent some kind of UN figleaf that would allow Britain (and one can assume, other nations) to legally support US preparations for the invasion of Iraq, it would have been logistically impossible for the invasion to have taken place.

3) The British government communicated its concerns about the post-invasion political situation in Iraq, and those concerns were completely ignored by Bush administration officials who were more concerned with setting up permanent US bases in Iraq and privatizing Iraq's oil resources than ensuring the establishment of a stable and democratic Iraq after Saddam had been deposed.

Finally, what we learned from the Downing Street Documents was what might have happened if the adults had been in charge in Washington DC. The documents make it clear that Britain was as concerned with the post-invasion period as it was with the invasion itself, and that is born out by their success in maintaining civil order in those parts of Iraq that the British military occupied.

Posted by: rsmythe at June 22, 2005 11:29 AM | Permalink

As a litigator, I spent years evaluating the strength of the evidence and law which supported my client and that which supported our opponent. A failure to accuractely make such assessments is harmful to one's client.

Looking at the Swift Vet claims, all the Kerry claims which proved to be lies, and the rather pitiful, often illogical, efforts to disprove the Swift Vets leads to the inescapable conclusion that a lot of the posters on this thread have completely lost their minds. Just a few of the facts:

-- Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" listening to Pres Nixon say we weren't there was obviously a lie. Kerry was never in Cambodia, Nixon wasn't yet president, and the whole Cambodia issue wasn't raised until 3 years later.

-- Kerry's war "wounds" were, indeed, mere band-aid scratches.

-- Kerry's website did, indeed, post action reports for fights in which he was not present.

-- Kerry did write in his diary that he had yet to see combat at a time which was one week after the date for which he requested his first purple heart. That request was denied, but Kerry waited until a new commanding officer rotated in and asked again.

-- Kerry did have a vet speak at his convention about his leadership on "their" boat despite the fact that the vet had actually been severely wounded and sent home before Kerry joined the boat.

There are plenty more.

As for the arguments about the run-up to the war, some folks have lost sight of reality. For example, I hope and expect that we have comprehensive plans for war with China and Russia (and a number of other countries). Since the US was still in a state of war with Iraq ever since the end of the Gulf War, war plans against Saddam were certainly prudent.

The war in Iraq looks to be paying enormous dividends. The only way to reduce the threat of terror in the region is to introduce democracy in as many places as possible. Bush is trying to do that.

Liberals haven't suggested jack squat for how to deal with the problem. Like Bill Clinton who couldn't pull the trigger on Bin Laden when given the chance to take him out and who was too busy partying to talk to his NSA to give final authorization to hit Saddam (the whole fleet had to call off the strike after pilots had been waiting in the jets for the signal to go), they live in never, never land.

Posted by: stan at June 22, 2005 12:34 PM | Permalink

“The Washington Post editorial page: ‘The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration's prewar deliberations.’”

This response from the Post – echoed in other bigfoot news outlets – is more damning of major media institutions than has been acknowledged. A more honest statement would’ve read something like this:

“There were strong indications at the time, from a variety of credible news sources, that during the Spring and summer of 2002 President Bush and senior administration officials were deliberately misleading Congress and the American people in order to gain approval for a war in Iraq which it had already decided to wage for reasons not connected to the war on terrorism as it was understood and supported at the time. The so-called Downing Street Memos simply provide official documentation of what we knew then, but didn’t investigate.”

The major press wasn’t just negligent in accepting the administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD leading up to the war -- as the NYT acknowledged in its famous Judith Miller mea culpa -- it was complicit in the administration’s lies about its stated intention to seek diplomatic solutions short of war. If the Post editorial board, for example, “knew” that the decision for war had already been taken by early to mid-2002, why didn’t the paper assign its best reporters to dig out proof in order to disprove the administration’s emphatic claims to the contrary? What would’ve happened if a latter-day Woodstein had unearthed a U.S. version of the DSM in, say, June of 2002? Here are several likely consequences:

1. The Congressional resolution authorizing war as a last resort would never have passed.

2. If the administration had nevertheless persisted in its actual course of conduct, it would’ve been clear that its posture toward the U.N. was calculated to alienate our allies, not to forge a genuine multilateral effort to disarm Saddam short of war. Recall that it was at the very time when we were supposedly seeking European support for dealing with Iraq that Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. were making snarky public statements about “old Europe,” the feckless French “surrender monkeys,” and weak Germans. It was Bush who yanked the U.N. inspectors out when they were on the verge of proving, at the very least, what Colin Powell himself had said in Congressional testimony in January, 2002, while advocating modified sanctions: Iraq was not a threat to us or its neighbors, it was successfully “contained.”

3. The public -- and Congress – would likely have been more skeptical about the administration’s casuistic efforts to link Iraq with al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks in people’s minds, if not in fact. The solid reporting debunking scary claims about Saddam’s supposed nuclear program -- the nuclear material from Niger, the aluminum tubes, the super-drones -- would likely have received more prominent and sustained treatment. Remembering public sentiment at the time, just imagine how quickly the impeachment resolutions would’ve proliferated if Bush had announced in April of 2002 that he was going to war in Iraq to save Iraqis from Saddam, or to promote democracy in the Middle East.

And so on. Of course, the Washington Post had its own reasons for its complicity in the Bush Administration’s fraud: it supported the war, probably for reasons similar to Thomas Friedman’s (their justification is bad but it’s the right thing to do). That might explain, in part, its nasty defensiveness with respect to the DSM.

But other press outlets, like the NYT, have more difficult explaining to do: they opposed the war, yet didn’t lift a finger to prove what they “knew”: that the Bush administration was proceeding on knowingly false premises to gain support for a war of choice on another country. They have yet to rationalize why they remained silent, and refused to perform their most important public function, at the one time when it would’ve made the most difference, literally, between war and peace.

The focus on what we knew or should’ve known about Iraq’s WMDS -- How many? What kind? How dangerous? -- while important, is serving as a dangerous smokescreen. The more important issue is far more serious than bad or credulous reporting, it is this: at the very time we needed one, our “independent” press was knowingly functioning as an adjunct of a dishonest government.

Posted by: Bob at June 22, 2005 12:48 PM | Permalink

In my haste I neglected to mention, in the post just above, that a seeming good faith effort to work diplomatically through the U.N. was also key to providing a colorable claim to legitimacy under international law -- which in turn was necessary to obtain Britain's support, as the DSM shows.

To sum up: If a document had been unearthed in the Spring or summer of 2002 showing that Bush had already decided to go to war with Iraq, and -- contrary to the unanimous pubic statements by the administration -- was merely going through the motions with diplomacy, then:

1. No Congressional authorization.
2. Probably no U.N. process at all, except loud and near unanimous official condemnations of the U.S.for its utter disregard of international law.
3. No British support.
4. In all likelihood, no war.

Posted by: Bob at June 22, 2005 3:47 PM | Permalink

What do the memos tell us that we didn't already know? I didn't argue that the memos "told us what we didn't already know."

My answer to what they tell us, and why they're important would be Mark Danner's answers here and here along with Englehardt's intro.

If those pieces don't tell you why I think the Memos matter, then we have a communication problem and the line should be checked.

The significance of the memos is not only in what is known, in the sense of what's come out, but what is solidly documented and thus harder to deny. And it's not only what has been documented but also the swelling category of "successfully denied."


A story is told the first time but hardly acknowledged (as with the Knight Ridder piece), largely because the broader story the government is telling drowns it out. When the story is later confirmed by official documents, in this case the Downing Street memorandum, the documents are largely dismissed because they contain "nothing new."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 22, 2005 6:35 PM | Permalink

Stan --
Well, at least I know whom not to call on if and when I ever need a litigator.
You can't quite handle the uncomfortable fact that the very bastions of the purportedly MSM -- from Michael Kinsley to Christopher Hitchens to Dana Millbank -- make light of the Downing Street memos.
Why ?
Because it doesn't fit your world view of a liberal media out to get George Bush.
I know, I know, it must be terribly uncomfortable when real life intrudes upon a cherished world view.
So you turn the subject to ... John Kerry ??
Come on, guys, face it -- Kerry lost. And therein you lost your target of preference.
What's next ? Shall we talk about Woodrow Wilson ?
No thanks. I'd rather discuss the Downing Street memo and the strange response of the prevailing media to it.
So, I suspect, would Jay, since he made that the subject of his opening essay.
So, "as a litigator," could you stick to the subject at hand ?
Given the way your mind works, I'm sure that request is familiar -- you must have heard it from dozens of judges.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 22, 2005 8:10 PM | Permalink

Too many of our anti-war friends are mistaking A) written summaries of secondhand, inferential hearsay by British Labour government officials with B) evidence. A (even though "documented") does not equal B.

Nor, all wishful thinking aside, does it make those officials' inferences more difficult to deny, anymore than my "documentation" of the following assertion makes it more difficult to deny:

"Liberal moonbats are fixing their understanding of America's Iraq war planning around their hatred of President Bush and belief that he lied."

Posted by: Trained Auditor at June 22, 2005 8:24 PM | Permalink

Trained Auditor:
This is not "inferential hearysay."
This is not obscure bureaucrats communicating with each other.
This is the very head of British intelligence, going to Washington, interviewing all concerned, flying back to London, and reporting to Tony Blair.
That's a lot different than you responding to me -- or vice versa.
In short -- this is the real thing.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 22, 2005 9:50 PM | Permalink

Steve L. -- The DSM is not being covered because in the marketplace of ideas it has little value: it won't be bought (except by, in HItch's words, "feeble minds.") It's too obscure. It says nothing new, and it doesn't particularly "prove" anything unproven to date--as if Bush wasn't after Iraq since shortly after 911 and as if nobody new that. Where's the secret? Jay seems to think this document, in documenting on paper what has already been writ large in observable fact, makes it important. But, really, do we need to document the obvious? In truth, the memo is the less reliable source when compared to events themselves--it is an opinion rendered in obscure language, of one foreign service functionary who may or may not have been privy to the real debates within the Bush Admin and who may or may not have accurately recorded what was heard or observed first, second or third hand. Truly, this is a joke, or at best wishful thinking... It might be used to "get" Bush except it is a net with too many holes. One must first argue succesfully, of course, that it was an unwise thing to immediately turn after 911 one's attention to the mass murdering rogue with the moustache and (it was thought) the WMDs stirring up trouble in the mideast oil fields. That is not a slam dunk argument. In fact one is likely to lose it, even now. Too many people think that was prudent thinking...even if assumptions and intelligence around Saddam's capabilities proved to be wrong later. Even with hindsight the invasion still looks good to many... In that case, the memo becomes "proof" that Bush was planning and on his toes regarding the next threat...if the memo can be said to do anything, which is of course doubtful... No, it's too complicated and uncertain to win a first, second or third hearing, except those who sat down in the jury seats having rendered their verdict before anyone even began to speak.

Posted by: Lee Kane at June 22, 2005 10:44 PM | Permalink


Prior commenters on this thread made references to the Swift Vets being liars. Perhaps your memory can't hold a thought long enough to remember that. Perhaps it's just the "way your mind works." I didn't bring it up, they did. I only set the record straight.

If you want to discuss Wilson go right ahead. I'd suggest you devote some time to trying to grow up. Grown-ups don't have any interest in your silly personal attacks.

Posted by: stan at June 23, 2005 12:21 AM | Permalink

What is this Pressthink essay about?

It is about the idea that news stories that editors didn't choose the first time around might get picked up and aired later because of substantial ongoing interest in the story on the net.

Interesting, yes!

However, I think because this is being illustrated with an example related to the Iraq War we're not getting as thorough and interesting discussion on that idea -- because the controversy over the Iraq war is too hot and drowns out anything nearby.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at June 23, 2005 1:00 AM | Permalink

Very true, Lisa. I tried to describe something that could be seen to be happening--the new court of appeal--regardless of how you feel about the memos. I was looking forward to learning whether I had described the pattern correctly, and whether others saw it, or saw it, but differently. That is what one always hopes for: corrective discussion that expands the post.

Of course, I also let it be known how I feel about the memos, and so I introduced the "too hot" politics of the matter. Mainly, however, I was trying to describe a new pattern. The pattern has more often been in evidence on stories the Right thought newsworthy.

Lee: when you treat people's arguments about the Memos as so many ways to "get Bush" you reveal a lot about how you see other people, but not very much about their arguments.

You weren't, I realize, speaking specifically to me, but while we're on it, I don't write "get Bush" posts and I don't think I engage in "get Bush" instrumentalism, either; and if that is what you hear I would adjust the dials. There's such a thing as a partisan ear, you know.

I try to describe things I see Bush doing, knowing that many will disagree with my sketches. I try to raise things that Bush supporters should also be alarmed about, or interested in.

The way in which the war gets legitimated and explained in 2002-03, and in ongoing debates today is not, in my view, a trivial matter to supporters of the war, to people in the military, to the coalition around the President, to the American project in the Middle East, to the rest of the world. On the contrary, reason-giving and the success of argument are central to American aims in the region, critical to military success, and a big part of winning, including the battles for history and public memory that ought to concern Bush supporters very deeply.

Get Bush? No. Get some more legitimacy. You're going to need it to win the war.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 23, 2005 2:43 AM | Permalink

Jay's point about the on-line connected community's "court of appeal" is a perceptive one, of course. The court of appeal can gore oxes on both sides (John Kerry and the Swift Vets is a good case from the right; DSMs appear at first blush to fit the mold from the left).

In fact, most are stipulating that point, and moving on to comment on Jay's topical example - - that is, comment on whether the appeals court's decision to remand the DSMs back to the trial court (the dominant media) for further argument was properly decided. I argue the DSMs amount to a metaphorical traffic ticket (if that), but which the left wants to cite as evidence of rhetorical treason.

And is there a "supreme court", a final court of appeal more sovereign than web-based commenters?

Posted by: Trained Auditor at June 23, 2005 9:42 AM | Permalink

I do think that you have identified a new pattern where news can flow past US news editors, hit the grassroots activists and political blogosphere, and then bubble up to catalyze some sort of newsworthy Congressional action that the US press then covers.

In the case of the DSM, I don't think that these documents have reached a critical mass of support from the Congressional opposition for the Times and Post to take them seriously enough to dig into the issues they raise any further.

Jim Lobe, the Washington Bureau Chief for Inter Press Service, explains the feedback loop between Congress and the elite press when it comes to connecting dots on foreign policy issues:

Reporters look to other institutions for, in a sense, what is permissible to report and what is not -- particularly elite reporters. If it's a matter of, say, foreign policy, the institution they look to -- for in a sense "permission" as to whether they can publish dissent -- is Congress and the opposition party in the Congress. And I think the question they raise -- though again not on a conscious level, I think it's part of the censorship process -- is "Is there a credible weight in the opposition party, a credible number of opposition party people who are raising these questions?" And if they find "Yes, there is," then they'll begin dot connecting, and they can do that pretty efficiently. But if they find that there isn't -- that the minority dissenting views in Congress are hardly heard -- the media will not go out on its own. The elite media, the real agenda-setters like the Post and the Times, won't go out on its own and kind of plant the flag and say "Look what's going on here -- this is awful." And what’s funny is I think that Congress, people in Congress, often look to the press for a similar signal as to whether they can go forward and plant flags and say, "This is really bad."

I think Lobe is correct in describing how the press still works.

What's new is that your essay shows that Congress can plant the risky types of "This is really bad" flags even when the elite press hasn't done so yet -- especially if they hear from grassroots activists or see online indicators that there is enough support coming from the political blogosphere.

The real difference comes with speed -- these safety net assurances from citizens can reach a critical mass much quicker online.

Posted by: Kent Bye at June 23, 2005 10:00 AM | Permalink

Oh My God! At the start of a war on terror, president Bush asked the pentagon to draw up plans to invade Iraq and depose it's dictator!

Come on people, if you parse Bush's statement before the war you will see that he enumerated several reasons for going to war with Iraq. WMD was only one of them.

As noted by others above, many people don't seem to understand the definition of 'Lie.' Most people in the know, thought there were weapons in Iraq. If you think something is true, and say so, it's not a lie if it turns out to be false.

If someone can prove to me, using evidence that would stand up in a court of law that Bush knew he was not telling the truth when he mase his claims of WMD, I'll re-evaluate by stance.

Here is a link to a blog containing a link to a report from UN weapons inspectors.

One quote:

"UN weapons inspectors now report dual-use equipment and material usable for biological or chemical weapons were removed from 109 sites in Iraq to destinations unknown. Quantities found stored in Falluja area. Missing are 130 biological, 4,780 chemical and 3,000 missile-related items."

Such reports are coming out of Iraq every month or so, and they make it even more difficult than it already is (for reasons stated above) for the "Bush Lied" theme to get any traction. It's a waste of time.

Posted by: Jeff at June 23, 2005 12:49 PM | Permalink

Jeff --
That's an interesting premise -- that a deluded president is better than a liar.
Too bad we're offered no other options.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 23, 2005 3:16 PM | Permalink

It's not just the 'Downing Street' memos.

There was plenty of evidence that the neocons who tell Georgie what to do wanted this war prior to 9/11. It was out there. The New York Times knew about it, because I informed them:

The Proof Is In The Memos

Perhaps the reason it took awhile for the blogs to get the story back on the Legacy Press agenda was becauase they got beat by The London Times on the memo story. The big media is legendary for ignoring stories they get beat on, until the story develops serious legs and they can no longer ignore it.

Any comments on this post?

Posted by: fast2write [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 23, 2005 3:27 PM | Permalink

Steve, I compliment you: Your every post makes me smile.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at June 23, 2005 4:57 PM | Permalink

Trained Auditor:
Awww, shucks.
I'll take that as a compliment, whether it was meant that way or not.
In this world, it's either laugh or cry. Or both.
The presumption that we can absorb the absurdities that pelt us daily and make sense of them is an article of faith with both the mainstream press and the more earnest corners of the blogosphere, left, right and center.
Me, I've figured since a young age that our only chance is to acknowledge that we, each of us, is Alice in Wonderland, that the Queen is in charge -- and proceed from there.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 23, 2005 5:36 PM | Permalink

A very clever article by a journalist in regional America: No news in the Downing Street memos--but should we believe it? Rick Mercier, The Free Lance-Star in Fredricksburg, VA.

Those waving the memos around and yelling for impeachment proceedings to begin say it is, too, news that the United States' closest ally thought the case for war was "thin" (British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's assessment, according to one document) and that it nervously sought to concoct some sort of legal cover for an invasion.

The memoheads also wonder why, if everything in the documents was "publicly known" by the summer of 2002, the Post's and Times' news coverage and editorials were not much more skeptical of the Bush administration's prewar claims and machinations.

To buttress their charge that the decision to invade Iraq was made well before the president said it was, some of the memoheads have begun citing reports about the increase in U.S. and British bombing attacks against Iraq in the months preceding the ground campaign.

The whole thing is good. Pressthinkers should pay more attention to tensions between all the local & regional journalists, as one American press, vs. national elites playing a very different "press" game. I tried to point this out in the Newsweek Koran mess.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 23, 2005 5:58 PM | Permalink

Let Michael Smith, the British journalist who was given the Downing Street minutes explain the significance of them. From an op-ed he wrote in yesterday's LA Times:

"It is now nine months since I obtained the first of the "Downing Street memos..."

"At the time, I was defense correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, and a staunch supporter of the decision to oust Saddam Hussein."

"The six leaked documents I took away with me that night were to change completely my opinion of the decision to go to war and the honesty of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush."

"But another part of the memo is arguably more important. It quotes British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon as saying that "the U.S. had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime.""

"In other words, Bush and Blair began their war not in March 2003, as everyone believed, but at the end of August 2002, six weeks before Congress approved military action against Iraq."

More at the above link. "Spikes of activity" is the smoking gun (General Tommy Franks even used the term in his autobiography).

(Please keep adding to the top, Jay, this an extremely valuable resource)

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at June 24, 2005 3:05 AM | Permalink

Yes, Ron. As Micahel Smith concluded in that piece:

"The way in which the intelligence was "fixed" to justify war is old news.

"The real news is the shady April 2002 deal to go to war, the cynical use of the U.N. to provide an excuse, and the secret, illegal air war without the backing of Congress."

One can only appreciate Michael Kinsley's tolerance for printing "left-wing conspiracists" on his op-ed page.

Posted by: Bob at June 24, 2005 6:44 AM | Permalink

Based on the lastest coverage, I'd say the Downing Memos lost in the Court of Appeals as well. By the time the Supreme Court gets around to hearing it, Bush will be long gone.

Posted by: Jim Blonder at June 24, 2005 9:47 AM | Permalink


Danner, who argued against the removal of Saddam before the fact and argued that it was a disaster immediately after the fact, is not the first person I would turn to if I wanted to justify the almost prurient interest that the Left has in the memos. But in fact Danner doesn't answer the question I asked, and neither do you, although maybe you think pointing me to such articles is a useful way of responding.

One of the links doesn't work, so let me focus on the NYBooks piece (I assume the point of posting a link was to allow it into discussion). Danner quotes the yarn about a nefarious Bush advisor (anonymous, of course) telling a journalist all that stuff about "reality-based community"--and you ought to know, Jay, that this is the kind of stuff that fits very neatly into partisan mythology, and hence should never be taken at face value--but the interesting part is that Danner, along with many others, never grasps the "senior advisor"'s point: that the tribe that was against the removal of Saddam is almost always against taking action, except in exquisitely measured and ineffective doses. So, you get: Rwanda, Bosnia, Africa, and what Mark Steyn called the Tsunami Tshakedown. Everyone sits down, studies the matter, and does something that makes them feel good even if it doesn't achieve anything, even if it allows a larger evil to prevail in the end.

I'm not just dragging this into discussion: Danner uses this story to introduce the memos (about which he has comparatively little to say) and he thinks it's quite relevant. Do you share Danner's take on this? That that aside, taken as read, is a regurgitation of the most cynical rhetoric of Goebbels? I'm not one to find such comparisons tasteless--they're too dumb to be offensive.

If you agree with Danner, perhaps it is because getting the wrong answer about the point of that little story makes you feel good. The guys who disagree with me are being conned by an evil genius in the Bush White House. Truth couldn't prevail because a sinister puppet-master prevented it.

What Danner actually says the memos establish is that Bush made up his mind to invade Iraq 11 months before he invaded, and that he insisted later that war could yet be averted. Does anyone remember the last minute offers to allow Saddam to vacate the presidency? Danner, along with others, is not really aware of how the British use the word "fix", which carries a somewhat different meaning overseas, so he puts it in sneer quotes throughout as if pointing to the smoking gun, proof of a conspiracy to lie, lie, lie his pants off.

To get back to my earlier point, Danner writes, "Which is to say, the simple desire to overthrow the leadership of a given sovereign country does not make it legal to invade that country." The imperative of "legal" invasion of a country (what a concept) is precisely what the spooky senior bogeyman was talking about, only I wouldn't call the people who hew to such nonsense "reality-based", because that way of thinking only works when one is shielded from reality by bureacracies, committees, and foreign ministers trying to protect their oil interests (something that never bothered the anti-war crowd).

As for your main point, I think by now it's clear enough for you and probably most of your less fervent posters that the "court of appeal" on the memos seems to have concluded, "nothing new, and nothing particularly objectionable". These weren't exactly the Pentagon Papers, were they?

Posted by: Brian at June 24, 2005 10:54 AM | Permalink

Both links work on my computer.

This is President Bush addressing the press when someone asked about the Memo:

"And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth."

The President is not telling the truth when he says that. They had made up their minds: "he's going down." They took a purely instrumental view of facts, intelligence and truth from there. It doesn't matter that we basically knew that before, what we don't know is why Bush so easily and breezily denies these things today. He is possibly deluded, in denial, or just denying because he can, knowing the press is weak. Or all three. Or some fourth thing.

If you want to know why I think the Memos, plural, are important, don't go to Danner or Donner or Blitzen. Just go to those words. What is the President saying, and why does he say it? I know it's no mystery to you. But it sure is to me.

And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth.


I am not with those who shout "Bush lied" about the war. I think it's a foolish battle cry. The Memos, as I said in the post, tend to establish that policy-makers believed the intelligence they had themselves influenced to give back a proper outcome. A more interesting story than "Bush lied," but harder to rally people around.

Instead what you have proven is a case of massive self-deception in matters of war and peace, a politicalization of intelligence that is extreme by historical standards. My views on this were shaped by three other articles in NYRB by Thomas Powers, longtime analyst of American intelligence.

Secret Intelligence and the 'War on Terror'

The Failure

How Bush Got It Wrong

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 24, 2005 12:50 PM | Permalink

I'd like to think that if I subscribed to the links you mentioned above, I'd become a True Believer. But unfortunately, Thomas Powers appears to belong to the Holy Church of the Reality-Based Community where "The Power of Nightmare" is considered canon. Just one paragraph of Powers overheated rhetoric convinced me he was preaching to the choir and not interested in persuasion.

I want to retract my comments of 6/19/05@5:43 p.m. Intially, I thought the moonbat element would be entertaining---and it was. But now, I'm just depressed. I read Jay's "explanation" over and over, and I might as well have been reading Farsi or Mandarin. The words were English, which I understand, but the language was foreign.

You're not a moonbat Jay, but I've come to understand that I don't speak your language. This realization makes me unspeakably sad.

Posted by: kilgore trout at June 24, 2005 4:32 PM | Permalink

Jay -- Touche. Not everybody is in the 'get bush' game, of course. But Steve, I think, is, and my comment was directed at him. You may feel the memos are significant for less heated and more thoughtful reasons, but none of those reasons, I think, are likely to make it worth serious, additional news coverage by the MSM. The arguments in my prior post--and in many other posts by others--still stand as reasoning for that...To this I would add that the memo does not indicate what you say, that the decision to go to war was made at the time of the memo--even if the memo can be taken at face value (which is not certain). Had Saddam backed down instead of playing the foolish game brinkmanship then the Bush policy may have shifted. But, if you're the Bush Admin, and you know Saddam, then you basically plan to go to war--knowing that's probably how things are going to shake out, but still you are prepared to "demobilize" should things turn out differently than expected. That's not a "decision" to go to war, in my book. The decision is when the "go" is given and not before. Did Bush *prepare* for war as early as the memo. Yes, no doubt. Not sure where the scandal is there.

Posted by: Lee Kane at June 24, 2005 6:07 PM | Permalink

While no scandal, I do see of course a subject for historians interested in studying how the decisions were made, their timelines, the points of no return, the "fog of war" ... the knowing or failing to know the enemy by both sides, Iraq and the U.S. But horrible, gripping, meet-in-the-underground-parking-lot, heads-musts-roll, lies-were-told scandal? Not even remotely convinced...yet.

Posted by: Lee Kane at June 24, 2005 6:13 PM | Permalink

Oh, come on, Lee.
The guy cherry-picked intelligence to justify a pre-determined course of action, which is the whole point of the "fixed" observation of Dearlove.
But, as Michael Smith (who broke the story in the first place) and Ron Brynaert point out, the real scandal isn't the "fix"; we've known the case for war was "fixed" ever since Seymore Hersh and Robert Dreyfuss established it in 2003.
The real scandal is the "spikes of activity" referred by Hoon and Straw. Bush began his "pre-emptive" war not in March 2003, but in August 2002, six weeks before Congress approved military action against Iraq.
And yet even today, Bush is saying, with a straight face, "And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth."
Jay is being too kind when he says "the President is not telling the truth."
It's not just that he's not telling the truth; he's lying through his teeth. And he's getting away with it.
And that's why the "liberal press" should be hanging its head in shame -- not just for its performance in the lead-up to the invasion, but for its performance right here and now, as all this is unfolding in front of our eyes.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 24, 2005 7:37 PM | Permalink

Jay, I'm looking forward to your take on journalists and bloggers falling all over themselves today to attack Karl Rove for his asinine - yet predictable -
attacks on "liberals."

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Scott Butki at June 24, 2005 8:29 PM | Permalink

With terms like "true believer," no, you're not speaking my language. I don't offer links like that for purposes of persuasion. I have little hope of persuading gentleman such as yourself, Trout. Frankly I don't care to convert others to my political opinions. It's not a high priority. Nor do I think it's a scandal that other people do not share my view of Bush, truth, and public communication. I offer the links so that one might know how I come to some of the conclusions I do. If the articles are beyond comprehension or fail the serious logic test right out of the starting gate or amount to so much "true belief," well...

Scott: Thanks. I don't think Durbin should have apologized or resigned for saying what he believes, and I don't think Rove should apologize or resign for saying what he believes. So what camp does that put me in?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 24, 2005 9:33 PM | Permalink

That puts you in the free speech no matter how dumb the speech camp aka card-carrying-ACLU member camp.

Posted by: Scott Butki at June 25, 2005 1:58 AM | Permalink

"That puts you in the free speech no matter how dumb the speech camp aka card-carrying-ACLU member camp."
Posted by Scott Butki

Scott --
You're right.
Jay belongs in the camp of those who welcome opposing points of view.
Which is why you can read here the Kilgore Trouts, the Trained Auditors, the Stans, the Lisas, the Steves, the Lees -- and even the Scotts.
I understand why that is unsettling to poli-bloggers accustomed only to preachers preaching to the choir. And I understand that, to all those who seek only confirmation of their own world views, the very idea is a threatening thought.
But try to get used to it. It''s what the whole 229-year experiment is about.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 25, 2005 2:59 PM | Permalink

Without the blogosphere Downing Street Memos would have drowned before they could be usefully anlysed ..

'At this stage, it seems almost pointless to say it, but once again, the corporate media in America have been exposed as a cowardly mass of toadies who cannot bring themselves to publish or air anything remotely critical of the administration unless compelled to do so by cattle prods...or a reporter from a foreign news organization doing what reporters are supposed to do routinely.' US Media Shamed by Brit Journalist

Two views on The 'devastating' Downing Street Memo

Christopher Hitchens becomes just the latest in a long line of mainstream scribes doing their best to undercut the importance of the Downing Street Memo. Hitchens ridicules the authoritativeness of the Downing Street Memo The Da Vinci Code vs. The Downing Street Memo

At Dan Gillmor is a link to primary material via Bespacific [The Downing Street Memo]

Posted by: Jozef Imrich at June 25, 2005 10:02 PM | Permalink

We'd be better off, now and later, concentrating on the consequences, not on the tangled motivations for an utterly irrational act. Of course, concentrating on the consequences is not real popular right now; but it's beginning to build a base.

I like this idea a LOT, Steve (but DSM is only about motivations.)

Had Saddam given "unconditional surrender" to Blix, and proven that he had NO WMDS with total cooperation, I suspect there would have been no war. But I wasn't surprised in Feb, 2003, when Blix asked for more time, without being certain Saddam had no WMDs.

And I'm glad Bush said no -- UN Res 1441, obtained AFTER the DSM, requiring Saddam to prove NO WMDs, was enough for Bush to give the "go" to war. And implement the actions his neo-cons had been planning for since before his election. At any time before the actual invasion, Saddam could have surrendered.

It was clear to me that Saddam's intention was to survive as Iraq's leader without proving he had no WMDs, so as to continue to act as if he DID have them. (Big Man On Campus-like)

The true logic of invasion is fear. Fear that a ME with an uninvaded Iraq will get nukes and let terrorists get them and use them. That fear is both less, thanks to invasion, and more, thanks to time and Iranian development. I'm sure my own fear would have been more today without Bush's successful Liberation.

On topic, I look forward to a re-examination of the US Leftist policy of leaving Vietnam. Consequence -- genocide. Despite Nixon's lies, and bombing, and at least one My Lai. Two policies, fight evil commies or leave. Leftists wanted to leave, the US left, the consequence was genocide.

On Rwanda, two policies. Take action and stop it, or no action. Leftist policy, no action. Consequence -- genocide.

On Darfur, two policies. Take action and stop it, or no action. Leftist policy, use the ICC, call it a war-crime area but NOT genocide, indict some 53 war criminals ... no effective action. -- accept genocide.

I see most criticism of Bush as an argument using Unreal Perfection as the unspoken "higher standard" alternative -- to rationalize no action.

The world needs a cop. The US is not quite that cop -- but the UN is a joke. Show me a better real alternative and I'll happily support it. (I suggest a NATO based Human Rights Enforcement Group.)

The Left hates Bush so hysterically right now because we can all see the sproutings of democratic freedom -- successful consequences -- in Iraq, in Lebanon; in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgystan; in other ME elections. None are perfect, but they're a lot better than I expected before 9/11.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at June 25, 2005 11:21 PM | Permalink

This is speculation on my part but I think the Brits and getting them on board was a substitute United Nations for the Bush war planners & strategists. Bush was prepared to go without even the fig leaf of the UN. They figured that America plus one was coalition enough, and the British were the one. Put that way, how much choice did Tony Blair really have?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 26, 2005 12:23 AM | Permalink

From the Intro