A press coverup

Leave it to the Beltway herd, with their special brand of arrogance, to insist that the Downing Street memo wasn't news.

Topics: The New York Times, Washington Post,

To judge by their responses, the leading lights of the Washington press corps are more embarrassed than the White House is by the revelations in the Downing Street memo — which quite suddenly is becoming as “famous” as NBC’s Tim Russert suggested weeks ago, when most of his colleagues and everyone at his network were still ignoring the document.

Mooing in plaintive chorus, the Beltway herd insists that the July 23, 2002, memo wasn’t news — which would be true if the absence of news were defined only by their refusal to report it.

They tell us the memo wasn’t news because everybody understood that George W. Bush had decided to wage war many months before the United States and its allies invaded Iraq. The memo wasn’t news because anyone who didn’t comprehend that reality back then has come to realize the unhappy facts during the three ensuing years. The memo wasn’t news because Americans already knew that the Bush administration was “fixing the intelligence and facts around the policy,” rather than making policy that reflected the intelligence and the facts about Iraq.

Only a very special brand of arrogance would permit any employee of the New York Times, which brought us the mythmaking of Judith Miller, to insist that new documentary evidence of “intelligence fixing” about Saddam’s arsenal is no longer news. The same goes for the Washington Post, which featured phony administration claims about Iraq’s weapons on Page 1 while burying the skeptical stories that proved correct.

If you listen to those mooing most loudly, such as the editorial page editors of the Post, the Downing Street memo still isn’t news because it doesn’t “prove” anything. (Only a Post editorial would refer to Sir Richard Dearlove, the chief of Britain’s MI6 intelligence service who reported the fixing of intelligence to fit Bush’s war plans, as merely “a British official.”) Certainly it proves much about the candid views held by the most knowledgeable figures in the British government. Evidently the Post’s editorialists would rather not learn what else the memo might prove if its clues were investigated.



How foolish and how sad that all these distinguished journalists prefer to transform this scandal into a debate about their own underachieving performance, rather than redeem mainstream journalism by advancing an important story that they should have pursued from the beginning. This is a moment when the mainstream press could again demonstrate to a skeptical public why we need journalists. Instead they are proving once more that their first priority is to cover their own behinds.

To my ear, their arguments lack conviction as well as logic. Although reporters tend to be timid or cynical, very few are stupid — and almost none are truly stupid enough to believe that this memo wasn’t “news” according to any professional definition of that word.

Deciding what constitutes news is a subjective exercise, of course, with all the uncertainty that implies. Yet there are several obvious guidelines to keep in mind while listening to the excuses proffered in the New York Times and the Washington Post by reporters who must know better.

A classified document recording deliberations by the highest officials of our most important ally over the decision to wage war is always news. A document that shows those officials believed the justification for war was “thin” and that the intelligence was being “fixed” is always news. A document that indicates the president was misleading the world about his determination to wage war only as a last resort is always news.

And when such a document is leaked, whatever editors, reporters and producers may think “everyone” already knows or believes about its contents emphatically does not affect whether that piece of paper is news. The journalists’ job is to determine whether it is authentic and then to probe into its circumstances and meaning. There are many questions still to be answered about the Downing Street memo, but the nation’s most prominent journalists still aren’t asking them.

As striking as the bizarre redefinition of news now underway among the Washington press corps is its strange deficit of memory. Everyone did not know in the summer and fall of 2002 that Bush had reached a firm decision to wage war — not even if “everyone” really refers only to the readers of the Times and the Post.

What were the Post and the Times telling us then about the president’s intentions?

Consider Michael Kinsley, the Los Angeles Times editorial page editor and columnist, who recently derided the memo’s importance. According to him, “you don’t need a secret memo” to know that “the administration’s decision to topple Saddam Hussein by force” had been reached by then. Anybody could tell that war was “inevitable,” he wrote. “Just look at what was in the newspapers on July 23, 2002, and the day before,” he wrote, citing an opinion column by Robert Scheer and a Times story about Pentagon war planning.

But let’s also look at what Kinsley himself wrote on July 12, 2002, after those war plans were leaked. On the Post’s Op-Ed page, he suggested that despite all the logistical planning and bellicose rhetoric, “Bush may be bluffing … Or he may be lying, and the leak may be part of an official strategy of threatening all-out war in the hope of avoiding it, by encouraging a coup or persuading Hussein to take early retirement or in some other way getting him gone without a massive invasion.”

So Kinsley himself wasn’t quite certain whether Bush had decided on war, yet now he says we all knew.

On that same Op-Ed page two months later, fervent hawk James Hoagland, whose views on the war closely reflect those of the paper’s editorial board, wrote a column about the president’s U.N. speech. Hoagland described Bush as “diligent prosecuting attorney, sorrowful statesman and reluctant potential warrior.

“Bush wisely did not base his appeals for collective action against Iraq on a doctrine of preemption … Instead he explained how the need for such drastic steps can be avoided by concerted international action.” War, that is, could still be avoided, or so Hoagland believed as of Sept. 15, 2002.

A few days earlier, an editorial in the Times had likewise lauded the president’s speech: “While Mr. Bush reserved the right to act independently to restrain Iraq, he expressed a preference for working in concert with other nations and seemed willing to employ measures short of war before turning to the use of force. These are welcome and important statements.” So despite what Times reporters and analysts claim today, their newspaper clearly did not consider war inevitable several weeks after July 23, 2002.

And on Oct. 8, 2002, the Times noted approvingly that in requesting a congressional war resolution, Bush had said: “Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable.” The next day, the paper of record reported that around the world, politicians, journalists and ordinary citizens had derived hope from those words.

Those hopes were misplaced, as we now can be certain. Instead of pretending that we all knew what we know now, the Washington press corps should stop spinning excuses, stop redefining what constitutes news and start doing its job.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>