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The Bush Years And What A "Lapdog" Press Really Looked Like

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Laying out the reasons for an unprecedented invasion during his final, pre-war invasion press conference on March 6, 2003, Bush mentioned al-Qaida and the terrorist attacks of September 11 a total of 13 times in less than an hour. Not a single journalist that night challenged the presumed connection Bush was making between al-Qaida and Iraq, despite the fact that intelligence sources had publicly questioned any such association.

The egregious, look-the-other-way coverage continued long after the invasion. The U.S. media's collective disinterest in Britain's Downing Street Memo represented a perfect example of dogged lapdog behavior.

Consisting of minutes from a July 23, 2002, meeting attended by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his closest advisers, the memo revealed their impression that the Bush administration, eight months before the start of the Iraq war in 2003, had already decided to invade and that American officials seemed more concerned with justifying a war than preventing one.  

The blockbuster memo was leaked to the Times of London, which printed it on May 1, 2005. How did the American press respond?

It yawned.

Between May 1 and June 6, the story received approximately 20 mentions on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS combined,  According to TVEyes By contrast, during the same five-week period, the same outlets found time to mention more than 260 times the tabloid controversy that erupted when a photograph showing Saddam Hussein in his underwear was leaked to the British press.

In the five weeks following the memo being published in the Times of London, White House spokesman Scott McClellan held 19 daily briefings, at which he fielded more than 900 questions from reporters, according to the White House's online archives. Exactly two of those 900 questions were about the Downing Street memo and the White House's reported effort to fix prewar intelligence.

That, unfortunately, is what a lapdog press corps looks like. Let's not diminish the significance of that historic failure by pretending today's Beltway press is repeating that catastrophic and unprecedented abdication under Obama. Just because Obama's most strident critics have failed to turn voters against the president doesn't mean the press isn't doing its job.

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a contributing (more...)
 

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