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Someone Needs A Times-Out

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Message David Michael Green
Better late than never, right?

Maybe. If you're the Orange County Register. Maybe, if you're the Manchester Union-
Leader, and you still can't figure out what all the hubbub was about Watergate.

But the New York Times? The paper of record for the world's only superpower, for the
greatest force ever to bestride the planet? The New York Times, that great bastion of
liberalism? Puhlease. Surely we deserve better than this.

I refer, of course, to the Times' decision to finally run with the Downing Street Memos
story. They even managed to get the darn thing on the front page this time, with the
headline slightly above the fold. Yep, there it is at last, sandwiched between a photograph
of a college basketball game and another one of Sister Mary Elizabeth and Sister
Immaculata roller-skating in Central Park. (You think I'm kidding, right? Guess again.)

This news is great news. But it's also very old news. Many of us were nearly bursting the
veins in our temples way back in May of 2005, when this story first broke. We were rightly
apoplectic that the mainstream media in America was ignoring one of the most significant
stories of all time - that smoking gun evidence had surfaced proving the president had
utterly lied us into a completely unnecessary war. As I wrote at the time
(, apart from 9/11, what story has
been bigger since the end of the Cold War?

But it was no story at all, as far as the Times and the Post and much of the rest of
American journalism was concerned (but especially the Times). The blogosphere, on the
other hand, absolutely recognized its significance, and began going crazy on both the
topic itself and then also on the non-coverage of the topic.

Ultimately, this cognitive dissonance forced the mainstream media to pay some attention
to a story they could no longer ignore. The results were laughable. Unless, of course, it
was your kid getting ripped to shreds on the streets of Baghdad. In which case you
probably didn't see the humor of the entire American media establishment first facilitating
and then covering for George Bush's massive deceits.

First came the pundits, who were kind enough to disabuse us of our unsophisticated
fantasies that this was a story that really mattered. Perhaps most famously, Slate Editor
Michael Kinsley dismissed the memos as old news, as did most other prominent talking
heads. Why? Because several insider-memoirs had already shown the president as
anxious to go to war in Iraq.

But this dismissive conclusion by Beltway babblers was ludicrous for at least two reasons.
One was that a book by Richard Clarke or Paul O'Neill - especially once these had been
duly trashed by Rove's White House demolition squad - hardly rises to the same level of
evidence as a secret government document, and particularly one which, moreover, had
never been denied as factual on either side of the Atlantic.

The other reason is that maybe some tens of thousands of people read those books, and
some percentage of those readers believed their allegations. But to say that it was old
news that Bush wanted to attack Iraq is a flat-out lie, because tens of millions of Americans
believed the president when he was saying just the opposite - that he was trying
diplomacy, and working hard to avoid war. Tens of millions of Americans, frightened in the
aftermath of 9/11 and wanting to trust their president on security questions beyond their
understanding (though not beyond their comprehension - but that is another story),
believed the president when he said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Tens
of millions of Americans believed the president when he said that this was such an urgent
matter that it could not even wait another couple of months for the UN inspectors to finish
their work. There must, alas, be war, the president told us, right here and right now, even
though he really didn't want it.

All of these were complete fabrications, made for the explicit purpose of fooling the
American public. And since that is true, and since it is these memos which demonstrate
that truth, I would ask again: Apart from 9/11, what news story of the last fifteen years
trumps that?

It gets worse, though. Not only was the president not interested in using diplomacy to
avert war, to the contrary, the only reason for the diplomacy in the first place was the
mistaken belief that it would "wrongfoot" Saddam, who would provide a provocation for
attack by rejecting weapons inspectors. Far from trying to avoid war, what the memos
showed was that Bush and Blair were actually actively seeking war any way they could
make it happen, whether that meant painting American planes with UN colors and getting
one shot down, or attacking Saddam by air well before the March 19 supposed start of the
war, in order to provoke return fire which would then serve as a pretext for war. How many
Americans believed that this was what their president was up to? And, since the answer
is, of course, damn few, just how was this not newsworthy in the extreme?

The blogosphere (that is, real people, those not paid to lie or facilitate lies) recognized
immediately just how newsworthy this story was, and angry rants abounded on the subject,
many of which encouraged readers to bombard the mainstream press and hold them to
account for their lack of coverage (and courage).

That's when things got truly weird. In many papers or electronic outlets, the news divisions
were continuing their deafening silence on the DSM, while their editorial sections were
forced to deal with the hue and cry coming from readers hipped to the story through
alternative channels. That led to the bizarre phenomenon of the editorials on the back
pages covering the lack of coverage on the front pages of a highly dramatic and
ridiculously significant story, even while that lack of coverage continued unabated. Go

Those outlets which have ombudspersons were in the strangest spot of all, as these folks
found themselves having to explain the unexplainable, while their news desks
simultaneously continued committing the journalistic crime. Both Times Public Editors
Daniel Okrent and Byron Calame took their employer to task for lousy coverage (though
rather half-heartedly), and yet still that lousy coverage continued. Okrent's case was made
all the more difficult because the Times actually had covered the release of the original
memo, in the context of the British elections that month. Released as a leaked bombshell
obviously meant to damage Tony Blair at the polls, it was splashed all over the British
press. This disconnect left Okrent making the absurd claim that the Times' national desk
just somehow couldn't see why this story being covered by the foreign desk might be of
relevance to American politics. Yeah, right. Takes your breath away, doesn't it?

How could this have happened? And why is the Times un-happening it, now? One theory
is that they got a scoop this time, but not in the original case, so they've proudly boasted
'their' news while petulantly burying everyone else's before. No doubt there's some truth
to this, but with a story this gigantic, and with so much of the mainstream media previously
ignoring the Downing Street story last year, it seems likely that there's something bigger
happening here.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
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