David Sirota recently documented instances of what he called Rectal Journalism.
He described this sort of reporting as "based on reporters and pundits simply pulling stuff right out of their ass."
His examples are good and his argument important. All sorts of nonsense is peddled as fact in the U.S. media every day. But the larger problem, I would argue, is Journalistic Constipation, the failure of the media to mention at all some of the most important news stories that come along. Last year I catalogued many of these stories, related to labor, the workplace, the election, and the war:
But this week I came upon a glaring example. Or, rather, my colleague Jon Schwarz did. Everyone knows by now that the New York Times sat on a story of illegal spying until after the illegal spy in chief was "re-elected." (We refer to him as having been re-elected, because journalistic constipation blocked the story of election fraud.)
We know that the New York Times published the spying story because one of its reporters, James Risen, was about to publish it himself in a book. What we don't know is that the same book contains other major stories that neither the New York Times nor any other corporate media outlet has yet touched.
One of these stories, as Jon discovered, relates to the Downing Street Memo. In May of 2006, the Downing Street Memo was a huge story in Europe. A lot of us worked hard to make it a story in the US by June. The original memo (accompanied by another seven important documents) is the minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting at which Richard Dearlove, head of British intelligence, reports to Prime Minister Tony Blair on what he's recently learned in Washington.
What he'd learned was devastating: Bush had decided on war many months before telling Congress or the UN or the American people, and had determined to "fix" the evidence of WMDs and ties to 9-11 to "fit the policy" of war.
But no one knew for sure with whom Dearlove had met, and that was one excuse the media gave for its constipation on this story. Michael Kinsley wrote in the Washington Post that Dearlove might have talked to "the usual freelance chatterboxes." Later, in an exchange with Mark Danner, Kinsley indicated that Dearlove might have simply been talking about the "mood and gossip of 'Washington.'" (The Post eventually gave some coverage to the Downing Street Minutes, more than the New York Times ever has.)
Fox News offered these words of wisdom last spring:
KONDRACKE: And this is the key controversial sentence. "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Now, does that mean that we are being jimmied, we are being -- that intelligence was being cooked?
HUME: But this guy that said this based this on his conclusion on discussing this with national security aides surrounding President Bush, right?
KONDRACKE: Right, right.
HUME: Not policymakers?
KONDRACKE: Right, and the adversaries of the policy are fastening on this sentence to say, "Aha!"
Not to be outdone by Fox, CNN brought on John Fund to opine:
"[T]he memo is best characterized as a British aide's impressions of what his cabinet minister's impressions were in a meeting with U.S. officials who were unnamed, and the source of course is anonymous. And not conclusive."
Dick Cheney added:
"The memo is just wrong. In fact, the president of the United States took advantage of every possibility to try to resolve this without having to use military force."
So, what would we have to think if we were to discover that the New York Times has been sitting on a story about who it was that Dearlove met with and that it was not "national security aides"? In fact, Risen's book reveals that:
Dearlove was in part reporting on a CIA-MI6 summit he attended with other top MI6 officials at CIA headquarters on Saturday, July 20, 2002
According to "a former senior CIA officer," the meeting was held "at the urgent request of the British"; CIA officials believe "Blair had ordered Dearlove to go to Washington to find out what the Bush administration was really thinking about Iraq"
During the day-long summit, Dearlove met privately with CIA head George Tenet for an hour and a half
While he comments from Kinsley, Hume, Kondracke, Fund, and Cheney above are some of the dumber ones called to account by these latest fog facts (Larry Beinhart's term for information that is neither secret nor widely known), far be it from me to let them twist in the wind alone. Let's bring back from the mists of last spring's constipated journalism some of the worst of the worst of the noncoverage of the Downing Street Memos.
Most Machiavellian Award:
A Fort Worth Star-Telegram op-ed dismissed the Downing Street documents, arguing that Bush had good secret reasons for war that the public was too simple-minded to understand, so we had to be lied to, and we should be grateful for it.
Slickest Hypocrisy Award:
The Washington Post's Editorial Board published an unsigned editorial defending the Post's refusal to report on the Downing Street memos: "The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration's prewar deliberations. Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002."