When News Isn’t News
From the August 2005 Issue
I hope this is not too Inside Baseball for you, but I am truly hacked with what the bloggers call the MSM, or “mainstream media.” The New York Times and The Washington Post have both gone way out of their way to deny that the Downing Street Memos (it’s now plural) are news.
Let me tell you something. Like many of you, during the entire lead-up to the war with Iraq, I thought the whole thing was a terrible idea. I bring this up not to prove how smart we are, but to emphasize that I followed the debate closely and probably unconsciously searched for evidence that reinforced what I already thought. I read not only the American press but the European press as well. I think I read most of the leftwing publications in this country, as well as a good number on the right, and I read the Times, the Post, The Wall Street Journal, and several Texas papers every day. It’s my job. This is what I do for a living—try to stay well informed.
When I read the first Downing Street Memo, my eyes bugged out and my jaw fell open. It was news to me, and as I have tried to indicate, I’m no slouch at keeping up. I had to write a column that day, and there was no way I could let that pass without at least pointing out what it said.
Here are the aggravating factors. Tom Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote that “liberals” no longer want to talk about the war because we were against it to start with and probably hope it ends in disaster. Jesus God Almighty, who does he think we are? Does this man who has a column for The New York Times, one of the most prestigious jobs in American journalism, actually think we are out here cheering every time another American is killed? Mr. Friedman, real, actual, honest-to-God American liberals are out here in the heartland and we know the kids who are dying in Iraq. They are from our hometowns. We know their parents. That’s why we hate this war. That’s why we tried to tell everybody else it was a ghastly idea. We are not sitting here gloating because it is the horrible FUBAR we said it would be. We are in agony because it is as bad as we said it would be. Cassandra took no joy in the fall of Troy. I have said from the beginning that if this thing worked out the way Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Cheney all said it would, I would be perfectly happy to get down on my knees and kiss George Bush’s feet. I do literally mean that.
The second aggravation is that the very prestigious papers that are now dismissing the Downing Street Memos have already themselves admitted that their pre-war coverage was—I don’t know, you pick the adjective: Slack? Inadequate? Less than rigorous? Wrong? And now they’re saying, “Oh hell, this isn’t news, we knew it all along”?
I don’t know if these memos represent an impeachable offense, but they strike me as a hell of lot worse than anything Richard Nixon ever contemplated. He used the government for petty political vindictiveness. Shit, I’d settle for that again over what we’re looking at now.
Michael Kinsley out at the Los Angeles Times, which has certainly done some commendable reporting on this war and taken the heat for it too, also dismisses the memos. I don’t get it. You suddenly find evidence that this Administration lied to all of us about war—and your reaction is not to go after the Administration but to dismiss the evidence? And to put down the people who are calling you screaming about why you haven’t bothered to mention it? What is wrong with this picture?
Yes, it seemed to me that the Administration had been planning the war for months before they ever began their PR campaign. But I was not the god damn head of British intelligence in the summer of 2002.
The irony of Deep Throat surfacing after all these years in the midst of this memo mess is almost too precious. Does The Washington Post have any hungry young reporters on Metro anymore?
Molly Ivins, co-author of “Bushwhacked,” writes in this space every month.