Friday, June 17, 2005

The Column No One Should've Had to Write


On public radio this week, Walter Pincus, the senior national security reporter for The Washington Post, posed the question: if the statements in the various Downing Street memos are to be dismissed as "old" news--since preparing to go to war in Iraq and questions about intelligence were already "conventional wisdom" and published as such in 2002--then why was so much made of the Pentagon Papers back in the 1970s when reporters knew early on, and were writing, that the Vietnam war was a disaster in which the U.S. had made a string of mistakes?

Ironically, it is the same New York Times which bravely published the Pentagon Papers that, as recently as today, is still treating the Downing Street Papers as merely fodder for “antiwar” types.

Even though their importance has been dismissed, or played down, by both the Bush Administration and several leaders of the mainstream news media in the United States, the British government memos leaked to Michael Smith of the Sunday Times of London do constitute “primary” sources from near the heart of government when composing the first draft of an authoritative history of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Moreover, all the key questions about the deceit and lack of judgment by the Administration when making the case for war are back on the table for public debate.


But of all the major national newspapers, none have been so
deconstructionist, cavalier, and churlish in treating the memos as The New York Times. Todd Purdum, for example, has declared that the documents are not “shocking.” Official evidence of a rush to war not shocking?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that, for the most part, the American print media’s bringing up the rear “beetlebum” approach in covering the memos constituted a rather blatant dereliction of duty. It indicates a complicity in resisting a re-examination of the official lies on the path to war. It is almost enough to make one believe that major media outlets are afraid to take on the White House’s version of truth, either out of worry over being out of step with other “mainstream media,” or because they fear
losing access to high-level sources, or because top editors supported, and support, the invasion and occupation of Iraq--and in some well-known cases, their own stories “fixed” intelligence to fit the pro-war view.

But what about the Fourth Estate’s integrity before history?