The always-entertaining Dana Milbank over at the Washington Post wrote a little diddy about the media’s coverage of the Downing Street memo. To explain why the media has been so lax on this issue, he writes, “In part, the memo never gained traction here because, unlike in Britain, it wasn’t election season, and the war is not as unpopular here.” That’s not quite true on both counts.
First, the war is increasingly unpopular as evidenced by the Post’s own poll today showing nearly six in ten Americans say the war was not worth fighting. The poll suggests that the media should be grasping at this issue even more given its increasing salience.
Second, and more importantly, the media was given a golden opportunity during the campaign to show its aggressiveness when a series of secret British papers containing serious charges similar to those in the Downing Street Memo were released. On 9/18/04, the Daily Telegraph revealed documents that showed the pre-war evidence against Iraq was known to be weak and that Bush was failing to plan for post-war Iraq. The UK papers, like the Sunday Herald and The Independent and The Guardian, reported extensively on the papers. Guess who didn’t cover the secret memos? The American press. The presidential election did little to change that.
Those memos were arguably even more damaging than the Downing Street Memo because they were documents of high-level British officials who reported on their direct contacts with Bush officials, like Condi and Wolfowitz. The memos said the U.S. was “scrambling” to find links between Iraq and and al Qaeda, that Iraq’s WMD program did not “show much advance,” and that Bush was “underestimat[ing] the difficulties” in attacking Iraq.
Milbank’s analysis, similar to one done by USA Today, focuses on how the media has responded to the memo. No one has yet offered any investigative reporting on the matter. Recall that the memo is actually a recording of minutes from a meeting in which British intel official Richard Dearlove reports on his discussions with American officials. Who were the Bush officials in that meeting? Has anyone sought to confirm with U.S. officials whether Dearlove’s recollections were accurate? Has anyone tried to get in touch with Dearlove himself?