Survey Finds Editorial Treatment of ‘Downing Street Memo’ Mixed

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By: E&P Staff

A survey on Wednesday of editorial pages of American newspapers produced a mixed picture of their treatment of the so-called Downing Street Memo, a secret 2002 British intelligence memo suggesting that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to support its case for war in Iraq.

The liberal Web site Media Matters for America found that editorials in four of the five largest U.S. newspapers — USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times — ?have remained conspicuously silent about the controversy surrounding the document.?

But the group?s survey of U.S. newspaper coverage from May 1 to June 15 found at least 20 editorial pages across the country that addressed the memo, from large-circulation papers such as The Dallas Morning News to smaller papers such as the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette. It said 18 of the 20 ?emphasized the importance of the document, many calling for further investigation into the explosive questions it raises. The dissenters were editorials in The Denver Post and The Washington Post, both of which claimed that the memo merely reinforces what was already known from other sources and argued that U.S. attention is best focused on how to win the war in Iraq.?

E&P was the first national magazine to cover the memo, on May 5, asking at that time why few in the media (Knight Ridder being a notable exception) were taking it seriously.

In addition to the editorials, of 12 editorial page editors who separately addressed the memo in op-eds, Media Matter reported, ?eight asserted the importance of the memo and four took the position that it contains nothing significant or new…. In addition, five of the six reader representatives or ombudsmen who addressed coverage of the memo argued the story warrants more coverage than it has received in their own papers or the media at large.?

Among the newspapers carrying editorials emphasizing the significance of the memo were The Salt Lake Tribune, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), Houston Chronicle and Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

Reader representatives critical of the coverage of the memo by the media were The Washington Post?s Michael Getler, The Palm Beach Post?s C.B. Hanif, San Diego Union-Tribune?s Gina Lubrano, Orlando Sentinel?s Manning Pynn and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune?s Kate Parry.

The Star-Tribune was the first major paper to print the memo in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Deborah Seward, Associated Press international editor, has told Eric Boehlert of Salon magazine that the AP “dropped the ball” in failing to pick up the Downing Street memo story earlier. AP’s deputy international editor, Nick Tatro, told Boehlert “It was our intent to do a story, and it just didn’t happen,” for a variety of reasons.

Several editors blamed their own lack of coverage of the memo on the AP’s mistake, explaining that AP wire stories drive international coverage at many newspapers.

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