‘USA Today’ Defends Lack of Coverage for Downing Street Memo

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By: E&P Staff

In a report on President Bush’s joint press conference late yesterday afternoon with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, USA Today for the first time mentioned the so-called Downing Street Memo, first reported in London’s Sunday Times on May 1, and explained why the Gannett flagship had not previously covered the memo story.

The Downing Street Memo is reported to be minutes of a July 2002 meeting among Blair and some of his top intelligence and national-security aides. One of the aides reportedly told Blair at the meeting that the Bush administration has already decided to go to war with Iraq and was looking for justification. “Intelligence and facts were being fixed” to make war appear inevitable, the memo reportedly stated. Its veracity has not been contested by No. 10 Downing Street.

Wrote reporter Mark Memmott in the USA Today article’s final paragraph: “USA Today chose not to publish anything about the memo before today for several reasons, says Jim Cox, the newspaper’s senior assignment editor for foreign news. ‘We could not obtain the memo or a copy of it from a reliable source,’ Cox says. ‘There was no explicit confirmation of its authenticity from (Blair’s office). And it was disclosed four days before the British elections, raising concerns about the timing.'”

The memo has attracted a great deal of media attention in Britain, but it has gotten much less play in the United States.

Wrote Memmott: “The Sunday Times’ May 1 memo story, which broke just four days before Britain’s national elections, caused a sensation in Europe. American media reacted more cautiously. The New York Times wrote about the memo May 2, but didn’t mention until its 15th paragraph that the memo stated U.S. officials had ‘fixed’ intelligence and facts.

“Knight Ridder Newspapers distributed a story May 6 that said the memo ‘claims President Bush ? was determined to ensure that U.S. intelligence data supported his policy.? The Los Angeles Times wrote about the memo May 12, The Washington Post followed on May 15 and The New York Times revisited the news on May 20.

“None of the stories appeared on the newspapers’ front pages. Several other major media outlets, including the evening news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC, had not said a word about the document before Tuesday.”

Ombudsmen at both The New York Times and The Washington Post have criticized their papers for not covering the story more aggressively, Memmott’s story noted.

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