Wednesday, June 15, 2005


One of the most frustrating things about covering a story like the Downing Street Memos — now plural thanks to the reporting from the Los Angeles Times — has been getting the “mainstream” media to pick up on the story. Bloggers like the gang at the Big Brass Alliance and After Downing Street have been working it since it broke in early May, but when you’re not seeing it in the New York Times or on the broadcast newscasts, you not only feel frustrated but you run the range of emotions from tin-foil-hat paranoia — “there’s a cover-up of massive proportions going on!” — to wondering if anyone who’s reading the blogs actually gives a rat’s ass — “oh, yeah, another big blog blow-up about something about something — hey, look at the kitty.” Kinda makes you wonder if it’s all worth it.

Then you find out that the reason the mainstream didn’t pick up on it is that the wire services like Associated Press, which is their main source of news outside of their own newsrooms, didn’t pick up on it, either. Eric Boelhert in puts it this way.

Editors rely on the worldwide wire service to let them know what’s worthy of attention, and that’s particularly true for international events. In the case of the Downing Street memo out of London, they say the AP simply failed to cover the story.

AP certainly wasn’t alone. An analysis conducted last week by Salon showed a shocking lack of mainstream media interest in the story during the entire month of May and into early June. There was a near blackout of the story on television, and just a handful of print outlets even reported the breaking news. Among the few media outlets with national reach to cover the story in real time was the Washington bureau of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, which provided wire copy for the company’s newspapers with a May 5 comprehensive story about the leaked memo.

Ordinarily, that’s the type of function the AP provides for hundreds of U.S. news organizations. But Jim Cox, USA Today’s senior assignment editor for foreign news, told Salon that when the story first broke last month, “we looked to wires for guidance” but for days didn’t see anything. It was a month before the paper reported on the memo; Cox takes the blame for that omission. “I wish we’d had something in early on, and I wish we’d been able to move the memo story forward. I feel like we missed an opportunity, and that’s my fault,” he told Salon.


“The original story broke on a Sunday, so it was initially difficult to match without access to government officials and documents,” said Nick Tatro, the AP’s deputy international editor. Then, the AP editors who repeatedly considered doing a story, he said, didn’t necessarily see the document as a clear-cut case of proving the manipulation of intelligence. Also, the demands of other important stories kept diverting them, he said. “Our people felt it wasn’t a completely clear comment from the raw material,” Tatro said. “It was our intent to do a story, and it just didn’t happen.”

In response to a request for comment, Deborah Seward, AP’s international editor, conceded to Salon in an e-mail, “Yes, there is no question AP dropped the ball in not picking up on the Downing Street memo sooner.”

Fuckin’ duh.

I’m pretty sure the folks that were concerned about this news coming out — the White House, 10 Downing Street, and the rest of the apologia on the right — were waiting on tenterhooks for the uproar that would come from the news getting banner headlines in the U.S. after the story was broken by the Times of London, which isn’t exactly a left-wing tabloid. I’m sure they had all the talking points memos ready to be handed out to the likes of Bob Novak and Kate O’Bierne, and Rush’s fax machine was spinning out Karl’s script before the break of day on Monday, May 2. When it exploded with the thud of a wet firecracker, they all breathed a huge sigh of relief and reveled in the fact that the AP, which bills itself as “the essential global news network” had dropped the ball and gave them a month or so to dismiss all the blogchat about DSM and demands for congressional hearings as the ravings of the lunatic left.

Well, as they say in sailing, they’ve got a lot of windward to make up, but it’s also a vindication of the terrier-like efforts of the left blogosphere. And it proves we’re not completely crazy…although you couldn’t tell by the coverage of really important news: