Monday Morning QB

Downingstreet10_1 Frank Rich began my weekend reading with the reminder that Deep Throat's "follow the money" advice came from screenwriter William Goldman, not W. Mark Felt. "This confusion of Hollywood's version of history with the genuine article would quickly prove symptomatic of the overall unreality of the Deep Throat coverage. Was Mr. Felt a hero or a villain? Should he "follow the money" into a book deal, and if so, how would a 91-year-old showing signs of dementia either write a book or schmooze about it with Larry King? How did Vanity Fair scoop The Post? How does Robert Redford feel about it all? Such were the questions that killed time for a nation awaiting the much-heralded feature mediathon, the Michael Jackson verdict."

(Or is it Angelina Jolie who's distracted us, the Inky's Dick Polman asks.)

Rich went on to observe that Richard Nixon and Watergate itself were glossed over in the coverage. As were the bad things Charles Colson and about 30 others did. Three years ago, on Watergate's 30th anniversary, an ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans couldn't explain what the scandal was. "Watergate has gone back to being the "third-rate burglary" of Nixon administration spin. It is once again being covered up."

So is any real discussion of the Downing Street memo, Rich charged, thanks to the sort of lapdog press that Nixon would have loved. He cited scholarship by Eric Boehlert of Salon that only 2 in 940 questions at White House briefings have addressed the London Times' publication of notes from a July 23, 2002 meeting where Tony Blair's aides reported on a White House effort to fix "the intelligence and facts" to justify the war in Iraq.

We in the lap pack have been increasingly hammered from the left regions of the blogosphere. The left is savoring some recent progress in getting us to bite. New stories emerge. Yet it's not quite working. Matt at the Tattered Coat offered his take yesterday:

The biggest problem, first and foremost, seems to be pessimism. Pessimism about the possibility of any scandal to do damage to Bush at this point, and pessimism about the ability of a rag-tag group of bloggers and U.S. Representatives to change the minds of the editors of America’s newspapers who have, in their infinite wisdom, decided that a story about a President lying our country into war is not worth a single investigative report.

Inquirer editors have received more than 100 215 emails questioning our coverage, says deputy managing editor Carl Lavin. One criticism: We didn't run a Knight Ridder Washington bureau report written four days after the London Times piece ran. Lavin, in a letter to readers Judy Rubin and Debs Bleicher, wrote, "The public record, illustrated through articles published in the Inquirer in July and August 2002, made it clear at the time that President Bush and his top advisers were making a very strong case for military action to oust Saddam. The president wanted to remove Saddam from power and his administration was making plans to use military means to achieve that goal."

Lavin cited a number of stories from those months, then noted that books by Gen. Tommy Franks and Bob Woodward gave greater details of the plans for war. James S. Robbins of the American Foreign Policy Council has made this argument in the National Review Online.

"History may never allow us to know, of course, if from the president's point of view the decision was firm in July, or August, or the week before the bombing began," wrote Lavin. "At what point can a president turn off the planning machinery and decide not to attack?"

Meaning, the paper is saying about the memo, "You already knew this." People either didn't grasp it, didn't believe it, didn't care, or got it all - and still prefered the president.

An Atrios reader named Pilot reacted to a post of Dick Polman's column on the popular Philly-based political blog.

Hey, I'm just as glad as the next guy that this stuff is trickling out and I hope it weakens Bush seriously.

But ... for the life of me, I can't figure out what the surprise is. Just who was it that did not think we were going to war from early on?

Going to the UN? Getting Congressional resolution? Merely filling in the checkboxes and Congressional CYA. At the risk of being obnoxious there was never any doubt in my mind that the Administration had decided long before and WE were going to go along.

Other than political points are slowing the move to more bad decisions, there isn't much point in trying to get Bush and his crew to change course. They're a bunch of "true believers."

The more important issue is how we allowed ourselves to be deluded and cowed. Avoiding those behaviors is the only true protection against lousy political leadership. The real burden is not on them, it's on us.

Now that it's going badly and there don't appear to be any good options, we're beginning to see a new version of Congressional and press CYA. We should hold them to account as well, but we should also push for some real behavioral change in both institutions.

And we need to look in the mirror and accept our own responsibility. How did we allow this god awful mess come to pass?

We've also run a number of stories about Alex's Lemonade Stand, which this weekend kicked off a summer campaign to raise money to battle pediatric cancer. And I haven't read one of them. It has been one of those subjects that I read defensively, scanning the headline and lede so I know what it is about, but not going deeper. Then I read Sally Swift's Daily Sally post on her nephew, also named Alex, and it grabbed me by the collar. I recommend it.

The nightmare began this way:

Mom's folding laundry one day, chatting with her happy, healthy, precocious 4-year-old son (my nephew). He's lying on the bed on his side. She notices each time she speaks, he lifts his head off the pillow. She asks him why and he says, 'So I can hear you.'


Didn't catch this in the Observer blog last week, but Tony Blair took some heat upon his return from Washington for what his subjects perceived as creeping Yankisms. Asked about Britain's EU budget rebate, Blair huffed:

"The UK rebate will remain and we will not negotiate it away. Period."

"'Period'"? asked Observer blogger Rafael Behr. "Has someone, like, just come back from the States, or what? ... Heck yeah, Tony! Why not? Run it up the flag pole see who salutes. It's a no brainer."


With Iranian elections scheduled for June 17, U.S.-based blogger Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder, has returned home, calculating that it is the least risky time to visit because the regime wants to appear tolerant. You can read Hoder's blog here. I listened to him talk at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York last month. He was one of the bloggers who inspired the Global Voices project at Harvard Law. Wired magazine profiled him. He wish him luck, given the beatings of Iranian liberals we read about yesterday. ...

As long as we're heavily international this morning, I was amazed by a British blog reporting mobile phone bullying on the playground. Kids apparently text message abuses and beat fellow students as others video record the attack with their phones. A Web site called Stop Text Bully is trying to stop the nasty trend.

Posted 06/13/2005 09:06:02 AM

Excellent points about the Downing St memo. People go insane over the word "fixed" because they figure that constitutes a smoking gun. But they need to figure out how that level of intelligence conspiracy could extend as far as the Brits without making it to the US public. Furthermore they ignore this paragraph: "For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary." Oops. The DSM acknowledges the Brits thought Saddam had WMD. Was THEIR intelligence "fixed" too?

Posted 06/13/2005 09:14:49 AM

Here is a detailed critique of that Frank Rich column:

Posted 06/13/2005 09:21:15 AM

One more thing. The people complaining about people who complain about Deep Throat (got that?). Aren't these the reporters who were against the Vietnam War? How many articles have they produced detailing the horrors and millions who have died in that area of the world b/c we lost? Watergate vs. millions dead. Not defending Watergate here. But if they want to play this self-righteous Watergate "we never went to jail" blather, let's take a look at the killing fields.

William Young
Posted 06/13/2005 09:27:51 AM

You lefties crack me up. Nobody under 30 knows anything about Watergate for the same reason nobody under 40 knows anything about the Eisenhower administration. Ancient history. Nobody in the US cares about the Downing Street memo because everbody in the US knows that Clinton made it official US policy in 1998 to change Iraq's regime. Militarily, if necessary. And nobody in the US actually thinks Dan Rubin believes the media is controlled by the right wing and it's the valiant efforts of the Left Blogosphere trying to change the monolithic conservativeness of the US news media. Jesus, Dan, you work for the Inquirer. You *know* it's not a right wing conspiracy. You know.

Posted 06/13/2005 09:42:42 AM

Jeez, Geoff, why are you buying that absurd straw-man argument that Woodward and Bernstein caused millions of Cambodians to die. In fact, although the Watergate break-in and Woodward and Bernstein's initial stories were in 1972, the scandal was sitting dead in the water when Nixon and Kissinger negotiated the withdrawl of American troops in January 1973. (The scandal re-emerged tghat March, not b/c of W and B but b/c federal judge Jack Sirica put pressure on burglar McCord to talk). In other words, what the heck does one have to do with the other -- absolutely nothing. There would not have been one more, or one less, American soldier in Southeast Asia because of Woodstein. Learn some history, dude.

Posted 06/13/2005 10:28:45 AM

No, will, I said the same people who get worked up into a lather over Watergate conveniently ignore their role in the horrors of the subcontinent. I did not use that strawman argument. Look at what I actually argued. Did they kill all those people? No. But they consistently ignore the fact that they were supporting us to pull out/lose. And the only thing that could have resulted in was the Communists taking over. You know what would be great? Just an admission from aging hippies and liberals that they got it horribly wrong in their youth. That would be very understandable. But instead they would like to remind us that Chuck Colson, who has admitted what he did in that era was wrong and has since done more good than any of us can even hope to do, went to jail so we shouldn't have to listen to his criticisms. And, as I said, the same group of people who refuse to come to grips with their role in helping the Communists to come to power and wreak havok. How many articles have been written on how Congress, led by Ted Kennedy I believe, pulled support from South Vietnam in 1973 contrary to our peace accord agreements and obligations? I don't have Nexus-Lexus, but I would guess there has been very few to none. And when they go on and on about Watergate they legitimately open themselves up to this criticism.

daniel rubin
Posted 06/13/2005 10:33:03 AM

Morning, Wm Young: Didn't you guess? The suppression of this memo is part of our effort to win back all our Republican readers after our 21-days of John Kerry editorials. I'll be dropping by to do your dishes for you, too. As for Will - let me just say that it is an honor to have the Ataturk writing in this space.

William Young
Posted 06/13/2005 12:26:59 PM

I'm not a Republican and my wife does the dishes. You can buy me a beer, instead.

Posted 06/14/2005 04:47:26 PM

Daniel, I'm sorry for responding to this a day late. Thanks very much for the mention. But I'm wondering: was Mr. Lavin's letter published in the paper? Is it online? From what you've excerpted, it seems to me that Mr. Lavin is missing the point: there is a difference between "wanting to remove Saddam from power" and fixing "intelligence and facts . . . around the policy." I guess that I'm just amazed, in the end, at the complete lack of investigative verve on the part of the press here. As others have already asked, aren't there any cub reporters out there itching to put together all of these tantalizing pieces? Do politicians have to do all of the investigative work *for* reporters these days? Does the Inquirer have anyone working on the case? How many FOA acts has the paper filed about the DSM? How can Mr. Lavin seriously use books on the bestseller list to absolve the Inquirer of any responsibility to investigate this issue on its own? Because that, in the end, is what I find most disturbing. I mean, any coverage at all would be great. Buy why in heaven's name aren't newspapers actively *investigating* this story? Where are today's muckrakers?

Posted 06/14/2005 11:50:21 PM

Those muckrackers probably read the entire document. In context, they probably saw how it shows that both the British and the Americans believed that Saddam had WMDs. And maybe they think that "fix" doesn't mean "fabricate" in British English.

Carl Lavin
Posted 06/15/2005 08:27:57 AM

Congratulations to all for this valuable discussion. I'm Carl Lavin, deputy managing editor for news at The Philadelphia Inquirer. I'm glad that Dan has made some cyberspace available to all of us to comment on news decisions. In coming weeks, I expect to continue making occasional contributions here. If that starts to crowd out Dan, we can split off and form another news blog. "Investigative verve" is our middle name. (OK, actually "Philadelphia" is our middle name.) Some core questions raised by the discussions about the British memos include these: *Was intelligence deliberately misused? *When did Bush decide to attack Iraq? *Did the Bush administration plan properly for a post-war Iraq? Working with colleagues in Washington, Inquirer journalists have done excellent work on all these areas since well before the war. Just this week Washington Monthly honored this series of articles: We don't work hard to win awards, though. We work hard because we know our readers value reliable, in-depth accounts on important issues. Your high expectations made that abundantly clear. Thanks for reading -- and thanks for writing. Carl

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