Progressive Activists and Legislators Challenge Corporate Media's Failure to Cover Downing Street Memo

Interview with Danny Schechter,
journalist and filmmaker, conducted by Scott Harris






Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release June 27, 2005

Distributed by Squeaky Wheel Productions

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The Downing Street memo, first published by the Times of London on May
1st, is a document that records the minutes of a July 2002 meeting of
British government officials that indicates that the Bush administration
had already made a decision to invade Iraq, justified by intelligence
and facts that were being fixed around the policy.


Although the document had been released just before Britain's May
parliamentary election -- generally believed to have reduced the margin
of Prime Minister Tony Blair's victory -- most major U.S. corporate
media outlets have either refused to cover the memo or relegated the
story to the back pages. But after a surge of grassroots activism
pressuring government officials and media companies to pay more
attention to the story, the document that many observers believe is a
smoking gun in a potentially damaging scandal has begun to command a
little more attention. Reporters are beginning to ask more questions of
Bush administration officials, while Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has
collected more than half a million signatures demanding that President
Bush answer questions about the memo. Conyers also conducted a June 16th
unofficial hearing on the Downing Street Memo that heard testimony from
administration critics who maintain the document confirms that President
Bush was dishonest in his justification for launching the Iraq war.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with author and filmmaker Danny
Schechter of Media Schechter, whose documentary film,
"Weapons of Mass Deception," examines how the media failed to challenge
the government's dubious rationale for the Iraq war, discusses why U.S.
corporate media has thus far again failed to cover a critical news story
damaging President Bush and his administration.


DANNY SCHECHTER: The coverage of the government's claims on the war in
this country are not covered very well. It's not surprising that a
British memo wouldn't be covered very well, we don't even cover American
memos very well. But even though there has been coverage of the report,
for example, that showed there were no WMDs in Iraq, the meaning of it
really wasn't explained very clearly. You know, it's not enough just to
report something, you really need to explain it, you need to analyze it.
You need to put it into context, make people aware of why it's important
to know about it.


We're inundated with so much information every day. It's very hard to
keep up with it; there are so many media outlets now. And so, when you
get the sort of simplistic "more news, less time" approach, the
consequence is that people don't learn very much when they're surveyed
afterward about news they've heard. Many of them can't remember it,
don't know it's important. So, in terms of the Downing Street memo, this
was a group of British policymakers including the head of intelligence
in Britain, came back to Britain in 2002 and said "Hey, the Bush people
are going to war, they're going to need intelligence to be fixed, so
that we can sell this policy to the British people. A bunch of new memos
have come out since, and of course, this wasn't really discussed very
much because the whole strategy, the whole relationship between Blair
and Bush has barely been touched on. We're a very parochial media, we
don't discuss or pay a lot of attention to the rest of the world. We'd
rather cover Michael Jackson trials than African deaths, you know. This
is one of the reasons why most Americans don't know very much about the
world, don't have opinions because they don't have information.

And this is why many people feel that our media system is undermining
our democracy rather than strengthening it. That's why this issue is so
important. And you know what, the American people know that, because
when they're surveyed on the media, which isn't too often, but when they
are, 70 percent of the American people say they don't like the media for
different reasons. Some think it's too left-wing, believe it or not,
Scott. Some think it's too right-wing. Some think there's too much sex,
some think there's not enough sex. Whatever the reasons, there's a
consensus of complaint, as if feeling that our media is not doing the
job it's supposed to be doing, and a lack of respect for it.

And that's an important sign. Recently, the Boston Globe reported that
the support for the war is waning. Now that doesn't mean that the
coverage critical of the war has increased, it's just that people are no
longer trusting what they're seeing and reading and hearing, so they're
making up their own mind. Then, we have a lot more people saying, "Hey,
let's get out of there, this isn't working. Look at all the Americans
that are dying, look at all the people that are being killed. It's not
worth it."


BETWEEN THE LINES: USA Today had an interesting article where they
explained that they themselves held off on covering the Downing Street
memo and its contents because they could not "authenticate" the memo,
which seemed to me ludicrous given the fact that it was floating around
in Britain and the United States for about a month.


DANNY SCHECHTER: It was reported in Britain, by the way, not by the
left-wing press, but by the right-wing press. It was The Times of
London, which is owned by, guess who -- Rupert Murdoch -- that reported
it. So this is preposterous. When you look at what is covered, the
number of rumors, the number of stories that are sourced by one source
that are never verified, that are constantly in our media -- to select
this out and say, hey we can't even report it by attributing it to
somebody else: "The Times of London is reporting 'X.'" It's not up to
USA Today to authenticate it, it's to report what leading journalists in
other countries are reporting. This is part of the way in which there's
always an excuse about why they can't tell the truth about something,
there's always a reason given. But usually, when you examine it closely,
it doesn't hold up. You know, this is one of the problems here.


BETWEEN THE LINES: Danny, I wanted to ask you about some positive signs
you might be seeing out there in terms of people finding alternative
ways to get information. I know the Internet has facilitated hundreds of
thousands of people, if not millions across this country, to break
through the information blockade and go directly to BBC, and some of the
British publications -- the Guardian and the like to get some
information that our own media is not providing. Is that something that
we can count on in the future to become more accessible?

DANNY SCHECHTER: You know the media itself is a battleground. The big
interests often want to keep us from getting access to things, challenge
it, and all the rest of it. You know, we have to push ahead with some
sort of public interest agenda. And one of the elements of that agenda
is to have a media that we can be proud of that is meaningful and all
the rest.


BETWEEN THE LINES: What's the most effective thing you think people can
do in this country to get at the heart of the contents of the Downing
Street memo, and other such information widely publicized? What can we


DANNY SCHECHTER: Well, first of all, find the websites that are
reporting on all of this, there are many of them. Patronize them, and
support them. Support independent media. It's not enough to just assume
it's going to be there for you. The big media is funded with millions of
dollars of investor money and all kinds of government deals and tax
breaks and the like. Independent media, like your radio show, and like we need support, too, in order to stay alive, to stay
in business, to keep on serving the public that we serve. This is
something that you know, we all have a responsibility to try to support
each other, and support progressive media.


Danny Schechter's latest film, "Weapons of Mass Deception,"examines the
media's coverage of the Iraq War. See a trailer of the documentary at

Related links on our website at
* " Why the Memo Matters," by Mark Danner,, June 20,
* "What the Hell is the Downing St. Memo -- and Who Cares?" by David
Benjamin,, June 19, 2005
* " Mocking the Downing Street Memo," by Robert Parry, Consortium News,
June 18, 2005
* "Democratic Members of House Judiciary Committee: Meeting on Downing
St. Memo and Iraq War," C-SPAN3, June 16, 2005 (Needs RealOne Player or

Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be
heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our
website at This interview excerpt was featured
on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The
Lines for the week ending July 1, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was
compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.