Sunday, June 12, 2005

I suppose I ought to be paying more attention to the Downing Street Memo, especially now that a second memo that corroborates the first one has surfaced.

But it all just feels like a brick wall I'd rather not beat repeatedly with my head.

Mainstream press outlets in the U.S. aren't taking the memo seriously -- and they never will. The reason, I'd say, is that, on some level, they feel they can't -- taking it seriously would mean taking seriously the question of whether the president of the United States should continue to hold office.

The press won't go there.

The press publishes plenty of critical articles about the war and about Bush's domestic policy -- but a story that suggests the president deliberately lied his way into this war, which would mean that perhaps he ought to step down or be removed from office, just won't get traction.

An article Eric Boehlert published in Salon last year helps explain what's going on. Here's the key passage, as quoted by Atrios:

When [Robert Parry] went to Newsweek in 1987, "it soon became clear they didn't want to pursue the Iran-Contra story much at all. They didn't want another Watergate -- that's the way it was put. The magazine was owned by the Washington Post, and although people look back on Watergate as a crowning achievement, it was a very unpleasant experience to live through, and [publisher] Katharine Graham didn't want to go through it again. So the feeling at Newsweek was, Let's just take what the White House is telling us, the 'mistakes were made' explanation."

Newsweek wasn't alone. When the Iran-Contra scandal broke (exposed by a Lebanese newspaper, not an American one), newspaper editors and TV anchors around the country -- including CBS's Rather -- cautioned their staffs not to repeat the "excesses" and "mistakes" of the Watergate era, according to a Dec. 5, 1986, article in the New York Times. It was almost as if news executives were demanding passive and restrained reporting. Respected, centrist "NBC Nightly News" commentator John Chancellor seemed to speak for many in the national press corps in early 1987 when, breathing a sigh of relief when it appeared the worst had passed for Reagan on Iran-Contra, he said, "Nobody wants [Reagan] to fail. Nobody wants another Nixon."

That's it -- nobody wants another Nixon. I think that's still the case. If seriously pursuing a particular truth means a presidency could truly be undermined, then that truth will not be pursued seriously.

And yes, of course -- a very big exception to this rule was made when we first learned about a certain non-Republican president and a certain intern....

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