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No Watchdogs Among Press Lords

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Some of America's press lords (and a couple of Creative Loafing guys) gathered last weekend at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida. The topic: "Creating a Watchdog Culture."

Publishers and editors were urged to wake up from somnambulist trances and re-discover investigative journalism. You know, like being a little skeptical toward those in power.

It must have been real scary stuff for media moguls. You want an example why?

On May 19, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (whose brass was at the Poynter shindig) finally gave semi-serious attention to one of the biggest news events of the Iraq war. A top-level British document had been leaked to the press. British officials were aware in July 2002 that Bush was hell-bent on war — despite his public prevarications to the contrary — and that intelligence was being "fixed" to bolster claims about WMDs and Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorists.

The article appeared to come out of nowhere. And it's a doozy of disingenuous dissembling, with a headline: "Controversial Iraq Memo Fizzles in US" The article states: "The public generally seems indifferent."

Could it be that the public is indifferent because folks didn't know — or were told, as in this article, "no big deal"?

The news broke May 1 in England. It took 12 days for it to get play in the US press. The first time the story hit an American front page was May 17.

What the newspapers won't tell you is the barrage of citizen outrage at the cremation (while very much alive) of the story. AJC spokeswoman Angela Tuck had ignited a bomb early last week when, in response to protests, she declared the story "not news." Behind the "memo fizzles" article was a lame attempt to prove atrocious news judgment, such as Tuck's, was actually sound. On May 20, the AJC ran a CYA editorial frowning about Americans being "deceived" but never quite assigning responsibility to Bush. The next day, Tuck, in a column, pronounced everything the newspaper did was absolutely correct. Tuck concluded the whole mess stems from "Bush's faulty intelligence" (no, she didn't mean it that way). The British memo isn't about "faulty intelligence." It's about premeditated lying.

Watchdog culture in this media environment. That's almost too funny.

Read more from Senior Editor John Sugg at www.johnsugg.com.

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