As the Globe Spins: Sound news judgment?–Not on the front page

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I recently had an all-too-brief e-mail exchange with Globe and Mail managing editor Colin MacKenzie. I was curious to know why Canada’s national newspaper was virtually deaf, dumb and blind to the incendiary “Downing Street memo.”

The memo, which was leaked to Sunday Times of London reporter Michael Smith, and published this May 1, details the degree to which the Bush government premeditated its assault on Iraq; knew that such an assault was illegal; and schemed to manufacture propaganda to mask the illegality.

Not since the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which justified massive U.S. involvement in Vietnam, has the U.S. been found unambiguously guilty of criminal aggression.

The extent of the Globe‘s coverage consisted of two inside stories on May 2 and June 9. No banner front-page headline like: “Brits prove Bush knew Iraq invasion illegal”; “Bush fit to be impeached.” Unless you looked inside these editions you might never know the memo existed.

Given the thorough coverage in the British press, the Globe‘s disregard seemed inexplicable; hence, the e-mail.

To my question about the absence of front-page coverage, MacKenzie replied: “There is little inherently surprising in the document. Most of the world accepts it as a settled issue that the Bush administration had its eyes on Iraq and was playing fast and loose with intelligence information.”

In the face of such an obtuse response, I had to wonder what MacKenzie and the rest of the Globe brains-trust judged to be front-page news.

A survey of the paper from the end of March to the third week of April is a good place to look. From the death watch of Pope John Paul II to the installation of Joseph Cardinal “The Enforcer” Ratzinger as Benedict XVI, the Globe churned out a potpourri of front-page stories with photos, guest columns by clergymen, and column inch after column inch of pious gushing.

Of course, the changing of the Catholic imperial leadership deserved full coverage, but the actual news content was small. For the media, it amounted to little more than celebrity watching and killing time by filing fluffy feature stories.

In his April 9 column “Informing, not saturating, readers,” editor-in-chief, Edward Greenspon tried to pre-empt such criticism, but came off sounding like an overeager political convention reporter: “Today caps an intense week of coverage of the death, burial and legacy of Pope John Paul II. Next up on the papal front is the leadership convention for a new pope….”

Now, let’s examine MacKenzie’s defence for downplaying the Downing Street memo. First, if inherent surprise” were a criterion for front-page coverage, much of the papal reporting would not have run, so I have a hard time taking this reason seriously.

Second, his answer is wrong on two counts. First, even though allegations that Bush premeditated the attack had been floating around for years, the memo represents prima facie proof that Bush willfully violated U.S. and international law. Given that the U.S. and British governments have upheld the accuracy of the memo, we also have clear grounds for impeachment.

This is not worth front-page coverage?!

Let’s not forget that the Globe dutifully reported on President Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes and impeachment hearings, even though Clinton’s shortcomings did not ruin the economy, destroy two civilizations, or kill soldiers.

Second, the Bushites were not “playing fast and loose with intelligence information”–”they were deliberately ignoring it so they could concoct sophistries to justify mass murder. The best indictment of the Globe‘s lack of coverage comes from its own July 9 article, “U.S. news media told it disregarded ‘smoking gun’ on Iraq”: “A leaked memo that failed to hurt British Prime Minister Tony Blair may yet do some damage to U.S. President George W. Bush, but not if the U.S. news media continue to ignore it, as they did for weeks.”

Besides highlighting questionable news judgment, the Downing Street memo also calls attention to the Globe‘s moralizing over Newsweek‘s “erroneous” Qur’an abuse story, which was actually one sentence in a news brief.

The May 18 editorial " Newsweek‘s stumble” ended: “There’s a lesson for the media. In a volatile world, spreading false news likely to inflame religious passions can have fatal results. That doesn’t absolve those who incite the violence, but it does put an added burden on those who deliver the news.”

Have any media been more irresponsible in “spreading false news likely to inflame religious passions” than North America’s pro-Israeli, anti-Muslim organs?

From ignoring Zionist atrocities, to propagating fictions about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, to regurgitating official claptrap about the “war on terrorism,” respectable publications like the Globe have contributed to an official climate of bigotry, especially toward Arabs.

Inasmuch as Newsweek‘s sentence led to fatal rioting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the deaths and suffering caused by lazy, one-sided reporting are immeasurably greater. At what point, then, does the Globe have to abide by the same standards of accuracy it demands of Newsweek? How rigorously did Globe reporters and columnists verify the credibility of Bushian pronouncements?

Since the entire skein of propaganda has been shredded, I’d say "not a great deal." Still, mistakes do happen, and in view of Greenspon’s lecture about Newsweek, I asked MacKenzie if Greenspon would be offering his own personal apology to Globe readers for spreading false news and buying into a discredited frame of reference. The answer was short and predictable–””No. I’d be interested in being pointed to recent citations of false premises.”

Despite sending such citations, I received no confirmation of interest.Finally I asked MacKenzie if the editorial page would endorse Rep. John Conyers’s drive to impeach Bush: “Not my department, but we’ll see if it turns into news worth editorializing about,” he wrote.

If it turns into news? Memo to Colin MacKenzie: It won’t become news if you keep ignoring it!

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