Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Memo: Where Is Downing Street? ... an Opinion Page Analysis

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Memo: Where Is Downing Street? ... an Opinion Page Analysis

Article excerpt


First appearing in the United States national media during the summer of 2005 the Downing Street memo is a document that was leaked from a 2002 meeting with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The memo stated that the Bush Administration had intentions of going to war with Iraq 8 months prior to when the war began and even planned on going to war if weapons of mass destruction were not found by inspectors. If the document was shown to be credible it could have turned American public opinion against the war and the administration. Using framing theory the author looked at a total of 16 opinion pieces that dealt with the Downing Street memo. The researcher used textual analysis to look at each writer's opinion of how important they believed the memo was to telling the full story. Findings showed that 81 percent of opinion piece writers believed that they media should have covered the memo more thoroughly.


On May 1, 2005, The London Sunday Times published a story about a British intelligence memo leaked from a July 23, 2002 prime minister's meeting (Manning, 2005). The memo, now called the Downing Street memo, stated that 8 months before the Iraq war began, President Bush's administration planned on fighting a war regardless of whether or not weapons of mass destruction were found.

"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force" (Manning, 2005).

After the story first ran on May 1, the American media were slow to follow with coverage of the document. On May 2, the New York Times mentioned the memo in a story about Tony Blair's reelection, and the Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post each waited a week to write a story. A month after the Downing Street memo had been made public; the Associated Press wrote its first story on the topic. News organizations did not begin to talk in-depth about the memo until after a June 7, 2005 news conference where President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were both asked about it (Rieder, 2005).

The Issue

When a document is leaked with implications such as these it is the duty of the American media to investigate it. Because the press is seen to serve a watchdog function for the American people they must examine subjects of this nature (Hohenberg, 1971). The responsibility for the press to act in this manner is very important to the idea of American democracy. A key in fulfilling this obligation to the American citizens would be to examine a document that puts into question a government's reasoning for a war that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars while leading to the deaths of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis. By May 2005, Congress approved about $192 billion for the Iraq war, another $58 billion for Afghanistan, and about $20 billion to enhance air security and other Pentagon preparedness measures. In total that is $270 billion for military operations since 2001 (Grier, 2005).

"More spending on the war is sure to come - even if the U.S. begins to draw down troops levels. While it is difficult to estimate precisely, it is sure to be in the hundreds of billions, experts say. The Congressional Research Service pegs the cost of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan at an additional $458 billion through 2014" (Grier, 2005).

This study has built on previous research conducted by Kim, 2000; Van Belle, 2000; and Livingston and Bennett, 2003, on the United States' media coverage of foreign nations. Also, work done on stories that most effectively attract news consumer's attention will be analyzed to provide insight into what they want to read. …

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