eKC feature
July 22, 2005


Media group puts pressure on the Star

by Rhiannon Ross

Silence may be golden but not when it pertains to media coverage, said members of a greater Kansas City media reform group.

And they have vociferously taken to the streets to do something about it.

Activist Patrice Cuddy-Lamoree protects herself from the heat beneath an umbrella in front of The Kansas City Star. (photo by Rhiannon Ross)

For several Wednesdays this summer, beginning at high noon, members of Citizens for Media Reform and their supporters have hawked blank newspapers or ones touting a big black question mark to curious passersby in front of The Kansas City Star building, 18th and Grand.

“Extra! Extra! Read nothing about it!” they shouted, with looks of mock confusion. Others carried protest signs making such declarations as “All Media is a mouthpiece for government.”

The goal? To turn up the volume on a story they believe the Star has insufficiently covered — the publication of eight UK government documents collectively known as the “Downing Street Memo.”

The memo, actual minutes of a security briefing between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a dozen of his cabinet members on July 23, 2002, details military action and political strategy for the Iraq war — nearly one year before the U.S. officially declared war on that country.

The London Times broke the story in May when it printed the full text of the memo.

“The memo reveals conclusively that the entire war was based on a lie — semantically a bundle of lies or under false premises,” Mike Murphy, a member of Citizens for Media Reform and a programmer for KKFI radio, said.

“To me that needs to be foremost in people’s minds. What could possibly be more important of an issue? We need to keep that visible and hold media accountable to keep it visible.”

Citizens for Media Reform member Mike Murphy and former Missouri state Rep. Vicki Walker in front of The Kansas City Star. (photo by Rhiannon Ross)

The activists are not stopping at high-noon performance art. They also are circulating a petition demanding the Star print the full text of the Downing Street Memo and expand their coverage on the topic. And they plan to meet with the Star’s editorial board to discuss the importance of this coverage for local readers.

Paul Rola, a member of Democracy for America-Kansas City, is spearheading the petition drive. His group, previously Dean for America, is collaborating with Citizens for Media Reform to draw attention to the Downing Street Memo.

“We’ve appealed to about 35 (progressive activist) groups and about 75 local activists,” he said, reviewing his clipboard.

So far, his list includes support from members of the Green Party, Iraq Task Force, St. Mary’s Church, Pro-Vote, Rock the Vote and the pro-choice group, NARAL.

The petition deadline is Aug. 8 and is limited to the Star coverage area.

Rola said the Star provided some coverage on the Downing Street Memo when the story first broke but he thinks now they regard the topic as “old news.”

“They said everybody knows about it,” Rola said. “We’re trying to point out that not everyone knew it or we wouldn’t have gone to war.”

The Star printed an 863-word New York Times analysis of the Downing Street Memo June 15 on page A1 and has written smaller articles on the topic. But media reform activists maintain the coverage has been “sparse and scattered.” To date, the Star has not printed the memo in its entirety.

“I’m extremely sensitive of the request of folks,” Star Readers’ Representative Derek Donovan said in a telephone interview on July 21. “However, the characterization of the Star (by the activists) is not terribly accurate. A page-A1 story is about as good as coverage gets.”

But an analysis from the New York Times does not constitute local news coverage, Murphy said.

“I don’t think it’s genuine news, it’s twice-removed,” he said. “It’s a report on the report of the news. The Star should let the readers decide by reading the minutes and not the New York Times’ pabulum, pre-digested news.”

The New York Times analysis dismissed claims that the memo points to evidence that President Bush deliberately misled the country as to the threat Iraq posed.

“I support claims that the president misled the country,” Murphy said.

Donovan said he does not know if the Star will print the full text of the memo but he has made the editorial board aware of the activists’ request.

He also said the information contained in the memo is third-hand information, as relayed by Richard Dearlove, head of Britain’s M16 intelligence agency and that it was “rare for newspapers to print such documents unexpurgated.”

However, in a later e-mail to eKC online, Donovan wrote: "Believe me when I say that readers' requests for information like this are important. After I spoke with you, I chatted with several editors to see if there's a way the Star might be able to work publication of the memo in full into the paper. I can't promise any coverage (ever — that's a constant), but I've brought it up anew. The memo is an interesting story, and its contradictions will likely be debated for some time."

The publication of the full text of the memo is not the activists’ only request, Rola said.

They also suggest the Star write a three-part, comprehensive series, using a timeline that compares what was being told the American public about the situation in Iraq while the Downing Street meeting was taking place.

They are not alone in their requests.

Nationwide, activists have called upon newspapers to print the full text of the Downing Street Memo, as well as provide more coverage.

Activists in Washington, D.C. recently protested The Washington Post for what they also said was insufficient coverage of the memo.

Congressman John Conyers’ (D-MI) held unofficial hearings on June 16, 2005, on the Downing Street Memo and the run-up to war in Iraq. Conyers and more than 100 of his Democratic colleagues in the House, plus more than 500,000 people who signed a petition, have asked the president to explain himself.

Consumer advocate and two-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader called for President Bush’s impeachment after reading the contents of the Downing Street Memo.

And on Saturday, July 23, advocates nationwide will commemorate the anniversary of the Downing Street Memo on what has been deemed “AfterDowningStreet Day Across the USA.”

Events will include town hall meetings, public forums, panel discussions, debates, dramatic recreations of the Downing Street meeting, house parties, study circles, writing letters to editors demanding full publication of the memo and all-day blog fests. More information can be found at http://afterdowningstreet.org/?q=node/526.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Media Reform and supporters said they plan to continue their efforts to turn up the volume locally on the Downing Street Memo and other issues in need of comprehensive reporting.

The group, formed only one year ago, has begun monitoring local television broadcasts for fairness and accuracy in reporting, circulating an online petition to promote fairness and accuracy legislation and pushing for independent radio and television broadcasts.

Murphy said the group also has plans to distribute regular news pamphlets that inform the public on what news is not being reported in the community.

“Our goals are two-fold,” he said. “Holding the media accountable and being the media.”

And he said they will continue to wield protest signs whenever, and wherever, necessary.

Decide for yourself: To read the full text of the Downing Street Memo, go to: www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1593607,00.html.

To access Citizens for Media Reform, go to: mediareform@lists.cfmr.org

Rhiannon Ross is a freelance writer and reporter based in Lawrence, KS. Contact her at Rhiannross@aol.com.



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