Appearing on the June 12 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Washington Post political correspondent David Broder touted a front-page article in that morning's Post to dismiss the "shortsightedness" of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) criticism that the media has consistently kowtowed to the Bush administration. The article, by staff writer Walter Pincus, documented a British memo's account of the Bush administration's inadequate postwar planning for Iraq.
But in praising the Post's Iraq coverage, Broder failed to mention that Post staff writers, its ombudsman, and its executive editor have all acknowledged that the paper insufficiently challenged the veracity of the Bush administration's justifications for invading Iraq before the war and has inadequately covered another British communication, known as the Downing Street Memo, in recent weeks.
Clinton criticized the media at a June 6 fund-raiser in New York, declaring: "It's shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today. ... If they're criticized by the White House, they just fall apart."
On Meet the Press, Broder criticized Clinton's remarks by highlighting that morning's Post:
BRODER: The shortsightedness of Mrs. Clinton's complaint is illustrated by this morning's Washington Post. The front-page story on another memo, this one to Tony Blair's government, about the lack of planning in our government for the postwar period in Iraq. Who does she think is doing this work if not investigative reporters? Give us a break.
Post media reporter Howard Kurtz reported in an August 12, 2004, article that Pincus "ran into resistance from the paper's editors" days before the war when he "put together a story questioning whether the Bush administration had proof that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction [WMD]." The article might not have been published without the support of Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, according to Pincus; still, the article was buried on page A17.
Kurtz wrote that some Post reporters who helped plan the paper's coverage "complained to national editors that the drumbeat of the impending invasion was crowding out the work of Pincus and others who were challenging the administration." Executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. subsequently conceded that the Post failed to adequately cover those who questioned the Bush administration in the run-up to the war. "Overall, in retrospect, we underplayed some of those stories," he said.
Further, Broder failed to entertain the possibility that the Post could be repeating this mistake with its sparse coverage of the Downing Street Memo, which suggests that the Bush administration decided to go to war in Iraq much earlier than acknowledged and asserts that in Washington, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Just as Pincus's article questioning Saddam's WMD capabilities was buried on page A17, his two articles on the Downing Street Memo have run on pages A18 and A26, respectively. Similarly, the June 12 front-page article emphasized postwar planning, not the Downing Street Memo.
Several Post officials have conceded that their publication has not given the Downing Street Memo adequate coverage. In a May 16 online chat, Kurtz wrote that "The Post should have done a substantial story much sooner, especially after other American media outlets picked up on the memo." Post ombudsman Michael Getler devoted his entire May 15 column to agreeing with critics who criticized the Post and other papers for failing to cover the Downing Street Memo prominently. And in a June 7 online chat, Post staff writer Jefferson Morley blamed the Post's inadequate coverage of the memo on "a failure of leadership at the senior editorial level."