The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, April 12, 2004

The Bob Woodward May 19 2002 9/11 article: fossil or acquis?

Another episode in the ongoing soap opera Plawg in Journo-land.

Today: when does news become old news?

Every day, regular as clockwork, a whole bunch of pieces are published in print and online by our leading media outlets. For all the manifold faults of these outlets, most of these pieces are not wholly devoid of probative value.

The material is archived on Nexis and (some of it) on the Poor Man's Nexis; gets commented on and referred to. It's on the record, in one sense. But it gets forgotten - to the extent that, with a fresh angle, it can be brought up again - and live as news once more.

But how can one tell whether a particular piece of news, or a particular article, has passed into the realm of the acquis? That is, the body of knowledge - and the books and articles containing it - which is generally known amongst journalists and taken as read in news coverage (the (fact of the) killing of JKF or Monica Lewinsky's dress, say).

Take as an example, the Washington Post article of May 19 2002 by Bob Woodward and Dan Eggen Aug. Memo Focused On Attacks in U.S. on the August 6 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (PDF) headlined Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US. The piece refers to the brief by its title [1].

Staying away from 9/11 jury questions as I have been, I only registered this piece a few days ago.

Then Rice gives her testimony, and (inter alia) the title of the brief [2] causes shock-horror.

And then, yesterday, Drudge puts a link to the May 19 article on his front page - it's still there as I write - using the following words:
WOODWARD FLASHBACK: Aug. Memo Focused On Attacks in U.S.; Lack of Fresh Information Frustrated Bush...

As if that was some sort of revelation.

Yet this was a piece by Uncle Bob Woodward that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post (above the fold?). Which, as we learnt earlier in the year, is the equivalent of a memo to the White House [3]. If that piece can't be treated as having been read into the record, what piece can?

It's a sort of reverse of Conventional Wisdom - which is bollocks which is taken as gospel by the generality of hacks. Here we have an article which was up in Times Square in neon lights - that the generality of hacks have apparently forgotten. (So far as to persuade Drudge to put a link at the top of his homepage.)

  1. Drudge is a delusional Sad Sack (vide John Kerry/Alex Polier [4]); or

  2. it's an in gag at the expense of the suckers - oops, readers.

(Cognate with this is the sort of oblivion into which the Sydney Schanberg Kerry POW/MIA stuff [5] is cast - where there is clear bipartisan interest in keeping the story quiet. And we know that, usually, journos will not move on a story until a pol takes it up.)

  1. Except for the variant spelling Laden. But note this:
    White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday said the headline on the document was, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States." But sources who have read the memo said the headline ended with the phrase "in U.S."
    I can't trace Fleischer's comment in the briefings for either May 14 or May 15.

  2. Which she misquotes (the WaPo transcript):
    RICE: I believe the title was, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."
  3. During the Judith Miller WMD saga - last touched on on March 26. The quote from the Michael Massing NYROB article.

  4. Trace back from February 21, if you must.

  5. Trace from March 7.


So famous is the Woodward and Egger piece, it figures in the notes to Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country?

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