Just a few years ago, you had to wait until that one brief half hour before prime time to get a much needed dose of celebrity journalism and bizarre "human interest" stories. "A Current Affair" and "Inside Edition" had cornered the market on celebrity news, high profile trials, and stories about people whose marriages had gone wrong. Every once in a while they hit a trifecta -- a high profile trial involving a celebrity whose marriage had gone wrong.
Those programs no longer can lay sole claim to that journalistic niche. The findings of a Congressional Research Service analysis I requested indicate that high profile competitors have emerged, and they are not just on for a half an hour, they are on 24 hours a day. Perhaps you have heard of them: they are called CNN, MSNBC and the Fox News Network.
On the last day of April, a Saturday morning, I awoke to alarming cable news. It seems that Jennifer Wilbanks, a Georgia woman, had disappeared on the eve of her wedding. According to the pundits on the cable news channel, she was very likely a victim of foul play. Maybe, they wondered, it was her fiance. It was on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. It must have been terribly important.
In the meantime, a story was breaking in Great Britain. A top secret British memo had been leaked to the Sunday London Times. The memo, comprising the minutes of a July 2002 meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and top government officials, in which they described recent conversations with their counterparts in the United States.
At the time, President Bush was telling the Congress and the American people that he was "willing to look at all options" and that military action was not "unavoidable." He was singing a different tune to our friends across the Atlantic, though. According to the minutes of the Blair meeting, "Bush had made up his mind to take military action" by the summer of 2002.
What about the botched intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction? For the past year and half, allegations have persisted that the Bush Administration pressured intelligence analysts to reach foreordained conclusions and massaged raw data to make the case for war. Here, the memo speaks loudly. According to the British Government, with respect to the American government's efforts to justify the war "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Didn't know about that?
Here's why: according to a Congressional Research Service analysis(pdf), you would not have seen it on the cable news networks. Because these two stories "broke" within a day of each other, I asked CRS to analyze how often each was covered during prime time in a three day period soon thereafter. The Jennifer Wilbanks, "Runaway Bride," story was covered eleven times, eight as the lead story. The story about the classified British minutes was not mentioned once. Since then, the minutes have garnered only brief mentions.
Other stories the analysis found to be of great national import: the Michael Jackson trial with fourteen stories; the Scott Peterson case, (nineteen stories); and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl(fifteen times).
Back to Jennifer Wilbanks. In case you hadn't heard, she turned up and was just fine, except for a case of "cold feet."
In the meantime, since the story of the British government's meeting broke, at least 64 of our troops have died in Iraq. In all, we have lost over one thousand, six hundred and fifty of our fellow citizens, along with tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.
The minutes of the British meeting appear to indicate that Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, was deliberately misled in the exercise of that power by this Administration. I do not know what could be more serious.
I turned on cable news yesterday and found out that Ms. Wilbanks had been charged with making a false statement. Also, Michael Jackson's defense rested its case.
Still no word about the British minutes.