June 29, 2005

You Ain't Seen Huffin' Like the Flighty Quinn

Several days ago I wrote about a column in the Middletown, NY Times Herald-Record by THR columnist Beth Quinn, called "Proof is in the Memo: Soldiers Died for a Lie."

The article revolved around the so-called Downing Street Memos (DSMs); a group of seven leaked British government documents written in 2002 in advance of the coalition invasion of Iraq. Record columnist Quinn focused solely on the first of the seven DSM documents, echoing a claim of many on the far left that the document "proved" that President George W. Bush had "fixed" government policy around going to war with Iraq at all costs. According to this theory, Bush wanted war and was not pursuing any other options, and thus lied to the American people when he said in widely reported statements at the time that options other than war were still available.

Using this dubious claim, the Record's Quinn reiterated her claim over and over again that President Bush lied, and that 1,700 American soldiers died-"based on a lie."

It turns out lies were being spread, not by the President, but by Beth Quinn. Her outright lies and omissions of the truth never should have made it to print.

I cannot see where this is any less an offense than those cases of
embellishing, exaggerating and outright lying that got Janet Cook (Washington Post), Stephen Glass (New Republic), Patricia Smith (Boston Globe), and others fired for similar kinds of behavior.

Beth Quinn first misrepresented the initial Downing Street memo as "a report on a meeting between Rycroft and the White House in July 2002." This is patently false. As I mentioned in a previous article, the White House is never mentioned in the document, and the only mention of Bush was the comment that "it seemed" he had made up his mind. This is hardly evidence. This is the opinion of a person taking notes in the meeting, based upon hearsay. This hearsay turned out to be wrong, as two other documents in the seven DSMs went on to prove.

The David Manning memo flatly stated to British Prime Minster Tony Blair that, "Bush wants to hear you [sic] views on Iraq before taking decisions." Obviously, Bush had not made a decision to go to war if he wanted Blair's advice.

The Iraq Options paper (PDF) also said that the United States is "considering regime change." The fact it was still under consideration was further evidence that Bush had not, in fact, made up his mind to go to war as Quinn had claimed.

But Beth Quinn was not after the truth, she was after Bush. She cravenly and dishonestly concealed the documents that disproved her theory in order to falsely maintain her predetermined ideological position.

I confronted Quinn Monday (6/27) during a chat session set up by the Times Herald Record at the web site. What follows is a transcript of the exchanged between Quinn and myself, with comments from other readers edited out. I replaced my real name with Confederate Yankee in the text below so you know who said what:

Confederate Yankee: I would like to know how you can write an editorial like " Proof is in the memo: Soldiers died for a lie" and consider yourself a responsible journalist, when you deliberately misrepresent the context of the memo. You make the claim that the original DSM "is a report on a meeting between Rycroft and the White House in July 2002." That is patently false. The DSM was the minutes of a meeting-not a report-among top British officials. The White House is never mentioned, and the only mention of Bush was the comment that "it seemed" he had made up his mind. This is hardly evidence. Furthermore, you ignore the remaining six "Downing Street Memos" that contradict your claim. The David Manning memo to Tony Blair, one of the additional documents leaked, says in a telling line, "Bush wants to hear you [sic] views on Iraq before taking decisions." The Iraqi Options paper (PDF) specifically mentions that the United States is "considering regime change"-specifically indicating that the decision to invade had not been made. You either lied to support your position, or were not well-enough informed to write this article in the first place. Which is it?

Beth Quinn: The Downing Street Memo and several subsequent memos raise enough questions about what Bush knew and when he knew it to warrant a demand on the part of Congress and the American people to get to the bottom of it. At this point, there are two types of people in America: Those who want to determine once and for all if President Bush knowingly fixed the facts regarding Iraq, thereby misleading Congress and the American people into supporting an unnecessary war. And those who will cover their ears and hum loudly in order to maintain their belief that Bush and his advisors remain above reproach. You're in one camp or the other. Either you want to know if you've been lied to, or you don't. I would like to know. Beth

Notice how Quinn refuses to address the falsehoods I exposed in her editorial. Instead, her response is to try to imply that she wants to know the truth-about Bush-without owning up to her own falsehoods. It continues:

Confederate Yankee: In others words, you've affixed your ideology to the meme that "Bush lied, people died," and you're willing to misrepresent some key evidence and ignore other evidence to support your predetermined verdict of "guilty." You want Bush fired for lying to the American people, contending he fixed facts to build a false case for war. Why should we not hold you responsible for fixing facts to build a false case in your editorial?

Beth Quinn: Perhaps you didn't read my last response. What I said was that the memo raises enough questions that it's time to get to the bottom of it. If, at the bottom of it, it turns out Bush lied, he should be impeached. And Cheney and Rumsfeld should, quite possibly, be tried as war criminals. I don't think I can make it any clearer than that. Thanks. Beth

Again, Times Herald-Record columnist Beth Quinn dodges, refusing to answer or even address her own lies, while still more than willing to try to advocate for impeachment for President Bush for lies that she says (and copious evidence disproves) he made. I tried again to hold her accountable:

Confederate Yankee: You're dodging my question. You misrepresented the content of the DSM, and ignored other documents that refute your primary contention. Why should we hold you to any of a lesser standard that Bush?

Beth Quinn: I didn't misrepresent this, and you're getting lost in rhetoric. Do you want Bush to answer the question or not? What standard are you holding Bush to, please? Does the Downing Street Memo raise ANY concerns for you, or are you holding your hands over your ears and humming? Beth

How Beth can purposefully misrepresent some of the Downing Street Memo, and make the conscious decision to hide well-known evidence that counters her ideological position, boggles the mind. For Beth Quinn, political ideology is apparently for more important than being honest with her readers. I had sent another follow-up question to Quinn, but she declined to answer it.

As Beth Quinn refused to accept responsibility for her misrepresentations, the next course of action was to inform her higher-ups, in this case, Editorial Page Editor Bob Gaydos ( and Times Herald-Record Executive Editor Mike Levine ( to see what their response to this issue might be.

Mr. Gaydos refused to answer.

My email conversation with Executive Editor Levine which I will spare you for now, essentially stated that he saw nothing wrong with Quinn's editorial, and he expressed his intention to stand behind her.

So which is it?

Am I right in trying to hold Quinn accountable for misrepresenting the nature of one document and burying two others that torpedo her polemic, or do the rules of journalistic integrity not apply to editorialists in the least?

I sure would like to know.

Update: In addition to the readily available evidence within the Downing Street Memos that throws water on the Quinn polemic, the Senate Select Commitee on Intelligence released the Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq which "found no evidence that the IC's mischaracterization or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) capabilities was the result of political pressure."

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 29, 2005 09:29 PM | TrackBack

So the memos raise questions, huh? If that's the case, why isn't Quinn's editorial full of questions? Instead, it's full of assertions, starting with the headline.

I think this is a perfect example of the fact that newspapers are in the business not of publishing the truth, but of attracting readers.

Posted by: Jeff Harrell at June 29, 2005 11:01 PM

Best and most reasoned take I've seen yet on the hysteria the Downing Street Memo is generating on the Left. I still wonder why no one has questioned the fact that reporter Michael Smith, the former Telegraph Defense correspondent and ex-spook, handed the Memo and related documents over to the Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist) parties. I may be reading things wrong here, but it looks as if his first reaction on receiving what the Left is talking up as a "smoking gun" was not to publish the documents, but to hand them off to political operatives.

There's also the question of Smith's involvement with the Oxford Research Group, a pacifist organization that contains a lot of the old CND campaigners.

Posted by: RS at June 30, 2005 07:14 AM

Why is it that when I first encountered the 'damning' words, ". . . the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," I couldn't understand the cause for the furor? Is it because: of the 20 (transitive) definitions of 'fix' in my dictionary (Random House, 2nd Unabridged), only 2 involve the idea of dishonesty or manipulation--and both of those definitions are labeled as being INFORMAL--not wording one would expect in this formal document.

Posted by: Douglas Lowe at June 30, 2005 07:55 AM

Good job. As the previous commenter pointed out, in British common usage to 'fix' something is to set it in order, to arrange. In this context, the DSM memo notes that the Bush admin is organizing available intel to make the case for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam. Wow, how sinister.

Keep after these professional liars, aka 'journalists'. Their cavalier relationship with the truth is not only annoying, it's dangerous. What terrorists with WMD's could do here in the states will make 9/11 look like a love pat. I guess then we can chant to the left, 'Bush didn't lie, now millions will die' but there is little satisfaction to be gained from the thought.

Posted by: rfb at June 30, 2005 08:11 AM

You don't state a timeline within which you reached the conclusion that Mr. Gaydos would not respond. But assuming that adequate time passed with no response, it appears that Mr. Gaydos does not wish to address the concerns of a paying customer. Since Mr. Gaydos seems disinclined to do his job, perhaps Mr. Levine could be persuaded to accept a guest column, in Mr. Gaydos stead, if indeed he thinks that Ms. Quinn's column is both factually and intellectually honest. If that does not work, you might wish to pursue this with the paper's publisher.

Posted by: Tongueboy at June 30, 2005 09:19 AM

I hate to break it to posters Douglas Lowe and rfb, but the word "fix" in this context means what those darn liberals would have you believe. Sorry, instead of trying semantic arguments, perhaps you should read more of the British coverage. You'll see there's no question that "fix" here means to make the evidence support the pre-determined conclusion.

Posted by: Just some liberal at June 30, 2005 09:51 AM

Another thing that bothers me: The attribution of 'fix'ed intelligence and facts--to Washington--is made in a memo written by a John Scarlett, referring to something said by a Sir Richard Dearlove who was reporting on something said in recent talks in Washington. So, we have a saying, a hearing, a saying, a hearing, and a recording. Not too reliable, I'd say.

Posted by: Douglas Lowe at June 30, 2005 10:27 AM

it is sad to see the DSM held up like a spot on a blue dress....

Posted by: jcrue at June 30, 2005 07:52 PM

If we go to war, our decision will be questioned, so make a list of those reasons for history. Sounds reasonable to me.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis at July 1, 2005 01:12 PM