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Last Updated: Monday, 20 June 2005, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Bloggers' 'victory' over Iraq war memos
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News website

Since early May, a blog-driven campaign has been trying to get the mainstream media to pay attention to one and now two leaked secret memos from meetings that Prime Minister Tony Blair had with key cabinet members and intelligence figures in the summer before the war in Iraq.

Man typing on keyboard
Bloggers are keen to keep up the pressure

The bloggers believe the memos, leaked to the Sunday Times, show that the Bush administration had made up its mind to attack Iraq and then went about trying to justify it.

With the release of the second memo, blogs can take some credit in raising the profile of the story in the US media.

And Mr Bush's Democratic opponents sense a political opening to attack a now seemingly vulnerable president.

Blog blockbuster

The Sunday Times wrote about the first memo in May. It is the transcript of a Downing Street meeting from July 2002.

In the memo, "C", the head of MI6, said that based on meetings in Washington there had been a shift in attitude and that "military action was now seen as inevitable".

President Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein from power and would do so "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," the memo said.

Opponents of Mr Bush in the blogosphere have latched onto the next line: "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The website Technorati tracks the most talked about news stories in weblogs.

Usually, the torrid pace of the 24-hour news cycle means that stories pass quickly in and out of the news listings, but not what has become known as the Downing Street memos.

Bloggers, keen to keep the pressure on the Bush and Blair governments, have tried to keep the memos in the limelight and put pressure on the mainstream media.

Based on bloggers linking to the Times, the story has rarely left the top five for much of the last month and a half.

The memo even has its own website: Downingstreetmemo.com.

The site was created on 13 May by bloggers from DailyKos.com who were concerned that the memo was not being covered by the US media.

The bloggers of DailyKos and many liberal allies in the blogosphere tried to play up the memo while conservative blogs such as Blogs for Bush heaped scorn on their arguments and said there was no new information in the memo.

Meanwhile, the memo failed to warrant much mention in the American mainstream media.

"While the European media have covered the memo extensively, it has received scant attention by the mainstream media in America," wrote Terry Neal of the Washington Post this week.

As blogger Juan Cole points out, the Times published the story on 1 May, and the first story in the Washington Post didn't appear until 13 May.

And it was only last week during a joint press conference with Tony Blair that President Bush was asked and answered a question about the memo.

'Downing Street's Deep Throat'

That has all changed with the publishing of a second memo this week.

The second memo, sometimes referred to as DSM II, as in the Downing Street Memo II, said ministers were told that they had no choice but to find a way to make the war in Iraq legal.

The blog campaigners celebrated at the publishing of the first front page story in the Washington Post about the memos.

And the Post declared that Downing Street now has a Deep Throat, a reference to the recently unmasked famous Watergate informant, FBI second-in-command Mark Felt.

The Post said a high level official "seems to have taken up a mission of helping an investigative reporter probe allegations of misconduct and cover-up."

Bloggers have had some success in getting the press and some members of Congress interested in the memo, says Professor Michael Cornfield who has studied the emerging impact of blogs on politics in the US.

Democratic Congressman John Conyers has held hearings about the memo.

And Democrats and online pressure group MoveOn.org held a rally near the White House on 17 June and delivered a petition calling on President Bush to answer questions about the memos, Professor Cornfield said.

It's unclear what the bloggers want, he said, but some are calling for a congressional investigation.

"That would make it a formal institutionalised story and a large daily embarrassment for both administrations," he added.

A handful of bloggers and consumer advocate Ralph Nader have called for impeachment proceedings. At this point, that is unlikely, Professor Cornfield said.

What is more likely is that Republicans will lose control of the daily agenda in Washington and lose their aura of political invulnerability, he added.

Blogs with their seamless linking and ability to post comments develop a network and generate buzz that would not have been possible before using traditional websites, Mr Cornfield said.

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