Posted by: Jim | June 9, 2005

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The “Denying Street Memo”

This memo, known now as the “Downing Street Memo,” was a brief blip in the news a few weeks ago. I never posted anything about it because I was waiting for the flurry of news and information that I fully expected the press to convey.

Dead silence.

This was originally posted by the London Times. I’m not familiar with whether that newspaper is considered “reputable” or not, so wouldn’t know if London Times is closer to the Washington Post or The National Inquirer. So since none of the rest of the news was biting, I disregarded it as possibly fraudulent.

But now it’s back in the news. President Bush and Tony Blair stood side-by-side and denied the memo’s contents. Bush said “It’s Patently not true.” Conspicuous by omission were comments from Tony Blair stating that the memo was a fraud.

If I were the British Prime Minister and someone came up with a memo that had absolutely no connection with reality, I would not only deny it, but state that the memo was obviously a hoax. At the very least I would say that I was going to check into its sources to validate its authenticity. That was not said. (If they were said, those words did not make it into the news.)

Then I read this:

Robin Niblett of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, says it would be easy for Americans to misunderstand the reference to intelligence being “fixed around” Iraq policy. ” ‘Fixed around’ in British English means ‘bolted on’ rather than altered to fit the policy,” he says.

Now that is interesting. Why would this “expert” come out of the woodwork to poo-poo the whole thing as a misunderstanding, when what this “expert” is saying is basically a pile of dung?

To validate my own opinion, I called upon my most recent acquaintance who I consider an expert on British English: Pinhut. Mr. Pinhut is a British Writer with a degree and everything. He had this to say:

“To my mind, it most certainly is not a simple question of a phrase
having a second meaning. Just on a semantic level, rather than
idiomatic, “fixed around” does not equate to “bolt on”. Besides, on
the whole, English at that level of the civil service and government
is largely purged of idiom, with words and phrases generally
corresponding very much to a straight interpretation, the
disambiguation being a result of most of the participants having been
trained in law. By and large when obfuscation or ambiguity appear in
government documents, they are very much intended! (such as in the
whitewash report the inquiry into Iraq and the death of David Kelly
delivered). Other popular means of avoiding a straight answer exist, a
famous example being a British politician who admitted to having been
“economical with the truth” (!) although I prefer Nixon’s “I misspoke
myself”

On a personal level, I’ve also not encountered this suggested other
meaning, perhaps Niblett would like to furnish a single example!

If you have read the one page of advice from the Attorney General on
the war’s legality you will see what expertly rendered British English
legal advice consists of. Shame it made no difference!”

__________________________________________

Well said, Mr. Pinhut!

So, now it looks more and more as if the Downing Street Memo actually has credence–but only by the government’s botched response to it.

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