OF PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS - "The Case of the Disappearing Dateline"


By Tony Russell

"Next. Yes sir, how can I help you?"

The guy was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. His clothes were rumpled and his eyes were haggard, as if he had been staring too long at possibilities that frightened him. He stepped up closer to the desk. "I want to report a missing story, Officer," he said.

The officer at the desk, McSweeney, pulled the proper form out of the drawer. "How long has this story been missing?" he asked.

"Well, it was seen in England on May 1st, but it disappeared immediately after that."

"May 1st!" said McSweeney. "And you're just now reporting it missing?"

"I know, I know," said the guy. "I kept thinking it would turn up someplace, and one day went by and then another. After a while I just lost track."

"May 1st," said McSweeney accusingly. "That's six weeks. With every day that goes by in a case like this, it gets harder to revive the story."

"I know," said the guy again. "But it's been all over the Internet; surely something can still be done."

"We'll see," grunted McSweeney. "A cold case like this, it's dicey. Can you describe this missing story to me?"

"Sure," said the guy. "It's big. Really big. Or it ought to be big. It's nearly three years old. It's the minutes from a meeting of Tony Blair's cabinet in London. It was written eight months before the invasion of Iraq, and it basically says that the U.S. and Britain are planning to attack Iraq, and that the Bush administration is rigging the intelligence reports in a way to justify what the administration wants to do."

McSweeney was scribbling notes rapidly. "That's a pretty good description. We should be able to identify it with those details. How could something that big be missing? Where have you looked for the story?"

"I've looked everywhere," said the guy pleadingly. "I've looked at CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, and all the major newspapers—the New York Times, the L A Times, the Washington Post and on and on. None of them carried the story. Not a trace!"

"You're kidding, right?" said McSweeney. "A story that big and not a major news outlet in the country touches it?"

"It's hard to understand," admitted the guy.

"Do you have any theories on why it disappeared?"

The guy looked troubled. "None I want to believe," he finally said.

"Come on," said McSweeney. "A story this big doesn't disappear on its own. It had some help."

"What are the alternatives?" asked the guy. "A giant conspiracy involving all the major media? The Bush administration has them scared speechless? Collective blindness? A bias so pervasive it's staggering?"

"We're not ruling anything out at this point," said McSweeney.

"What kind of value do you set on the story?" he asked, going down to the next line on his form.

"It's hard to set a price on something so central to a functioning democracy," said the guy. "It's almost priceless."

"That's what they all say," said McSweeney cynically. "You think nobody's ever set a price on truth?"

"I've been trying to keep tabs on what the war is costing us in dollars," said the guy hesitantly. "I think it's about $208 billion so far."

"Value… $208 billion…," said McSweeney as he wrote.

"Well, there are also the dead and wounded," said the guy, almost apologizing. "I think it's getting close to 1,700 Americans killed, and somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 Iraqis killed."

"That's another department," said McSweeney, looking up. "You'll have to take that up with Homicide."

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