I name the guilty ones

Boris wanted this piece he wrote for the Guardian to be put up on the website

Naming and shaming | Are terrorists manipulating our media? | Come over to our side, Polly | Keep out of the royal houses

It is a great honour to be standing in for the esteemed Roy Greenslade. It is also a great pleasure, since I intend to take advantage of his absence by giving Roy – and others – a gentle kicking. It must by now be obvious to anyone who has read the Butler report, and the final chapter of Greg Dyke’s memoirs, Inside Story, that there took place, in 2003, a grave injustice.

A BBC radio reporter had a scoop. As anyone who has produced such a thing will know, these are hard to come by, hard to spot for what they are, and hard to get right first time; and yet he did. Andrew Gilligan revealed that there was alarm in the world of spooks at the way No 10 had embellished data about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, in particular, the so-called 45-minute claim. He also revealed that Alastair Campbell was involved in these embellishments.

You can read the full article in The Guardian

Since the WMD were just beginning their chronic and embarrassing no-show, the story prompted Campbell to launch a frenzied ad hominem attack on Gilligan, and anyone at the BBC who defended him.

The Beeb behaved like some vast halfwitted ruminant confronted by a velociraptor. Gilligan was sacrificed, and after Hutton produced his ludicrous report, Dyke and the corporation’s chairman Gavyn Davies followed him out of the door, both still protesting that the story was right in all essential respects.

And so it was. The more we have learned about Gilligan’s story, the closer his report appears to have been to the unvarnished truth.

Yes, the Downing St spin machine sexed up the dossier on WMD, materially altering the text in several places so as to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam.

Yes, the intention was to persuade the wretched, lobotomised Labour backbenchers to vote for the war. Yes, the perpetrators knew exactly what they were doing in going beyond the construction placed on the data by the spies themselves. Yes, Campbell was the mastermind of this process. Yes, there was anxiety at senior level in the intelligence services. All that is now super-abundantly clear.

But in the early stages of the row the whole of the media – and all the illustrious commentators – had to make a decision, based on instinct.

Did they defend the reporter? Or did they defend the most mendacious government in modern memory? It is a matter of eternal regret that so many decided to beat up Gilligan and give Campbell the benefit of the doubt. Some of them did so because they just believed that the war was right, and that the end – getting rid of Saddam and making the world a better place – justified the means (a bit of statesmanlike lying about WMD).

Some of them were partly cheerleaders for Campbell and Blair and in this category I put Roy, who is known to my Spectator colleague Stephen Glover as Roy Campbell-Greenslade.

Some of the anti-Gilligan brigade are among my best journalistic friends and most admired colleagues. It doesn’t matter. They were wrong. They must now be named, so that they can face up to their error. Michael Gove – wrong. Janet Daley – wrong. Tom Baldwin – wrong. The leader writers of the Times and Telegraph – wrong. Barbara Amiel – utterly wrong. Martin Kettle – completely hopeless. John Lloyd – a total shower. Charles Moore – right in so many wonderful ways, but on this, alas, wrong, wrong, wrong.

I do not ask for any old-fashioned punishment or act of contrition. It would be nice if they all made a pilgrimage on their knees to Gilligan’s current place of work, as the Spectator’s defence and diplomatic editor, scourging themselves the while with rolled-up copies of the magazine. We must hope that it is enough that the public has been here reminded who they are and of the mistake they made.

In an age when journalists are turning into quasi-politicians, appearing as co-equals on programmes such as Question Time, it is right that they should be ruthlessly monitored by each other. That is the function of a media column, a genre that did not exist 20 years ago, and which has grown along with the egos, picture bylines and general importance and self-importance of journos.

I use this hallowed Greenslade slot to make this point, because I am confident that Roy would not mind, and also confident that he could not be quite relied upon to make it himself. If he wishes to atone, I suggest he join the movement to call Blair to account and make him explain exactly why he lied about WMD. This can be found at www.impeachblair.org.

Come over to our side, Polly

I developed a kind of pathetic crush on Polly Toynbee when she and I once did a TV series together. So it was one of my proudest moments when I wrote a piece of liberal imperialism about the Muslim approach to women, and then found she wrote a virtually identical piece two days later. But honestly, Polly, what was that bilge you wrote last week in the Guardian about hunting? You kick off with some cheap sneers at toffs and pseudo-toffs on the Telegraph, but then do a jack-knife turn into a limp defence of hunting. Come on baby, you’re either in favour of liberty or you aren’t. If you’re against the ban, you are shooting from the same trench as me, Charles Moore, and the toffs of the Telegraph.

Keep out of the royal houses
Is there anything more eye-wateringly pointless than these elaborate “security breaches” in which reporters from the tabloids or the Sunday Times see how long they can pose as royal valets, butlers, footmen etc? I vote we cease all follow-up reporting of their antics. The Spectator is mounting a series of counter breaches, by which members of the royal family penetrate the offices of big newspaper groups. Ella Windsor has already successfully gained admission to the Mail on Sunday.

Boris Johnson
Monday September 27, 2004
You can read the full article in The Guardian

15 thoughts on “I name the guilty ones”

  1. That link to the Guardian isn’t working for me (and for some reason there are adverts in the middle of the piece).

    Scarily well said, though.

  2. Is it possible that the royals don’t care about security breaches because, in the end, it’s merely a bunch of journos, and there are more important things to worry about?

  3. You can’t read the full article in the Guardian because you have posted the wrong address, and also because you need to register for access to the site. Bugger it, Boris, I’m voting Whig. [Ed: now correct – please return to the fold]

  4. Melissa,

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    I guess it’s a Guardian side column, rather than a coded message to Col Gaddafi. The Guardian link isn’t working either.[Ed: now working] . . Anyway it’s great that Boris stood up for Gilligan. . . .

  5. @Simon – “I guess it’s a Guardian side column, rather than a coded message to Col Gaddafi.” – That made me laugh man.

    Will Boris ever actually post something on this site? I demand Boris writes something new and exclusive for his internet audience or I shall burn my RSS subscription.

    [Ed: please don’t do anything so rash – it won’t be long before Boris surprises you again]

  6. That Gilligan’s fantasies turned out to match reality does not restrospectively convert them into journalism.

  7. I see that you say that Boris wanted this posting. Could it be that you didn’t – sharing my view that it isn’t worth giving another airing?

  8. I disagree with Mike and Dave. That Gilligan’s fantasies turned out to be reality does indeed make them possibly the most insightful piece of Iraq war journalism, because without discrediting Gilligan, the government could not have justified the war. That the Hutton report did this job very well for the government is, IMO, neither here nor there. And since a major “independent” media organisation was successfully manipulated by the government, and a man took his own life, surely it is worth raising again and again until a satisfactory conclusion is reached, and those responsible for it are removed from power.

  9. I simply cannot understand the new found Tory enthusiasm for Greg Dyke and the BBC. It is this kind of duff thinking that gives you no chance of returning to power even against an unpopular Labour party.

    Boris, face the facts, the BBC and Dyke are completely opposed to just about everything you preport to hold dear. I listen to the BBC nearly every morning – and it is pretty much unrelenting leftism or, at best, social democratism. Their coverage of George Bush and the USA s a caricature, and they were totally against the war in Iraq from day one. Dyke’s hypocritical resignation (that he did not expect to be accepted) and his comments post his resignation shows that he is a political animal through and through. In every statement that he has made, it is clear that Dyke has little time for the old style, even-handed journalist. His cause at the BBC was always the “progeressive” cause.

    One of the reasons the Tories cannot get their message accross is that the BBC, while not hostile to Tories per se, is deeply hostile to the Tory message. The Tories should have used this as a justifiable opportunity to show up Beeb journalists for the proslytisers that they are.

    Instead, now you consort with your enemies. Is your party so removed from reality that you think that Dyke or the BBC will ever support you? You expressed no doubt at all about Hutton until he found for Blair. IDS, for all his failings, was principled on Iraq. The current Tory policy on Iraq has achieved the remarkable feat of making Blair look consistent. (And God help you if in the long run Iraq becomes a democracy and succeeds.)

  10. Boris Johnson names the Guilty Journalists in favour of removing Saddam.

    I notice you didn’t risk taking your colleague Mark Steyn on, Boris. Reading the Telegraph today, I nearly fell off my chair laughing at him nearly falling off his chair laughing. Rowan William’s C of E (an eldery emaciated gelding) may be a soft target, but he even scored a palpable hit on the redoutable Niall Ferguson.

    It seems to me that the two short items at the end are not standard Johnsonia but have a Littlejohnish tang to them. “Baby”? I ask you.

  11. Cheers Scaryduck – you got a good thing going… let’s hope it evaporates soon too.

    Boris’s Parliamentary Office.

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