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