Discovered! Shoal of Giant Red Herrings By William Bowles

13 August 2003

The government’s propaganda campaign to scare the populace into accepting an unacceptable war, has, with the grovelling complicity of the media, including the so-called liberal arm of the press, entered a new but depressingly familiar phase.

Lost in the shower of media deflection, is the real story, that the government lied in order order to justify the unjustifiable, namely an illegal and immoral war, conducted for entirely different reasons than those that were foisted on an extremely skeptical public.

Today’s Independent (13/08/03) carries a range of mutually conflicting stories which on the one hand accuses the government of misleading the public and on the other, accuses the BBC of misleading the public by revealing that the government misled the public. And to add yet further confusion, we have two BBC reporters coming to entirely different conclusions based on essentially the same information. Duh? I’m confused. What’s it to be?

Under the headline, “Two reporters, one story: Campbell sexed up the story,” we read that on the one hand, Andrew Gilligan, defence reporter for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme stood by his story that Alistair Campbell, chief propagandist for the government had been responsible for the “transformation” of the dossier. Meanwhile, his colleague on the BBC TV’s ‘Newsnight’ programme, Susan Watts, felt that Dr David Kelly’s comments were not “particularly controversial.” Indeed, she thought it to be “a glib statement,” and moreover, “not newsworthy.”

So, we have these two reporters, giving us mutually conflicting interpretations of what Kelly told them. Of course, the fact that independent of Kelly’s obviously deliberate planting of vague almost accusations, we have the indisputable fact that there is no substance whatsoever to both allegations contained in the September dossier (the Niger yellowcake and the 45 minute fiasco).

The Independent’s front-page story contains not a single word about the lies used to justify the invasion. Instead, we have the merry-go-round of who said what to whom and what to make of it all. And the ‘evidence’ submitted by the two BBC reporters’ reveals yet another layer of dissembling on the part of the state’s media disinformation campaign through its mouthpiece, the BBC.

Inside the Independent, we have further obsfucation of the issues. In a piece on BBC reporter Susan Watts headed, “”Reporter believed Kelly’s disclosure was a ‘gossipy aside’”, raises fundamental questions about the role of the BBC’s journalists in this entire affair as channels of disinformation in their own right. After all, you don’t get a job with the Beeb as a journalist unless you are absolutely ‘trustworthy’, or if you prefer the BBC’s newspeak, ‘impartial.’ In other words, Watts is a loyal member of the establishment news Mafia as indeed, is Gilligan.

The story reveals glaring contradictions and deliberate confusion on the part of Watts that takes some serious unpacking in order to reveal the sub-text of Watts’ so-called reporting. Watts tells us that she didn’t think the ’revelation’ of Alistair Campbell’s involvement in doctoring the dossier “newsworthy”. Am I hearing right? Not newsworthy?

Her notes are even more confusing:

“[A] mistake to put in, Alistair Campbell seeing something in there, single source, but not corroborated, sounded good.”

Is she saying that it was a mistake to use Campbell’s name? Is the reference to a single source about Campbell or the lies in the dossier? And what sounded good? The story about Campbell or the lies?

Yet later on, under questioning, she says:

“[W]ith hindsight”

Kelly’s comments proved how well informed he was.

Now let’s contextualize all this. Ms Watts’ connections to Kelly go back to August 2002 when someone put her in touch with Kelly from the Foreign Office. She made several calls to Kelly and had “many conversations” with him prior to her first meeting (apparently of three) in November 2002. All of her enquiries were connected to the issue of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.

Is it really credible to accept Watts’ statement about “in hindsight” how well informed he was given her conversations with Kelly spanning several months? Why do I think this woman is lying? Could it be the fact that she was quite prepared to accept the veracity of information on a number of stories she did on Iraq and its alleged WMDs, but when it came to issue of the government’s outright lies being exposed, she suddenly felt he lacked credibility?

In a reference to the 45-minute claim, Ms Watts says:

“He wasn’t suggesting it was necessarily false but I think he was suggesting to me that it might not necessarily have had only one interpretation.”

What else could it be? Either it was false or it wasn’t. What did Ms Watts believe it to be? Answer; with ‘hindsight’, the 45-minute claim was false, although to cover her dissembling self, she doesn’t actually commit herself on this score.

Below, in yet another contradictory story, we get yet another take on the role of the BBC in the government’s disinformation campaign. The story (by Tim Luckhurst, author of a book on the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme) in one of the murkiest uses of the English language I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of decoding tells us that, on the one hand, Gilligan had essentially reported the facts as told him by Kelly but on the other, it was marred by bad reporting.

Luckhurst put it this way:

“”His [Gilligan’s] own editor described it [Gilligan’s story] as “a good piece of investigative journalism marred by poor reporting”. The issue for Lord Hutton is likely to be whether anything marred by the latter can legitimately be described as the former.””

I take this to mean that, can bad reporting screw up good investigative journalism? The issue of whether or not the government lied simply vanishes into a semantic debate about the difference between reporting and journalism. Reportage as far as I’m aware simply means relaying the facts of an event. Journalism on the other hand, means interpreting the facts.

Later in the piece, Luckhurst tells us that:

“”The evidence offered yesterday ended that façade of [BBC] unity. It is not simply that the BBC admitted that Mr Gilligan’s reporting was flawed, nor that Ms Watts revealed that she considered Dr Kelly’s allegation that Mr Campbell was guilty of “sexing up” nothing more than a gossipy aside. The real problem is that the BBC itself does not appear to have checked Mr Gilligan’s work sufficiently rigorously before allowing it to be broadcast.””

But in a glaringly contradictory (and nitpicking) statement Luckhurst tells us:

“”If Mr Gilligan was guilty of “loose language” and “lack of judgment” then his managers were guilty of worse. Had the BBC compared Mr Gilligan’s notes with the record made by Ms Watts it would have been entitled to take the view Ms Watts missed the most important aspect of her talk with Dr Kelly.””

Translated, Gilligan told us that Kelly had problems with the propaganda used in the dossier but that Watts missed the implications of Kelly’s ‘revelations’ until, “with hindsight, she realised she’d been wrong to dismiss it as a “glib statement.”

I fail to see what the BBC managers were guilty of in this context aside from the fact that they didn’t use Watts as a source to back up Gilligan’s story, when challenged by the government. One should ask the question, why on earth not given the massive attack mounted by the government on the BBC? Is it credible to believe that the BBC was not aware of the Watts story?

And in yet another (long) story on Andrew Gilligan’s testimony to the Hutton enquiry we read yet more contradictory coverage of who said what to whom and on whose behalf. Much of it devolves onto whether or not when Campbell had the 45 minute and Niger yellowcake lies inserted in the dossier, he was doing it on behalf of Downing Street or not. One has to ask the question, if not on behalf of Downing Street, then whom else? And ultimately, it’s clear that it was the Cabinet office that demanded its inclusion, whether at Campbell’s insistence or some other government propagandist.

What cannot be disputed is that Kelly told two journalists essentially the same story, namely that Campbell or someone else synonomous with Downing Street had the lies inserted. What needs to be established is not whether or not Campbell ordered it so, or even if Kelly deliberately mislead Gilligan and Watts. What needs to be addressed by the media, is the fact that the government lied to the public in order to justify the invasion. The issue of the lies used doesn’t need the testimony of Kelly, Gilligan or Watts in order to show that it was so.

Addendum:The additional testimony given by the third BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt to the Hutton enquiry reveals that he too, came to the same conclusion as Gilligan about the role of the department of propaganda (sorry, Downing Street’s press office) in ‘sexing up’ the September 2002 dossier. He told the enquiry that Kelly told him that “Downing Street…spin came into play” through the inclusion of the two, key allegations and that, the intelligence services objected to their inclusion. But nevertheless, Ms Watts insists that she was put under intense pressure by the BBC management to corroborate the two stories, this in spite of the fact, that with minor variations, Kelly told all three journalists the same story. Is Ms Watts trying to cover her back or what?

What has also been revealed, is that part of Kelly’s official job description was liaising with media here in the UK, in Europe, the Middle East and North America. Kelly’s role in this entire affair gets murkier and murkier with each successive revelation about his role as ‘scientific advisor.’

What is most disturbing is the fact that at least as far back as November of 2002, we are led to believe that Kelly was expressing ‘misgivings’ about the inclusion of the disinformation. If this is so, then one has to ask the question, was it really these misgivings that prompted his apparent suicide in July? It’s inconceivable to believe that the government was not aware of what he was doing throughout these seven months.

One thing is clear, his ‘revelations’ had the desired effect, which was to divert attention from the central issue of why we went to war. It occurs to me that Kelly was ordered to reveal the insertions precisely for this reason but ultimately couldn’t live with the idea of being used as a ‘sacrificial lamb’ on the alter of propaganda, rather than his misgivings about the actual use of the false information or his exposure by his bosses.

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