Franchising the news or how to whitewash a whitewash By William Bowles

30 January 2004

In 2002 when I first returned to the UK after many years abroad and started my long period of readjustment to this malignant society, a major part of the process was getting a handle on the media here. I read many of the leading ‘papers, listened to the news and of course watched it on tv. I tried to immerse myself in the gallons of turgid prose that gurgled out of ‘news central’, for that’s what it is, a factory for the manufacturing of ‘news’ for passive consumption, designed it would appear for an audience with the attention span of a gnat.

I was startled by the homogeneity of the stories from one paper to the next, for not only were most of the stories identical, their location, size and ‘slant’ was also almost the same from ‘paper to ‘paper. This applied just as much to the ‘fillers’ as it did to the main stories. It was as if there was a plant somewhere pumping out the news, assembly line fashion. I had this vision of lines of ‘wordsmiths’ churning out the stories on banks of PCs for distribution to the major media outlets 24/7. It gave the phrase ‘network news’ a whole new meaning.

Whitewashing a Whitewash
The essential truth of this reality really hit me this week with the publication of the Hutton report, for it immediately became clear, that with few exceptions, coverage of the report was almost totally homogenised, low fat fare, with a degree of coordination between stories that borders on the miraculous. If ever one wanted proof of the merging of state and media the Hutton report is it. From one ‘paper to the next, from the BBC to Channel 4, it seemed that nobody, but nobody wanted to rock the boat. Let’s get back to ‘business as usual’. It was as if the dominant culture breathed one giant sigh of relief that it was finally all over. Hmm, some luck, because so complete is the Hutton whitewash, that it stretches credulity to breaking point. So much so, that even through the gallons of whitewash poured over the government’s lies, already there are mutterings that Hutton did just too good a paint job on Blair (would you buy a used car from this guy?).

Labour MP Austin Mitchell said: “The danger is that it is so one-sided a report that it is going to lose credibility. People just aren’t going to believe it.” Well that depends on whether or not people are going to believe the blanket praise Hutton has received in the press.

And although some of the print ‘franchises’ used ‘Whitewash?’ in their headlines, the stories themselves were the actual whitewash in some kind of a bizarre ‘post-modern’ parody of what passes for investigative journalism.

The Independent for example, had very little on its front page except:


Surrounded by gallons of white space with a précis of the events of the past eight months at the bottom of the page. But the ‘special issue’ presented very little evidence of being special or evidence of an investigation into whether or not there was a whitewash, so was the real whitewash conducted by the Independent itself along with all the other news outlets?

Page two had a story headed “Demands grow for inquiry into the case for war as Hutton is accused of a ‘whitewash’” but in fact only one person is quoted as calling the ‘inquiry’ a “whitewash, basically”, that of Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Grimsby. The rest of the piece is full of the statements of the leading politicos of the Tory and Liberal Democrats, the BBC’s Gavyn Davis as well as Blair crowing triumphant.

Page three was given over to the bashing the BBC got but added nothing to what is already known.

Page four: “Campbell, ‘I told the truth. The BBC, from the chairman down, did not’ with a smaller story about Andrew Gilligan and that he was unlikely to return to his post with the ‘Today’ programme (with hints of a lucrative job offer after he writes his predictable book on the subject). I keep thinking of all those thousands of Iraqi dead at the sharp end of this obscene charade, I wonder if all these fucking ‘experts’ do?

All Praise to Blair (and pass the ammunition)
Page five was perhaps the most depressing, an ‘op-ed’ by the abject apologist for the Labour Party, Robin Cooke who accused the BBC of “distorting the truth by over sensationalising a story” but no mention of the resulting glaring headlines of ‘45 Minutes to Cyprus’ etc that the press carried after the September dossier was published.

Later in the piece, Cooke demonstrates just how politicians love to eat their cake and keep it as well when he says:

“The case of Iraq demonstrates the dangers of a situation in which the [intelligence] agencies desparately scrabble to come up with the intelligence that the policymakers want to to fit their adopted prejudice.”

But then immediately tells us, straightfaced that:

“The Hutton report may have conclusively established that the Government did not set out to deceive public and Parliament in the intelligence it offered on the case for war.”

And not a single mention of the Hutton report being anything like a whitewash, in fact, Cooke goes out of his way to lavish fulsome praise on the recently exhumed Lord Hutton (who also whitewashed the ‘Black Sunday’ massacres by the British Army in Northern Ireland in 1969) eg:

“On some of the ancillary questions, Lord Hutton is generous to a fault.”

The war, everything – it’s all Gilligan’s fault says Cooke
But Cooke’s most damning indictment is reserved for Andrew Gilligan in yet another topsy-turvy view of things when he says:

“If only Mr Gilligan had been content to report [that]…members of the intelligence community were deeply unhappy at the way the September dossier was “over-egged”…. [Reported] as a straight story, he would have made a valuable contribution to the case against the war. Instead, he sparked off a glorious diversion from the debate on the rights and wrongs of the war by introducing an unfounded accusation of deliberate deceit.”

Duh? So it’s all Gilligan’s fault? Unfounded? Why did Cooke resign I wonder? What about the role of the ‘whiter than white’ Dr Kelly who deliberately planted three stories, each slightly different to three different BBC journalists, that contained implications and hints that didn’t quite tell the entire story but gave enough direction for Gilligan (or at least one of them) to take the ‘bait’ and run with it. In other words, Gilligan was the victim of a classic disinformation set up. Ego and the unhealthy relationship between journalists and the state did the rest.

As to who introduced deliberate deceit, which planet are you living on Mr Cooke? Blair and co knew damn well their were no WMDs and hadn’t been since 1991. He knew the Niger docs were fakes and had done so since early in 2002. He knew the February dossier was a twisted crib and almost twelve years old. He knew that twelve years of crippling sanctions had reduced Iraq to a shadow of its former self. He knew the intensive bombing campaigns of 2002 had knocked out most of whatever military force Saddam still possessed after the Gulf War II (Gulf War I being the USUK support of Iraq’s invasion of Iran).

The war was a done deal the second the first invader set foot on Kuwaiti soil toward the end of 2002. There is no way that the USUK were going to go to all the trouble of sending tens of thousands of troops to the top of the hill and bring them down again. The dossiers, Blair’s theatrics (‘dark forces’ etc), the UN presentation of Powell, were all window dressing. In a paean to his boss that also borders on the evangelical, Cooke tells us that:

“On the central question [that Blair didn’t deceive us] Lord Hutton is right. I never doubted that Tony Blair really believed in the case for war. On the contrary, my concern always was that he brought an evangelical sincerity that did not brook disbelief.”

But how does this religious fervour of Cooke’s sit with the fact that as Cooke well knows, lacking any real evidence, Blair and his propagandists twisted the ‘evidence’ to fit a pre-ordained objective. Whether Blair ‘believed’ in the case for war or not, is neither here nor there, what’s important is that he lied and deceived in order to get away with it.

Elsewhere in the Independent as I continued my search for any investigation into whether or not the Hutton report was a whitewash we find the following:

Pages 6-7 “How a judge’s narrow remit allowed the government off the hook on the case for war”. The only things of interest in the piece are firstly, the comment that:

He [Hutton] was strangely silent on the comment from the head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, that the 45-minute claim was given undue prominence.”

Though why he was strangely silent is not investigated at all. Later the piece gets dangerously close to actually challenging the report when it says:

“At one point, Lord Hutton came close to backing up the thrust of the report by Mr Gilligan, yet he [Hutton] immediately backed away from the logic of his own observations”

In a reference to Hutton’s references to the two meanings of the ‘sexed up’ claim that comes straight out of a John Mortimer[1] play. I had visions of Lord Hutton in his prime querying the reference in a courtroom with plums in his mouth, ‘Sexed up? I’m not entirely familiar with the phrase.’ But as with Hutton, so too the Independent also backed away from pursuing the ‘logic’ of Hutton’s observations.

The piece then refers to the 45-minute claim and backs up the report’s condemnation of Gilligan (based on Dr Kelly’s disinformation) of its insertion at a later date, even though Blair and co knew it to be false.

Dr Kelly just a scientist
Moving on, pages 20 through 35 contribute absolutely nothing to whether or not the report was a whitewash, indeed if anything it backs up the prevailing orthodoxy. Pages 34-35 are given over to Dr Kelly where the Independent quite happily goes along with the government’s propaganda line of Kelly being a just a “scientist, not a political animal” even as it admits he was “encouraged to talk to journalists” (the Indie’s emphasis). The piece tells us with a straight face, and I kid you not, “He [Kelly] wandered into the feud between Mr Gilligan and Alistair Campbell.” The article on page 21, by Anne Penketh is as disingenuous a piece of journalism as you can get when she tells us:

“My feeling is that Dr Kelly, the scientist, was out of his depth when he met Mr Gilligan, the political animal.”

Are we talking about the same Dr Kelly here? This is the Dr Kelly who headed up CBW research at Porton Down for 12 years, travelled to Russia to do who knows what in close cooperation with the US intelligence agencies, visited Iraq 37 times in the space of a few years, liaised with journalists all over the planet as part of his job description (including the gullible Ms Penketh), advised the Secret Intelligence Service, the Military Intelligence, the MoD, The Foreign and Commonweath Office, and had the freedom to wander from department to department (the guy never even had an office!). And he was ‘just’ a scientist?

So after all these pages, I’m still searching for the investigation into whether or not the Hutton report was a whitewash. My conclusion? The ‘investigation’ is a whitewash is a whitewash is a whitewash…

As to the issue of the BBC’s behaviour in caving in to the prevailing orthodoxy, I’ll leave that for another time, I’ve run out of paint. Perhaps MediaLens have something to say on the issue?



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