July 06, 2003

Blair versus the Beeb Blair

Blair versus the Beeb

Blair is upping the ante in his dispute with the BBC regarding claims by that network that the UK government purposefully "sexed" up an intelligence dossier in the advent of war in Iraq. The Beeb say they continue to stand by their story.

Meanwhile, The Guardian is headlining a story that attempts to muddy the waters regarding the Blair/Beeb row. The story alleges the head of MI6 met with senior BBC executives before the Beeb's story on the dossier and stated that Iran and Syria were greater threats than Iraq. But this is really a distraction. Such an alleged meeting is not directly related to the Beeb's allegations that the U.K. government purposefully mucked about with intelligence in order to make the dossier more alarming so as to garner additional support for the war.

The Guardian also has an Andrew Rawnsley piece up that seems a transparent attempt to preemptively discount the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, to be released tomorrow, that is likely to clear Blair communications honcho Alistair Campbell of the specific allegations the Beeb's report raised. That said, per the Times piece:

"Some MPs on the committee believe they have been given only a partial view of CampbellŐs role in putting the governmentŐs case for war. They point out that the BBCŐs source for its claim that No 10 hardened intelligence reports was accurate on some points and cannot simply be dismissed. And a senior BBC source claimed last night that a key conclusion of the report clearing Campbell came about only because of the casting vote of the chairman of the committee, Labour MP Donald Anderson."

Expect the Beeb to concentrate on any "dissenting amendments" in its favor in the Committee Report. Also look for, despite the specific allegations against Campbell likely judged erroneous by the Committee, the Beeb pointing to any Committee speculations regarding Campbell's aggressivity in pitching the war more generally (see, for instance, the February briefing paper partly taken from a dubious decade-plus old PhD thesis). And there will doubtless be some hand-wringing that the Committee might have come to a more definitive conclusion if direct access had been granted to head of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett.

All this said, the Beeb will likely be shown to have been wrong in its central contention that Campbell sexed up the dossier with 11th hour insertions (such as the WMD being ready for use within 45 minutes). And yet, I don't expect an immediate retraction or correction (let alone a Beeb apology) to be in the offing. That's too bad, as I think the Beeb will, ultimately, be harmed even more by this episode by dragging it along. Particularly as its allegations appear increasingly suspect and to be the result of sloppy and/or potentially politicized journalism. Developing.

UPDATE: The FT has an excellent series of articles on the state of the Beeb (subscription required).

Posted by Gregory at July 6, 2003 08:53 AM

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