The blood is on the BBC’s hands
: So now the BBC has admitted that dead weapons inspector David Kelly was the source for its story accusing the Blair government of “sexing up” Iraq intelligence.
Kelly admitted having unauthorized contact with BBC foreign editor Andrew Gilligan. Kelly denied having been the source for the sexing up story, saying he could not see how what he said became the story the BBC produced. That means either that (1) Kelly lied and he was the source or (2) the BBC lied and stretched this story itself beyond what Kelly said. But Kelly killed himself, so we won’t know from him what happened.
We must know from the BBC what happened. The BBC must launch a Blair-like (that is, Jayson-Blair-like) investigation of Gilligan and his reporting. The BBC’s credibility demands it. The credibilty of the profession demands it.
My fellow journalists should demand it as well. Intead of standing in a press gang and asking Tony Blair about blood on his hands, those reporters should turn to their BBC colleagues and ask about the blood on their hands. A source of theirs killed himself over this story. Why?
The truth is coming out and that truth is:
The Blair government did not sex up this story.
The BBC and Andrew Gilligan are the ones who sexed up this story.
: See also a commentary by Blair-ally Peter Mandelson in the Guardian:
Yet, even now, if you challenge BBC executives on this, they insist in their defence that you do not have smoke without fire, even though the smoke was created by their own correspondent. In their view, if you put a ‘spin doctor’ anywhere near a factual report, you are entitled to assume that the contents will be dodgy, regardless of who testifies to the contrary.
That is simply not good enough. It has led the director-general and the chairman of the governors to stake their reputations on a story that has turned out to be untrue, punted by a journalist who many inside the corporation regard as controversial, whatever they say about him in public.
The fact is that the journalist in question, Andrew Gilligan, persuaded his managers that his one source was a senior intelligence official and few now believe this to be true. Dr Kelly was a scientist, not a spook, and when he told MPs, in his gratuitously bruising encounter with them, that he was not the BBC’s source he should have been properly understood to mean that he was not the source for what Gilligan said about Campbell. Gilligan should have been big enough to admit that he did not have another source for his central claim and that he had stretched what he had been told to suit his own prejudices.
Mandelson backs up a few thousand feet to make a broader and very right point about media’s relationship to the world they cover today:
The BBC is not a publicly funded lobby group, and someone in the BBC’s management chain should have stepped in earlier and quietly to end the editorialising over Iraq.
As for the public, they are entitled to expect better from both sides. The viciousness that characterises the relationship between the media and politicians is turning people off politics and corroding our democracy. Everything in Britain is conducted in an overly adversarial way, from our courts to our Parliament, our industrial relations and our select committees. It is good theatre, but does it produce good outcomes? In this case, patently not.
: But now see the Guardian’s own news columns attacking — or at least belittling — Mandelson’s piece, calling it “astonishing” and using loaded words aplenty: “outburst” and “onslaught,” making it look like a hissyfit instead of a serious comment on a serious matter for our very business. Instead, says the Guardian, this was “a smokescreen to protect a Prime Minister now facing the most dangerous time of his six years in Downing Street.” It’s a dangerous time only because media are calling it a dangerous time. Yes, it’s a dangerous time. It’s dangerous time for us in the media.
: Finally, the tables are turning on the BBC.
MP Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the culture, media and sport committee: “The way the BBC have conducted themselves throughout raises the need for consideration of the governance of the BBC and the way the BBC deals with news.
“We wait for the inquiry in terms of what happened leading up to Dr Kelly’s death, but I believe that we do not wait to consider the whole way in which the BBC runs its affairs, runs its journalism and is governed.
“I think there are much, much wider questions which have been highlighted by this tragic episode.”…
Dr Kelly’s local MP, Robert Jackson: “If they (the BBC) had made this statement while Dr Kelly was alive, I believe he would still be alive and I think the chairman of the BBC board of governors should resign over this matter.”…
MP Eric Illsley, a Labour member of the foreign affairs committee: “I think the BBC has got to look at itself long and hard now after Andrew Gilligan’s latest evidence to the foreign affairs committee last Thursday.”
: MediaGuardian, at least, starts to acknowledge what’s really happening:
The effect of the statement was to immediately shift focus from Tony Blair and onto the BBC with several politicians lining up to call for resignations at the top of the corporation.
Within an hour of the statement, a series of politicians casts further doubt on the report by defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan and questioned whether he had hyped up the conversation with the Iraqi weapons inspector.
Dr Kelly’s local MP, Tory Robert Jackson, said BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies should go and director general Greg Dyke should “consider his position” while Gerald Kaufman warned that the latest development raised “serious questions” about the future of the BBC as a licence-funded organisation.
Both believe that the confirmation that Dr Kelly was their source clears Alastair Campbell.
“This raises extremely serious questions about the way the BBC is run; its credibility and its future as a public sector, publicly funded organisation,” said Mr Kaufman.
: It is insane, journalistically, that the BBC is owned by the government and run by a license fee. There isn’t a greater conflict of interest. The BBC should be privatized and should compete squarely with the other networks.
: Harry Hatchet sees a Labor plot to get rid of Blair, led by panicky MPs who fear losing their seats to Tories.
Short-sighted, to say the least.
They’ll end up serving the government to the other side (see: Ralph Nader voters).
They’re basing their coup on Iraqi intelligence — and it looks as if their complaint is far more with the BBC and Andrew Gilligan.
And they offer nothing of substance in the alternative:
Iraq is the issue around which the anti-Blair alliance has coalesced but on what basis? Are they presenting an alternative vision of Britain’s role in the world? No. Are they offering us a new foreign policy or another way of dealing with dictators and terrorists? They don’t tell us.
: And the drum beats on. Now the FT concedes that the BBC is under an NYTimesean cloud and has to clear its name (or better yet, fix itself):
The BBC will this week embark on the largest damage limitation exercise, arguably, of its 76-year history.
A team of top executives and in-house lawyers will begin assembling documents, transcripts and tapes relating to the intelligence dossiers on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the corporation’s reliance on David Kelly, the government scientist found dead last week, as its main source for those stories.
Ostensibly, the team is preparing evidence for the judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mr Kelly’s death. In reality, their work could determine the future regulation, editorial controls and structure of the publicly-funded broadcaster.
“Everybody is completely reeling from this,” according to one insider. “We are putting together a team to look at each stage of what happened.”
The stakes could not be higher.
Mr Anderson: What lessons have you learned from this episode?
Dr Kelly: Never to talk to a journalist again, I think.
The worst among us create a chill that ices the rest of us.
: The tide is starting to turn… and make the Beeb go glub-glub-glub. Says The Times of London:
THE BBC was fighting to save its credibility last night after finally disclosing that David Kelly, the weapons expert who committed suicide last week, was the main source of its claims that Downing Street had