The Australian frothed and fumed about Media Watch’s coverage of the Hutton Report in its third leader yesterday, complaining about host David Marr and his “long attack on Lord Hutton for his ‘trial and sentencing of the BBC’.”

“According to Media Watch, the story that reporter Andrew Gilligan put to air last May, alleging that the Blair Government had ‘sexed up’ an intelligence dossier on Iraq’s WMD arsenal, and that was rejected by Lord Hutton, is now looking ‘right on the money’,” wrote the Oz. “As evidence he cited a report in London’s Independent in which a former Ministry of Defence expert, Brian Jones, claimed analysts were overruled in attempts to insert caveats into the dossier.

“What Marr did not mention is that Mr Jones never claimed that Downing Street overruled the analysts – he claimed they were overruled higher up the intelligence chain. And if Lord Hutton got it so wrong, and the BBC did not broadcast a false report that led to the suicide of David Kelly, why did the BBC’s chairman and director-general both quit, with the acting chairman apologising ‘unreservedly for the BBC’s errors and to the individuals whose reputations were affected’?”

“The role of Media Watch is to critically examine the performance of the media,” it continued. “But when the media’s lapses happen to segue with Marr’s ideological obsessions, he promptly becomes the defender of the media against its critics…”

Well, since the editorial was written, of course, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he does not recall Blair’s pre-war claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready to be deployed in 45 minutes.

And despite the Australian’s hints, questioning Blair’s dossier is not just the domain of the left.

The violent and vituperatively conservative Spectator magazine has been one of Gilligan’s champions, too.

It greeted the publication of the Hutton report with a leader of it’s own entitled “Bring back Gilligan” that you can find at http://www.spectator.co.uk/v3_entry_frames.htm.

“Public and Parliament were presented with a series of justifications for war which (a) did not reflect the opinions of those who knew most about Iraqi weapons programmes; and (b) had been in key ways embellished by Alastair Campbell,” it reads.

“Neither of these staggering facts would have come to light, had it not been for Andrew Gilligan.

“On 22 May 2003, after Baghdad had fallen and in the curious absence of WMD, he talked to David Kelly about the events of the previous September. Gilligan broadcast an account a few days later on the BBC. He was bang on. In the light of what we now know, the Today programme broadcast of 6.07 a.m. looks like the plain unvarnished truth. The data was unreliable, the spooks were unhappy, notably about the 45-minute claim, and Campbell ‘sexed it up’ to the point of invention. You do not have to oppose the war — and this newspaper supported the removal of Saddam — to see that this is news worth reporting. What makes the government’s conduct contemptible is not just that they denied the story, but that they found the source of the story and put him before the public, in the hope that he would help them quash it.”

Blud oath!

There has been conspiracy theorising about Tony Blair’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch.

Let’s ignore that for now and concentrate on some of their virtues – for they certainly have them.

Blair’s 1994 speech to News Limited executives on Hayman Island remains a brilliantly simple exposition of truly contemporary social democracy. Murdoch is well aware of the massive global power he wields as a force for liberty and the empowerment of the individual.

Their minions’ machinations, however, make us immediately inclined to presume the worst of both of them.

 

Peter Fray

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