January 27, 2004 | National Review Online

Baathist Broadcasting Corporation Blasted

Authored by Andrew Apostolou

Lord Justice Hutton has delivered his report on the death of Dr. David Kelly, the British scientist who had devoted many years to investigating Saddam Hussein’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been thoroughly exonerated. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which regards itself as the world’s greatest broadcaster, has been exposed as second rate, sloppy and dishonest.

The terms of Lord Hutton's inquiry were “the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly,” not the case for the war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Yet it was the justification for the war that sparked the row that ended with David Kelly found dead in the woods near his Oxfordshire home. Kelly, a man who had concluded that the only way to end Iraq's WMD programs was to overthrow Saddam, had supposedly been the source of a BBC story on May 29, 2003 claiming that prewar intelligence had been exaggerated. In that report, the BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan, said that the British-government dossier on Iraq's WMDs had been “sexed up,” exaggerated for political expediency. Gilligan's claim, according to Hutton, was “unfounded.”

The Lord Justice Hutton's delivery was dry and sober. Speaking of notions that seem sadly old-fashioned, he inquired if the government had a strategy for naming Kelly that was: “dishonourable or underhand or duplicitous.” He concluded that there was no such behavior.

Tony Blair has generously, and repeatedly, said that the rightness of the war is a matter of legitimate discussion. The response to his call for civilized debate has been political abuse and unfounded allegations, in large part thanks to portions of the British media.

Hutton subtly commented that it was possible that the government's desire for a strong case against Saddam Hussein might have “subconsciously influenced” the Joint Intelligence Committee, the pinnacle of the British intelligence system, and other intelligence officials. Yet he wrote that he was “satisfied” that British intelligence analysts, career civil servants all, ensured that the government's public claims were consistent with its secret intelligence. There was no political manipulation of intelligence.

Hutton helpfully distinguished between: “broadcasting an allegation that intelligence provided to the Government was unreliable and broadcasting an allegation that the Government knew that intelligence set out in the dossier was wrong or questionable.” Gilligan had made the latter claim, a poisonous attack on the integrity of the British government. As the BBC must have known, it was building the myth that Britain, and the U.S., went to war in Iraq on the basis of a lie. This insinuation, that so many have used to claim that Saddam Hussein was innocent, that Iraq did not have WMDs when all the evidence has always been that Saddam was addicted to such weapons, has suffered considerable collateral damage courtesy of Lord Hutton.

The failures of the BBC, a broadcaster that cannot distinguish reporting from comment, have been established. According to Hutton, the BBC editorial system, that allowed Gilligan's unsubstantiated report to be broadcast, was “defective.” Furthermore, Hutton said that the BBC was “at fault” for not properly investigating the British government's complaint about Gilligan's May 29, 2003 report that the dossier on Iraqi WMDs was “sexed-up.”

Hutton, with unintended humor, commented that: “The term “sexed-up” is a slang expression, the meaning of which lacks clarity in the context of the discussion of the dossier.” A distinguished judge, Lord Hutton, has no time for the low standards of the BBC. He also implicitly criticized the foolish speculations of the British media, referring repeatedly to what “some commentators” had claimed about the government's behavior, before then dismissing all such claims.

The instinct at the BBC was to cover up, not to clear up. The BBC initially failed to match up the allegations made by Gilligan in his May 29, 2003, broadcast and the notes of his meeting with Kelly on May 22, 2003. When the BBC finally looked into the matter, it failed to notice that Gilligan's notes did not support his very serious allegations. Worse still, Gilligan's notes of his meeting with Kelly existed in two versions with, according to Hutton, “significant differences” between them.

Gilligan's journalism had been criticized just weeks before his fateful report, criticisms that the BBC had ignored. Immediately after the fall of Baghdad, Gilligan stated that the widespread looting meant that: “People may be free, but they are passing their first few days of freedom in more fear than they have ever known before.” His former newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, termed this “simply wrong” in an editorial on April 13, 2003. Gilligan rushed to defend his journalism with a reply letter on April 20, 2003, a letter in which he revealingly referred to “untrustworthy, premature or downright false claims made by the US and Britain” during the war. Gilligan's letter in turn drew a sharp rebuke from Gareth Smyth, a journalist with the Financial Times, who wrote to the Daily Telegraph on May 11, 2003, to ask: “How can the BBC justify employing Andrew Gilligan as one of its correspondents?”

The unintended victim of the BBC's folly was David Kelly, an eminent scientist with a distinguished record of service. Kelly had certainly erred in meeting journalists to discuss intelligence matters, but this was not a serious mistake. Kelly was an old-fashioned man who cared about the truth. Perhaps feeling publicly shamed, he decided that a life dishonored was a life not worth living. The tragedy of this whole media-manufactured fiasco is that no man was better qualified to unravel Iraq's WMD programs, no scientist would have been better able to explain the mystery of the missing weapons, than David Kelly.


Andrew Apostolou is director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

 

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