Some post-Hutton thoughts

by Chris Bertram on February 3, 2004

“Daniel posted on Hutton”: the other day, and was gracious enough to say that the Blairites should enjoy their day in the sun (whatever else he said elsewhere in the post). During the inquiry, it looked to me as if Gilligan and the BBC were in deep trouble and “I posted back in August saying as much”: . Since the report journalists have been queuing up to denounce Hutton for coming to conclusions other than the ones they were all hoping for and using words like “whitewash”. Typical examples are Gilligan’s mate “Rod Liddle”:,13812,1133385,00.html (on whom see “Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian”:,13812,1137632,00.html ), “Simon Jenkins in the Times”:,,2020-9076-983327,00.html and “Peter Oborne”: in the Spectator (see also “Liddle”: in the Spectator).

In his article, Oborne feels free simply to assert with _no supporting evidence whatsoever_ that the leak of Hutton to the Sun was the work of the government. Jenkins desribes the inquiry as “a high-risk gamble to conceal Tony Blair’s embarrassment over his Iraq intelligence by implicating the BBC in a suicide.”

The truth is (contra Jenkins) that the Kelly suicide affair was — among many other things — part of a string of episodes used by the press (and following them the BBC) to whip up very personal hatred against Blair and those close to him. Other instances of this are the parading of war widow Samantha Roberts across the print and broadcast media, Cheriegate, the ongoing “The Blairs” cartoon in the Spectator, and the insistent demands that Blair reveal whether his baby had the MMR jab. I doubt that many CT readers regularly peruse the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday. I bought the MoS a few weeks ago to get a free DVD of Brief Encounter, but, rather than just chucking to paper in the nearest bin, took time to look at the contents. There was page after page of hatred directed at the Blairs (some of it by Oborne).

Now on one view, with which I have a lot of sympathy, we need an aggressive investigative journalism. Governments have immense resources at their disposal to reveal or not reveal information and to manipulate public opinion and we need a counterweight to that. Fair enough. Except that it is hard to escape the thought that much of the hostile coverage of the Blairs — like the spiteful coverage of the Clintons — is not aimed at the truth or at securing better government. It reflects a loathing on the right from those who think that a Labour government disturbs the natural order of things and on the left from those who feel betrayed (especially over Iraq).

In the UK the news agenda is often set by the press, and much of the press has been in get-the-Blairs mode for a very long time. The point of this kind of journalism is not to hold governments to account but to undermine, belittle and ridicule. The reason the BBC came a cropper over Hutton was that some of its journalists failed to distinguish between truth-seeking and point-scoring, adopted the mindset of their print brethren, and over-reached. It was and is right to scrutinize Blair’s conduct over Iraq, just as it was right to criticize many of Clinton’s actions (the bombing of that factory in Sudan being a good case in point). But since we at CT have had a fair amount to say about and against the villification of the Clintons we ought to recognise that the coverage of the Blairs has started to resemble it.

Polly Toynbee, “writing in the Guardian last week”:,13812,1134965,00.html also deplored attack-dog journalism. In doing so, she placed a lot of the blame at the door of Alastair Campbell. She’s no doubt right to make this point, though it can be overstated. It has greater merit as a point about the hypocrisy of Blair’s and Campbell’s indignation towards the BBC given their own embracing of the culture of spin and counterspin than it does as an explanation of why we have the bad journalism we have. I’m certainly reluctant to come out and defend Campbell, and in any case I don’t think a game of “he started it!” is going to be very productive. I do think it worth saying two things, though. First, many of those who claim that Campbell is something new on the bullying and manipulation front seem to have forgotten some of his predecessors. (Notably Bernard Ingham who was worse in may ways.) Second, the “why is the lying bastard lying to me” school of journalism isn’t plausibly represented mainly as a response to Campbell and his ilk since we see it in so many contexts other than coverage of the Labour government. Press coverage of just about any large institution is now predicated on the assumption that that institution (school, hospital, university, company) is a conspiracy of the self-serving and that all utterances by its representatives are to be taken as mendacious lies (unless proven otherwise).

I imagine that some — including some of my fellow contributors — may believe that lying mendacity _is_ a good working assumption. I’m not _certain_ that they are wrong. But I do think that we can’t have a decent (social-) democratic political culture without sober commentary, honest reporting, a commitment to truth-telling as opposed to a hunger for exposure, spin and counterspin, smear and countersmear. When “Onora O’Neill gave one of her Reith lectures”:,3604,707820,00.html on the trust and covered the press, “I was pretty sceptical on my blog”: . I rather think I should have said more to emphasise what was right in her account.



harry 02.03.04 at 4:31 pm

My take on this is deeply coloured by my experience of a supine and largely incompetent broadcast journalism here in the States. Politicans simply do not have to answer hard questions, unless they are regarded by the journos as unelectable. TV journalists rarely know much about their subjects, interviews are scripted, blah blah. It’s awful.

I’d never defend the British print media — apart from the FT there’s nothing there to rival the NYT or WP, and even the WSJ is good if you keep off its op-ed page. But it does seem to me that the cost of a tough, agressive, and effective broadcast media is that soemtimes it will over-reach. Sure the BBC fucked up with Gilligan, and in much more minor ways Today and Newsnight can be irritating and sub-par. But to prevent them from ever overreaching would have a chilling effect that would render them much less effective, and hand an undesirable amount of power to politicans over how they are presented. Anyway, that’s my fear — its that Brits who are rightly critical of the BBC’s handlign of Gilligan are comparing the BBC with some ideal aency wrather than with the feasible alternatives.


david 02.03.04 at 4:44 pm

“The reason the BBC came a cropper over Hutton was that some of its journalists failed to distinguish between truth-seeking and point-scoring, adopted the mindset of their print brethren, and over-reached.”

Hardly. The BBC changed the early report, which would never have been changed in the print media, and which in any event looks a lot better than the Blairites explanations.

You have a point about the rest, but this is the wrong issue on which to make it. The Hutton report is a piece of shit, false throughout, and it’s hard to see how the BBC’s rather obvious revelations on the war spin equates to bribing Arkansas troopers to tell sex stories about their boss, or to hounding Blair about the MMR jab.


Matthew 02.03.04 at 4:45 pm

Blair has had terrible coverage recently, and the Cheriegate thing struck me as no more than blatant sexism. However it’s not a particularly new thing, John Major surely received just as bad, or possibly worse press. There’s a name on the tip of my tongue who might be ultimately behind a lot of this cynicism, and he receives an overly generous profile in this week’s LRB (


ahem 02.03.04 at 6:07 pm

The reason the BBC came a cropper over Hutton was that some of its journalists failed to distinguish between truth-seeking and point-scoring, adopted the mindset of their print brethren, and over-reached.

I think you’re guilty of a fallacy of causation here, Chris. Gilligan was hired from the Sunday Torygraph as part of a strategy to revitalise the investigative journalism at the Beeb, and his work was always more ‘Sunday broadsheet’ in character… except that something slapped in the Sundays with minimal, off-the-record attribution, works on a different timeframe and has a different set of editorial standards to that of a 6am trailer report to John Humphreys. That’s partly because ministerial conversations with the staff of the Sundays play a significant role in advancing the political agenda in the UK. (As opposed to your claim that it’s the press who do that.)

That’s to say, Gilligan already had the mindset of his ‘print brethren’, because he was one.

It’s curious that Hutton didn’t look at the editorial standards of the Daily Mail, which published Gilligan’s dodgier follow-up. Or assess the way in which Gilligan revised his subsequent reports. But that’s because, as others have said, he took the approach of a mugger who lets the well-heeled pass by before jumping on the more vulnerable.


Bob 02.03.04 at 8:27 pm

The journalists who report and comment in the media doubtless have many motives for what they write or say, not least continuing to earn in living in the style to which they are accustomed in a highly competitive market place. However, one set of reasons for the combination of scepticism and criticism in the media over the government’s conduct of the Iraq war probably relate to:

(a) media people will often pay more attention to the fine detail of a developing news story than perhaps most of the rest of us;

(b) the government’s declared rationale(s) for engaging in the Iraq war have shifted around from the threat to Britain’s security from Iraq’s WMD, as expounded in the government’s dossier of 24 September 2002, through Iraq’s non-compliance with UN resolutions, and then liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyrannical despotism, to Iraq’s development programme for WMD when no WMD have been discovered in Iraq by the US-led Iraq Survey Team;

(c) there was clear evidence in the submissions to the Hutton Inquiry that the Defence Intelligence staff did indeed have reservations and concerns about the final text of the dossier of September 2002:

“Your records will show that as [blanked out] and probably the most senior and experienced intelligence community official working on ‘WMD,’ I was so concerned about the manner in which the intelligence assessments for which I had some responsibilty were being presented in the dossier of 24 September 2002, that I was moved to write formally to your predecessor, Tony Cragg, recording and explaining my reservations.” – from:

We also learned from the Hutton Inquiry that just one week back from the launch of the September 2002 by Blair, to a recalled session of Parliament on 24 September, that Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief-of-staff, had emailed John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee:

” . . First the document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let lone an imminent threat from Saddam. In other words it shows he has the means but it does not demonstrate he has the motive to attack his neighbours let alone the west. We will need to make clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have the evidence that he is an imminent threat . . ” – from:

Chris: “The reason the BBC came a cropper over Hutton was that some of its journalists failed to distinguish between truth-seeking and point-scoring, adopted the mindset of their print brethren, and over-reached.”

The principal reason the BBC came a cropper was the allegation (singular), attributed to Gilligan, that the government made the infamous “45 minute” claim in the September 2002 dossier knowing it to be false. The Hutton Report declared this allegation to be unfounded. But there remain the concerns of the Defence Intelligence staff, as reported to the Hutton Inquiry, and what happened during the week that intervened between Jonathan Powell’s email of 17 September 2002 to John Scarlett and the launch of the dossier in which the claim was made no less than four times that Iraq had the capability to use WMD “within 45 minutes”:

Blair stressed the “45 minutes” in his statement to Parliament:

From Hansard for 24 September 2002:

The Prime Minister: “Mr. Speaker, thank you for recalling Parliament to debate the best way to deal with the issue of the present leadership of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Today we published a 50-page dossier, detailing the history of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme, its breach of United Nations resolutions, and its attempts to rebuild that illegal programme. I have placed a copy in the Library. . . . His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down; it is up and running now. The dossier is based on the work of the British Joint Intelligence Committee . . . The intelligence picture that they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative. It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes . . That is the assessment, given to me, of the Joint Intelligence Committee. In addition, we have well founded intelligence to tell us that Saddam sees his WMD programme as vital to his survival and as a demonstration of his power and influence in the region. . The history and the present threat are real. . . ” – extracted from:

The more surprising then that not only have no militarised WMD been discovered in Iraq but:

“British forces went into battle in the Iraq war without protective equipment against weapons of mass destruction – the very ‘threat’ used by Tony Blair to justify joining the American-led invasion. Not one single tank or armoured vehicle was fitted with the required filter to guard against chemical and biological attacks. And the entire stock of vapour detection kits, needed after a suspected chemical attack, was found to be unusable. An official audit found that many soldiers were issued with NBC (nuclear, chemical and biological) suits of the wrong size, making them useless, as well as ill-fitting respirators.” – from (subscription):

If Blair really believed the WMD were a real threat, how come British troops were sent into battle, six months after the dossier was produced, without the essential equipment for protection against chemical and biological weapons? That is why a further inquiry is necessary.


Paul Gottlieb 02.03.04 at 9:06 pm

This is mostly an intra-tribal fight aming Britons, but I would like to point out one salient fact that is in danger of being overlooked: Without exception, every single factual claim that Mr. Blair made on the subject of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction has proven to be totally false. Every single one! Personally, I would rather be eaten by fire ants than get the kind of “vindication” that Tony Blair has gotten.


james 02.03.04 at 11:31 pm

“Without exception, every single factual claim that Mr. Blair made on the subject of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction has proven to be totally false. Every single one!”

False. Unless you believe Iraq never had, nor used, nor concealed “WMD”. So your statement needs qualifying. Which of course would ruin the effect, wouldn’t it?


james 02.04.04 at 12:06 am

But my main point is this:

every time you hear a journalist complaining/sneering about “spin”, remember this – spin is chiefly a tool of journalists. “Spin doctors” are chiefly a response, indeed a defence, against this tool, wielded by the media for commercial and/or political ends since the end of the (excessively) “deferential” journalistic era.

Shorn of idealism, bored by actual politics, perplexed by those who aren’t and puffed up by a self-image portraying itself as the defender of the public interest and democracy, with the duty to “hold accountable” elected politicians, the default ideology of the journalistic class can now be described as “radical cynicism” (to borrow the phrase of Irish Times columnist John Waters, whose thesis I am at least partly parroting).

I should point out that journalism is a career I may end up in, and that this thesis is offered partly as food for thought, as well as one I do definitely think there is something to.


John Smith 02.04.04 at 1:15 am

Most people criticise Hutton not for what it says about the BBC – which was and, it seems, continues to be, a complete managerial shambles at all levels – but what, against the weight of the evidence, it did not say about the government.

Two facts inform the need relentlessly to pursue Blair: his system of engineered deceit (involving every manipulation of, and economy with, the truth known to man, except, usually, downright lying) – in which the names of Bernie Ecclestone, Geoffrey Robinson, Peter Mandelson, the Hinduja brothers, Jo Moore, Lakshmi Mittal and Paul Drayson, amongst others, play a part – designed to maintain him in power; and his decision to cause the UK to participate in a unjustified pre-emptive war – using his system of deceit as aggressively to further his foreign ambitions as he had his domestic ones.

(The Blair system, I believe, surpasses in effort and effectiveness anything that previous governments have achieved, even under the BBC-loathing Thatcher and Wilson.)

The only reason we know Hutton returned a perverse verdict on the Government is that the evidence he took is publicly available. So let’s be grateful to him thus far.

Not least for the proof in black-and-white of the systematic intimidation of the BBC undertaken by Alastair Campbell and those assisting him. (And, it seems, Blair was happy to step forward personally and put the boot in.)

The Onora O’Neil notion – that those who distrust those in authority on principle are anti-social – is an insidious little piece of evil worthy of Alastair Campbell himself. On a par with the idea that opposition to the policies of the present Israeli government is per se anti-semitic.

I hadn’t remembered the O’Neil piece, but it really is a thoroughly nasty piece of work: Campbell kicks you into conformity, O’Neil guilts you out.

…freedom of expression is for individuals, not for institutions.

And who censors the institutions? What kind of virtual Pol Pot re-education has she in mind?

Better by far Murdoch copy, perverted by commercial self-interest as it is, than the product of a Stepfordised O’Neil media.

One gets from O’Neil a strong whiff of the velvet tyrant Lee Kwan Yew – before whose prodigious speech-chilling operation even Blair’s pales into insignificance.

If only the BBC really did treat them all as ‘lying bastards…’


Jack 02.04.04 at 6:43 am

If journalists are guilty of “radical cynicism” it is also worth contrasting the standards to which the Hutton report held the BBC and the government.

The BBC, a news media organisation which publishes vast volumes of information is found guilty of issuing one exagerated statement, subsequently retracted, that was known mostly as a result of the government’s extreme reaction to it and of failing to deal with the latest in a long line of complaints from Alistair Campbell with sufficient gravity.

The government is allegedly totally vindicated because it relayed what the chiefs of the intelligencce services told them they could say.

In fact the government dossiers have been proven substantially false, filled with materially outdated comment and, depending upon your preference, according to all informed sources either “sexed up” or “over egged”.

It seems to me that a fair comparison between the government and the BBC would either let the BBC off because Andrew Gilligan was relaying what his source said and his superiors approved of it or the government would be found dramatically wanting in its accuracy, its managerial processes and its total lack of accountability and responsiveness.


Bob 02.04.04 at 11:02 am


The split in Britain over the Iraq war isn’t strictly tribal as it extends across both of the two largest political parties. Only the Lib-Dems appear to have been solidly united against the war. The fact is that some political heavy weights in Labour and the Conservatives opposed the war. Some government ministers resigned.

Don’t know how closely you might have followed the public debate here. The reservations and concerns of the Defence Intelligence staff about the September 2002 dossier, as well as of Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief-of-staff, are regarded as an irrelevance by those who wanted war. So is the fact that no WMD have been found in Iraq, even though much was made of the threat to security from the WMD in the original justification. It seems to be more a case of any plausible justification will do and never let the facts get in the way of political spin.

The latest fashionable justification is that it was right to liberate Iraq from Saddam’s despotic tyranny no matter how many thousands of Iraqi civilians get killed in the process. In setting up inquiries into the war in America and Britain, it rather looks as though the intelligence services are going to take the rap over the failure to find any WMD in Iraq. The usual blame game.


Dan Hardie 02.04.04 at 11:33 am

You speak of ‘a string of episodes used by the press (and following them the BBC) to whip up very personal hatred against Blair and those close to him. Other instances of this are the parading of war widow Samantha Roberts across the print and broadcast media…’

Parading, eh? Care to explain the choice of that word? Maybe it’s another irregular verb: ‘I complain about the circumstances of my husband’s death’; ‘You criticise the MoD’; ‘She is *parading* herself across the print and broadcast media’ (or, perhaps, ‘*being paraded* by ruthless svengalis who cynically pretend to believe that British troops in the field should be properly supplied.’ Take your pick.)

I can’t actually see that the Roberts body armour affair is a)anything to do with ‘whipping up personal hatred of Tony Blair’ or b) in any way illegitimate journalism. Responsibility for any undersupply of vital equipment to troops in Iraq surely belongs to senior military officers, MoD civil servants and the Secretary of State for Defence, an admirably competent man named Hoon. The PM would only be responsible if he had personally blocked moves by any of the aforementioned to rectify the problems- something not alleged by anybody, so far as I am aware.

Anyone who knows people who fought in the Gulf can tell you horror stories to compare with Samantha Roberts’s tale: I know of at least two private soldiers who were sent into battle with respirators (gas masks) that didn’t seal properly and would have offered zero protection against chemical agents. The reason that Roberts’s story is almost unique at the moment is that serving military personnel are forbidden to publicly express anything that could be taken as a political opinion. There is a reservist, in civilian life a senior policeman, who has complained that one brigade was so short of chemical detector that he personally took off his gas mask and functioned as a ‘human guinea pig’ during a suspected chemical attack. Oh, sorry for mentioning that. Am I ‘whipping up very personal hatred of Tony Blair’? As it happens, I don’t feel any, but it would be nice if someone could take a look at British military spending and logistical systems, just so that British troops don’t get sent into war zones without decent chemical warfare kit or sufficient body armour. (Functioning radios would be nice, too, and a robust assault rifle. No, I’m not relying on the newspapers, yes I have used this equipment, yes it is rubbish.) Of course, all this trivia pales into insignificance besides university funding, but still…

Criticise Oborne ad hoc genus as much as you like, but if the wife of a British serviceman gets a tape from her now-dead husband complaining that he has had his body armour taken from him before going into combat- I’d say she has a right to go to the press. And I’d say she deserves better than the sneering phrase ‘parading’ from some war-supporting academic. And I’d say that journalists have a right to behave as if the story is important and as if the lives of British servicemen do actually matter. Have some guts, amend your post and apologise to Samantha Roberts.


james 02.04.04 at 11:38 am

“The latest fashionable justification…”

The said justification was one of the stated reasons for the war on the part of the British and American governments and most of the war’s supporters.

You can queston their sincerity, or point out that it was not the main reason, or say it’s an invalid justification. But the idea that this was something argued only when weapons failed to show up is wrong.


Bob 02.04.04 at 11:42 am

“Responsibility for any undersupply of vital equipment to troops in Iraq surely belongs to senior military officers, MoD civil servants and the Secretary of State for Defence, an admirably competent man named Hoon.”

Blair chaired at least two meetings in Downing St about outing Dr David Kelly. How many meetings did he chair to establish whether British troops fighting in Iraq would be protected against chemical and biological weapons, which, he said, could be used within “45 miniutes”?


james 02.04.04 at 11:50 am


Chris can defend himself, but for one thing I’m not sure if he is “some war-supporting academic” – actually, I could be wrong, but I think he opposed the war.

In any case you seem, willfully or not to have misconstrued his comments re Mrs Roberts. You have him accusing her of “parading”; yet the phrase used is “the parading of Samantha Roberts” i.e. by the anti-Blair media. In other words she is being exploited. Not, then, that she is making a show of herself, or that she isn’t entitled to answers.

It’s the same story when the press exploits the grief of the parents of the victims of pedophiles in order to whip up some circulation-boosting witchhunt. And to point that out oughtn’t require apologising to the exploited parents.


TomD 02.04.04 at 12:17 pm

A phrase that may become more prominent as the report is analyzed more deeply (rather than just parrotting its conclusions) is “Not necessary to express an opinion”. That is, Hutton found out a lot of things that make Campbell and the rest of the Government look bad, and he has to include the facts in the report, but he found it “Not necessary to express an opinion” on them.

This allows him to reconcile almost anything, by judiciously ignoring it, with the notion that the Government did scarcely anything wrong.

What is most remarkable to me is the fact that Downing Street staff, with a political brief to make the dossier as threatening as possible, and with no intelligence expertise whatever, were continually giving input into the drafting process; that their suggestions, made purely for political reasons, were almost invariably followed by the intelligence experts; and that Hutton thinks there is nothing wrong about this procedure.

Added to which, lots of things which look bad for the government (such as a second dossier sourced from an obsolete doctoral thesis without attribution) were simply designated as off-limits and not investigated at all.


Bob 02.04.04 at 1:08 pm

“What is most remarkable to me is the fact that Downing Street staff, with a political brief to make the dossier as threatening as possible, and with no intelligence expertise whatever . .”

Absolutely. A trawl through the documentary evidence submitted to the Hutton inquiry makes it clear that Campbell was driving the successive redrafts of the Iraq WMD dossier. The later February 2003 dossier, drafted by Campbell’s outfit in Downing St., was subsequently dismissed by Jack Straw as “a complete Horlicks”. So much for Campbell.


Dan Hardie 02.04.04 at 1:45 pm

James, if I may put you to the elementary trouble of reading my post, you will actually find that I said that Chris’s post could be interpreted as either Mrs Roberts parading herself, or being paraded by the press. You accuse me of only advancing the first interpretation. I further said that, under either interpretation, Mr Bertram’s point was offensive and invalid since a) the story of a British soldier being killed in Iraq possibly due to bad kit supply was a story of such importance that journalists should indeed have given it a lot of space and air-time and that b) the story had nothing to do with ‘whipping up very personal hatred of Tony Blair’ (Chris Bertram’s original charge).

There is no ‘parading’ going on here, James and Chris. A woman- who happens to be bereaved, but is not in any way hysterical- has evidence that her husband was sent into battle having been ordered to give up his body armour, and that he was subsequently shot in the chest (ie the region that body armour protects). No-one has yet questioned this evidence. Journalists have concluded that this is an important story, on its merits. I happen to agree with them, since I hold to the eccentric view that British soldiers should not be deprived of vital equipment in war zones. No part of any story on the subject that I have read has included efforts to whip up ‘very personal hatred of Tony Blair’- although I have read criticism, from Mrs Roberts and others, of a Mr Hoon, allegedly Secretary of State for Defence, who would indeed have Parliamentary responsibility for soldiers’ equipment.

Chris Bertram may or may not be able to defend himself, but certainly he has no need of defenders whose reading comprehension skills are so pitifully weak.


Chris Bertram 02.04.04 at 1:46 pm

Comments rather confirm my suspicion that reactions to Hutton almost entirely depend on what people thought about Blair anyway.

On Dan Hardie: what James said. Those who’ve hung around these parts for a while will know that Dan has a habit of getting overexcited about my posts. I’m sure he could find a better outlet for that excess energy.


Bob 02.04.04 at 3:00 pm

“Comments rather confirm my suspicion that reactions to Hutton almost entirely depend on what people thought about Blair anyway.”

What people think of Blair is incidental. What matters is whether he mislead Parliament and took us into war on false pretences.

Readers may be interested to see the latest intervention on the infamous dossier about Iraq’s WMD by Brian Jones, formerly head of the branch within the Scientific and Technical Directorate of Defence Intelligence Staff that was responsible for the analysis of intelligence from all sources on nuclear, biological and chemical warfare:

“The intelligence official whose revelations stunned the Hutton inquiry has suggested that not a single defence intelligence expert backed Tony Blair’s most contentious claims on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

“As Mr Blair set up an inquiry yesterday into intelligence failures before the war, Brian Jones . . declared that Downing Street’s dossier, a key plank in convincing the public of the case for war, was ‘misleading’ on Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological capability. Writing in today’s Independent, Dr Jones, who was head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) until he retired last year, reveals that the experts failed in their efforts to have their views reflected.

“Dr Jones, who is expected to be a key witness at the new inquiry, says: ‘In my view, the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002, resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq’s capabilities.'”
– from:

See also:,2763,1140665,00.html,,1-988941,00.html

For the BBC news report on today’s debate in Parliament:

The Iraq dossier with its claim that WMD could be used within “45 minutes” is here:


Dan Hardie 02.04.04 at 3:11 pm

Feeble, Chris, even by your standards. I would love to sit in on one of your tutorials: ‘I’m right because I say I’m right, and furthermore, I’m older than you’ is the standard I would expect.

Having said that, my heart has been torn by the recent accounts of rampant poverty among Britain’s academics, so if Chris can provide a single piece of evidence supporting his claim that Mrs Roberts’s complaints about lack of body armour, or press reporting of same, are in fact efforts at ‘whipping up very personal hatred of Tony Blair’, I promise to send £50 to any fund that exists to buy food and clothing for the ragged dons of Bristol- or any other charity nominated by Mr Bertram. That would mean you would have to back an argument up with evidence, Chris, as opposed to hand-me-down rhetoric, so I’m not worried that I’ll have to pay up.


james 02.04.04 at 5:39 pm


I realised you also mentioned, albeit parenthetically, the alternative (and correct) version of what Chris said. Nonetheless, since Chris’s remarks clearly, unambiguously related to criticism of the media and not of Mrs Roberts, I can see only two possible reasons for suggesting, and seemingly favouring, the contrary – a mistaken reading on your part, or an attempt at a smear.

Presumably the latter, since you maintain that the post “could be interpreted as either…”. Well, yes, it COULD be interpreted as either. But not in good faith.


Bob 02.04.04 at 9:57 pm

We now know definitively:

– Iraq’s supposed WMD in the government’s dossier of September 2002 related to small calibre, battlefield weapons, not to long-range, stratgeic weapons capable of reaching Britain or even the British base in Cyprus.

– Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, knew this before the war started: Tony Blair by his own claim did not. Nothing was said to disabuse the media or public of misapprehensions.

– “But on the 45 minutes there is not missing intelligence. Dr Jones saw all the intelligence there was to see on it, so incidentally did Lord Hutton,” according to Blair.

Source for the above:,,1-988941,00.html

For reference:

Dr Brian Jones, who was head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) until he retired last year, “declared that Downing Street’s dossier, a key plank in convincing the public of the case for war, was ‘misleading’ on Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological capability. . . ‘In my view, the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002, resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq’s capabilities.'” – Source:

On this evidence, I’m bound to conclude that Gilligan was on substantially the correct track in suggesting the drafting in the government’s dossier on Iraq’s WMD exaggerated the threat to Britain. What more “proof” is needed? It seems that Gilligan is owed an apology.

What we still haven’t got to the bottom of is how come, if the threat of WMD was as great as claimed, British troops were sent to Iraq without equipment to withstand an attack by biological or chemical weapons?


Dan Hardie 02.05.04 at 3:05 pm

To make the offer again: if Chris Bertram can come up with one piece of evidence that would convince a reasonable person that Samantha Roberts’s complaints about the circumstances of her husband’s death, or press reporting of said complaints, amount to ‘whipping up very personal hatred of Tony Blair’, I shall send £50 to a charity of Chris Bertram’s choice. No, £100. And, if asked, I will mail the cheque to Chris c/o the University of Bristol Philosophy Department. And I will never again trouble Chris by commenting on one of his posts. Come on, Chris- has to be worth it. You can’t possibly have made your assertion about the Roberts story being an effort at ‘whipping up very personal hatred of Tony Blair’ without *any evidence at all*, now can you?

To James, Chris’s representative on earth: you accused me of not saying something, now you admit that I did say it but reproach me for having done so ‘parenthetically’. If you can’t read anything in brackets, that’s sad, but most of us don’t have that problem. Bertram’s poorly expressed original post spoke of the ‘parading’ of Samantha Roberts- meaning that either she paraded herself, which is clearly offensive, or that she was the dupe paraded by the press, which is also clearly offensive. It went on to say that the only reason for the prominence of the Roberts story in the media was as part of a campaign of ‘whipping up very personal hatred of Tony Blair’. Might I point out that some British journalists, and a great many of their readers and viewers, do actually feel that regardless of the rights and wrongs of the recent war, British soldiers should not be deprived of vital equipment such as body armour? Has it crossed your mind, James, that so far from ‘parading’ or ‘being paraded’,Mrs Roberts is actually making a legitimate complaint about her husband being sent into battle with grossly inadequate equipment- as he himself complained in his taped journal? It may well be a bit of a stretch for you to imagine a working-class woman- and the wife of a soldier, at that- as an intelligent, autonomous individual making a case that deserves to be listened to on its own merits…but try, James, try. Just imagine that Samantha Roberts is the bereaved widow of an academic, or something else reassuringly middle-class.


Dan Hardie 02.05.04 at 3:11 pm

‘Bereaved widow’ is of course tautologous. £100 to charity: offer still stands.


Chris Bertram 02.05.04 at 4:38 pm

Selective quotation again, Dan. The original sentence ended “Blair and those close to him.” Which, arguably, includes those politically close to him such as Hoon. I’m afraid the Daily Mail and the MoS don’t have online editions (afaik), but the point I was making and that you wilfully refuse to understand is that the parading of this woman _by the press_ is just one episode of many designed to make Blair and his circle look unfeeling, shifty, dishonest etc etc. Drip, drip, drip … each drop has an effect on public perception.

I’m all for holding Blair and the Blairites to account. But imho, this episode wasn’t about exposing their real failings at all, but was a nasty piece of rhetoric on the part of the newspapers concerned.


Dan Hardie 02.06.04 at 11:46 am

Chris Bertram Summarised:
The BBC should not have made assertions for which they had insufficient evidence. I assert that reporting of the death of Sgt Roberts, and his wife’s complaints about same, amount to ‘whipping up hatred against Tony Blair and those close to him’, for which assertion I have precisely no evidence. So long as I say ‘imho’ the matter may be considered settled. If the media grant prominence to the apparently factually well-founded complaints of Sgt Roberts’s widow, I shall accuse them of ‘parading’ her. No, I shall not explain why I do not use a less loaded word, nor consider the possibility that she is not a mindless dupe being ‘paraded’ but an individual making a choice to complain publicly about a matter of great importance.

I do believe that the the Blairites should be held accountable, but I do not say for what, by whom, and in what manner, since this would make it rather harder for me to pretend that reporting of equipment shortages in combat zones is illegitimate journalism. I shall state that it is not possible for me to back up my arguments by quotation by saying that the Mail has no online archives, conveniently forgetting that the BBC, which I also accuse of ‘whipping up hatred’, has excellent online archives. I shall state that criticism of the Secretary of State for Defence for failings in military supply amounts to ‘whipping up hatred of Tony Blair and those close to him’ since the Defence Secretary is after all in the Cabinet and thus ‘arguably close’ to Tony Blair. I leave open the question of whether all criticisms of Cabinet Ministers shall also be considered efforts to ‘whip up hatred’. Intelligent argument is for the birds.


Chris Bertram 02.06.04 at 11:57 am

A masterly and fair-minded summary of all I believe on the subject, Dan. Couldn’t have put it better myself! In fact I owe you a debt of gratitude for stating so clearly opinions that I was merely groping towards in my incompetence. Thank you so much.

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