Archive for January, 2004

Russia Said Planning Nuclear Exercise (

The Russian armed forces are about to stage a major transition-to-war exercise simulating a nuclear conflict right up and including test launching several missiles and sending Tu-160 and Tu-22 bombers out on simulated mission profiles over the Arctic and North Atlantic. How very Cold War – I suppose it’ll wake up the radar people at Fylingdales, take their attention off the cups of tea and ciggies. I wonder how this fits with the talk (blogged here) about efforts to “reintegrate” various bits of the old Soviet Union into the Russian state?


I’d like to apologise about the disruption to this blog, which was caused by a missing html tag.

Andrew Gilli-Gone

He’s resigned. Supposedly after the NUJ discovered that many of its members wouldn’t support him. If nothing else, this at least proves what I call the AHAB principle – all hacks are bitches. Journalists have in common with economists, psychoanalysts, bloggers and various other tribes the trait of enjoying nothing more than a good internecine brawl. The Guardian reports that he has already lined up a job in the print media – I think he deserves it. It’s true that he couldn’t really stay once both of the BBC’s leaders were overboard, but I think he deserves some recognition. The non-discovery of WMDs daily gives the lie to the government – does anyone sincerely believe that, after all the documents released through the inquiry, the No.10 press office had nothing to do with it?

Just like salesmen are paid to sell, reporters are paid to break the news. This is the Main Story of the times, and he broke it and gooood.

Thar she blows! – Sydney Morning Herald

A sperm whale weighing 50 metric tonnes has burst in the Taiwanese city of Tainan. It was dead at the time – but it certainly is now!

The motor scooter is the feature that makes it, I think. The whole sad story

remind me of the whale falling from the sky in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is probably why it’s spreading across the web so fast. Technorati Breaking News

After the European Court ruling on subsidies from airports to the airline also known as Eire O’Flot, its chief executive and union basher Michael O’Leary was moved to quote Winston Churchill concerning his planned appeal. “As Churchill said – in defeat, defiance”.


Yes, he did. He said it as part of the “Moral of the Work” introducing his History of the Second World War. What he said was “In war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity. In peace, goodwill.” MOL is not known for magnanimity or goodwill. What is it with WSC and these people?

The BBC Director General, Greg Dyke, has resigned. Link

Staff seen in tears on the steps of Broadcasting House as he read a statement. God, this is getting dramatic again. Lord Ryder, the acting chairman, has issued an apology to the government. And he was a Tory! Some backbone please, somebody?

Mr. Dyke had this to say:

“There is a lot to be said about the Hutton report but I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say it today. I will probably say it or write it at some stage, my views.”

Come on then, get typing!

More things – what became of Susan Watts and the taped interview with Kelly that confirmed Gilligan’s report? It doesn’t appear at all. I suppose she was only a little woman and therefore it wasn’t really a tape? Mind you, she certainly earned the title of the most useless journalist in the world – the first main story of Blair’s Britain and she didn’t even notice it. If she had done, the entire line of the government’s attack would have been kiboshed. But the best thing she could think of to do with the smoking tape was to get her own back because someone had been rude to her at the BBC. I hope she’s happy now. What of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, who wrote to John Scarlett asking him to alter the report? Looking at the Pangloss Papers and the well orchestrated leaks, a lovely bone for the Murdoch press, you might have thought that none of this ever existed. It happened the way the law wanted it.

But it didn’t. I know Jonathan Powell – the representative of the prime minister – wrote to John Scarlett and what he said, because I was there at the inquiry when he said it and when the e-mails were published. I remember him swaggering into the court looking every inch the man of power summoned from rock-climbing to answer the Main Crisis – and being tonguetied when they asked him to give his name for the record. I remember. Even though the inquiry has failed to produce a verdict worthy of any intelligent person’s belief, its process was successful. The truth escaped from the cloisters of Whitehall and went waltzing wildly down the Strand. The problem is now not to forget. Not a word of Hutton’s conclusions are sound. The government will be more dishonest and more arrogant than ever. They will do their best either to destroy the BBC or convert it into a shrunken and untrustworthy state organ. But they cannot do away with history – everyone must remind them at every opportunity. The fight goes on.

The government did not have to give documents to the inquiry. God knows what is in the papers they decided not to reveal.


We welcome two new blogs linking to the Ranter: Disposable Man and The Man who Bought a Field. Links are of course in the links section.

Ironically, given the last paragraph of my last post, I was myself writing in a hurry at the time and some of it might not quite say what I wanted it to. The “perfect example” referred to the situation where the only reason for mis-reporting was pressure of time and the need sometimes to publish material of public interest that cannot yet be fully verified. (thought experiment – had The Guardian not gone public on the Aitken/Hamilton scandals, would we ever have got to the bottom of them? And would any of the perps have gone to jail? But Alan Rusbridger had to take the decision to report a story that at the time was partly source-verified and partly suspicion. After publication, the corroborating material was smoked-out and all concerned ascended to hack legend status.) Also, I had to move the phrase “in this case they should be corrected as soon as possible”, and it reads strangely. And there is a full stop missing.

A few points I jotted on in the dark watches of the Night after the Whitewash…for a start, Lord Hutton argues that the 0607 broadcast was “unfounded” on the grounds that Andrew Gilligan could not know that the government had included the 45 minutes claim knowing it to be false. Now, the content of this deserves close examination. The claim that Iraq was capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes’ notice – that Iraqi nuclear, biological or chemical forces were on 45 minutes’ readiness – is demonstrably false. Even if a bomb was finally discovered, we now know that it would not have been ready for use at short tactical notice – none of the operational preparations, infrastructure or people have been found. The claim is false. Enough already! This was, if not as obvious as now, still pretty clear when the report went out in the small hours. Gilligan has so far been vindicated by the final test of reality.

What about the question of intent? The only way either Gilligan or anyone else can know if the government knew this statement was false at the time is if one of those involved was to tell us, or if documentation to that effect was to be discovered. So far, so Hutton. But it is also true that we, and Mr. Gilligan, could certainly know who might have a motive to issue a dodgy dossier, and what the motive might be. We could also know the context, and what the consequences might have been. There were certainly grounds to suspect the government of intent. That would not have been enough, though. To make any statement that was not heavily qualified, some corroboration was needed. And Gilligan had a source who could provide just that. What passed between the two men in the Charing Cross Hotel is between Gilligan and his God, and even Lord Hutton accepted that he could not determine the content of their conversation. But despite having declared his ignorance, Lord Hutton stated that he was satisfied that Dr. Kelly did not corroborate Gilligan’s suspicions. How does he presume to judge a conversation of whose content he is ignorant? It would appear that, in the absence of evidence as to the interview with Dr. Kelly, my lord has presumed that the account the most favourable to the government is true – or in other words, that as there is no evidence proving Mr. Gilligan’s innocence he must be guilty!

Further, his lordship seems to draw a double standard between the agents of the State and the BBC. Mr. Gilligan’s report is unfounded and therefore dishonest because its author could not provide absolute proof of its validity. But the government’s use of the 45-minutes claim is entirely proper, hurrah hurrah and Rule Britannia, because the State in the person of John Scarlett believed it to be true. I think Andrew Gilligan believed his report to be true. The State may base its allegations merely on the belief that an uncorroborated statement is true – but for a journalist to do likewise is evil and dishonest! Lord Hutton seems to believe that it is utterly unacceptable to print or broadcast anything of which one is not utterly certain – but this would rule out practically all investigative reporting. He clearly does not understand journalism, and seems not to have fully internalised the realities of the news media. Andrew Gilligan, Kevin Marsh, and Richard Sambrook did not have eight leisurely months to ruminate over the nicest nuances of proof – they had to get out the news. Journalism, especially broadcast journalism, is an operational process subject to the constant pressure of time and determined by its technology. Sometimes the imperatives of publication and the critical function of the media in an open society mean (to take a perfect example) that mistakes are made. In this case they should be corrected as soon as possible. The BBC did in fact correct the wording of the report made at 0607 on the fateful day, which was not in fact a report but a discussion (a two-way). Perhaps they ought to have issued an official, explicit mea culpa. But I don’t believe that this would have prevented the affair. The Government was gagging to bash a reporter and I suspect the point of no return had already been passed.

The seminal distinction of facts and comment is at the heart of this case; I suppose the suspicion of falsehood was comment, and should have been flagged as such, but what if the reporter in question believed it to be factual? The distinction of language would have been only noticed by the trade anyway.