A War of Words Breaks Out in Britain
Posted by Mary
Alistair Campbell, Downing Street’s communication director, was questioned this past week about the February dossier in the British foreign affairs select committee. The committee is looking into the accusations that Blair took Britain into the war on Iraq based on doctored intelligence. The BBC had reported that Campbell was responsible for insisting that British intelligence produce a second dossier in February that included the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45-minutes. In the hearing Campbell accused the BBC of propagating they’re own lie by reporting that Campbell was responsible for "sexing up the report".
"The story that I sexed up the dossier, or inserted the 45 minute claim, is untrue," opens Mr Campbell.
He was with Mr Blair, about to board a helicopter for Basra, when the BBC broke Andrew Gilligan's claim. He was also later pulled out of a breakfast between Mr Blair and the Polish prime minister to discuss the claims with John Scarlett.
Mr Campbell says Andrew Gilligan backtracked, and that what the BBC man told the committee last week was "not true". He wants an apology from the BBC, saying Mr Gilligan is now claiming merely that the government exaggerated the 45 minute claim, which is less than the story he initially broke on the Today programme.
"The BBC have broadcast something hundreds of times which is a lie" continues Mr Campbell.
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"I work in a pretty exposed position, but the one thing an elected politician cannot do is lie to parliament" says Mr Campbell - and that is exactly the accusation the BBC and the media are making, he insists.
"The BBC story was and is a lie and until we get an apology for it I will continue to argue for one."
After making his charges that the BBC reporter was lying in the committee, Friday full scale war between Campbell and the BBC broke out. Campbell demanded that the BBC retract the charge. They refused to do so and said that Campbell was trying to intimidate the BBC for their war reporting.
Campbell then took his case to the airwaves. Friday evening he showed up without an appointment at the studios of Channel Four, a principle competitor of the BBC. Visibly angry, he accused the BBC of dishonesty and spreading lies.
Scowling and barely able to control his rage, Mr Campbell mixed up his syntax as he let rip.
"This is an attempt by the government to get the BBC to admit that a fundamental attack upon the integrity of the government, the prime minister, the intelligence agencies - let alone the evil spin doctors in the dark who do their dirty works in the minds of a lot of journalists - let them just accept for once they have got it wrong."
Mr Campbell tore up his own rulebook on spin-doctoring because he is determined to discredit the BBC as the Commons foreign affairs committee completes a report on the government's use of intelligence in the run-up to war.
However, the British press is not easing up on the Blair government. Richard Norton-Taylor writing in the Guardian says that the BBC bruhaha should not obscure the fact that Britain went to war on a false pretext.
Campbell is particularly incensed because the BBC relied on a single, unnamed source for the story that he had added the 45 minute claim. Ironically the same can be said about the "exquisite dossier" that was produced on Campbell’s behest to justify the war.
As the controversy grew over the 45-minute claim, it was said first to come from an Iraqi source "deemed to be reliable", then a "senior Iraqi", and then an "Iraqi general". (Ministers admitted the claim came from a single uncorroborated source, the charge they are now making against Mr Gilligan for his story.)
Whether Alistair Campbell can change the subject will be an item worth watching.