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投稿者 木村愛二 日時 2003 年 7 月 27 日 16:39:24:



Twists in Kelly tale get press in a tangle

In the rush to pursue the fallout from the scientist's death, the papers forgot to get their stories straight, says Peter Preston

Sunday July 27, 2003
The Observer

Downing Street had two words for it. 'Wishful thinking' - as in, Alastair Campbell may be 'buckling under pressure', holding 'intensive talks' about his

future, or on the way out (depending whether your source is the Mail/Guardian/BBC). But the wishful thinking didn't start there.

This entire affair, remember, was supposed to be about balanced reporting, double sourcing and fair comment, the very negation of spin and anonymous smear. It was a debate about the standards of British journalism.

So go back eight mornings, to the Daily Mail on the day after Dr David Kelly's body was found. There, this 'softly spoken, unassuming civil servant' is 'believed to have cracked after being subjected to intolerable pressure by the ruthless Downing Street spin machine... exploited, exposed and forced to endure a brutal grilling by MPs'. And that's just David Hughes, political editor, doing his balanced news bit.

Geoffrey Levy's feature tells us that 'the dignity [Kelly] wore with such casual grace was no less fragile than the shoots of the exotic vegetables he grew in his greenhouse'. Tara Conlon has 'senior government sources' fingering alternative moles. Paul Dacre's leading article pronounces Kelly 'a brilliant scientist driven to desperation by... New Labour's demented vendetta against the BBC'.

Kelly was probably an innocent man, then, fitted up by Blair's forces of malignity? The Daily Mail's central dilemma - who do we hate more, Campbell, or the BBC? - is settled for at least 24 hours, until the Beeb does indeed name Kelly as Andrew Gilligan's main source. Time for a course adjustment.

Geoff Hoon is smirking for cameras at a Silverstone jolly. He gets it in the neck. Meanwhile Melanie Phillips rails against 'our putrid political culture' until - round about column four - she suddenly acknowledges the merest possibility that Kelly lied to the select committee, that 'maybe he did tell Mr Gilligan or Ms Watts [of Newsnight] what they reported'. Even though 'that would be entirely out of character for such an honourable man'. The first tremor of either/or.

No such problems on the Sun, where the troubled 'questions' of Saturday suddenly turned into macro rant. 'YOU RAT'. That's a 'desperate' Gilligan, belaboured for 'branding suicide victim Kelly a LIAR' (by sticking by his story). The headlines speak for themselves. 'Heads must roll at the BBC ... Beeb's lies "drove Kelly to end his life"'. Trevor Kavanagh wants Gilligan, (director of news) Sambrook, (director-general) Dyke and (chairman) Davies to quit for starters. They made 'an innocent bystander pay with his life'. Cue leader comment: 'A decent family man lies dead. The BBC is in the gutter'. Cue chief reporter John Kay profiling 'Mr Gullible' (or Gilligan) and quoting impeccable sources like 'a close colleague' and 'a defence correspondent'.

The curse of Murdoch? A telephone call from New York ringing in the middle of the night? Anyway, here comes the Thunderer. 'BBC in crisis as Blair mood swings' announces a Times lead headline on Monday morning. An anxious editorial duly adds some 'tough questions' about the standards of institutional Britain. One morning later, as the paper led on a tale proclaiming the 'First crack in unity of BBC board', you could sense those questions coming home to roost.

But were they? The Guardian brings news of contemporaneous notes from three BBC correspondents about their conversations with Kelly, all to be submitted to Lord Hutton's inquiry. And then there seems to be a tape of Kelly talking to Susan Watts about a Government 'obsessed' with justifying 'an immediate Iraqi threat' which may be of some help, too. The Telegraph proclaims Kelly a significant player who saw all the top MI6 information. 'In fact [he] compiled the assessment of which weapons and weapons-making equipment or materials Iraq had and the methods Saddam Hussein was using to hide them.' He's looking like a 'credible intelligence source' again.

So the subtexts begin to dominate. By Thursday, the Sun has fallen silent, but the Guardian (like the Telegraph) thinks 'Downing Street and Rupert Murdoch want revenge on the corporation'. No one, writes Jackie Ashley (otherwise known as Mrs Andrew Marr), 'should be in any doubt that New Labour is deliberately menacing the independence of one of the bastions of British pluralism'. Otherwise known as Mr Jackie Ashley.

Nor, according to the Telegraph's media editor, should we forget that 'Tom Baldwin, the Times's political writer, is a close friend of Campbell, but has been allowed to write a string of virulently anti-BBC news and comment pieces.'

The forces of darkness, east and west, join hands. Rupert plans to rule, not OK? But here's where the grosser plots start to flake. The Telegraph, on that same day, carries two virulently anti-BBC comment pieces itself (followed bemusingly by battling Boris Johnson defending Andrew Gilligan and attacking the paper's leader line). The Mail diary belabours 'chief boot-licker' Baldwin. Everybody hates everybody else.

Meanwhile, readers may gradually be forming their own, more quizzical view of unrolling events. They may, reading Kelly's testimony to the select committee, find it economical with the actuality. Demonstrably so, once his three BBC sources were free to break cover.

That doesn't make him some pariah, just an honest, well-informed whistle-blower. But not quite the plaster saint pottering round his vegetable garden that the Mail (and others) saw from day one. He has become a more complicated and human figure. So, are Campbell and Hoon trapped in some kind of time warp, still being pursued as the betrayers of the innocent Mk1 Kelly rather than the whistle-blowing Mk2 version?

And those media manipulators? Maybe Mr Murdoch lays down the law to his editors. Or maybe these are the Guardian's usual 'hallucinatory ramblings' (according to Les Hinton, Rupert's supreme envoy to the United Kingdom). Maybe the Mail can't tell its own spin from its elbow any longer. Maybe the Telegraph, with its picture of a 'chastened Hoon' emerging from his meeting with Mrs Kelly, had some special transcript of what was said - or maybe 'chastened' just means looking glum.

The plain fact, however, is that nobody from start to finish through these past few dramatic days has contrived to produce identifiable sources beyond the tragic doctor. Some single sources - like 'a defence correspondent' on the Sun - are laughable by any standards. Few of them - even in an oddly energetic FT - have managed to stick with the same line much beyond 24 hours at a stretch. It all looked so certain. But then something else happened and the agendas you first thought of turned to puddles of muddle.

Sinister forces pulling strings? More like tangled in them. The alleged fall of Campbell ('I Quit') only makes page four of the Mail a week later. If a newly pro-active Press Complaints Commission decided to hold its own inquiry into factual accuracy here, what would it conclude? A mass plea of guilty? Ten years for Trevor Kavanagh, Mr Gullible 2?

When the American press pursued Bill Clinton, we sniffed censoriously. How crude and cruel. But now all the potential winners of the Lewinsky Prize 2003 are Fleet Street veterans; and Libby Purves may have said it best in the Times, lamenting the toe-curling repugnance of 'the media and Westminster-media world: excitable, angry, self-righteous, ever-eager to dish it out and reluctant to take it'. We chase and we wish to slay the dragons we first thought of; but we do not always stop to think.

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