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Tony Blair vs. The BBC: A Spoken-Word Scorecard

     Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee made a lot of points I hadn’t heard before in a conversation this afternoon on the matter of who “sexed up” the story last autumn and winter of Saddam Hussein’s 45-minute trigger on world-threatening weaponry.  Andrew Gilligan of the BBC has famously charged Tony Blair & Company with hyping the not-so-brainy intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs.  Prime Minister Blair has staked honor (and office, perhaps) on his outraged denial.  Big-time bloggers in the US, notably Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit, have argued it was the BBC that long ago declared unscrupulous war on Tony Blair and his alliance with George Bush.  Alas, it took the wrist-slashing suicide of the weapons wiseman David Kelly in mid-July to prompt Lord Hutton’s official inquiry and a wide open debate in the British media as to who conned whom on the way to war in Baghdad.  It’s a free-for-all we ought to be having about American media, too–and not just among bloggers and a very few opinion columnists. 

     Polly Toynbee–writer, broadcaster and grand-daughter of the voluminous Arnold (A Study of History) Toynbee (1889-1975)–says it’s not a simple story of the lonely Beeb biting bravely at the government hand that feeds it.  The driving force in the story, she observes, has been the commercial interest of Rupert Murdoch in media circuses generally and in breaking the BBC brand of international broadcasting for the benefit of his own Sky satellites.  (“Gilligan: The Big Lie” was the headline in Murdoch’s Sun last week on the BBC reporter’s testimony.)  If the BBC and Gilligan sinned at all, in Polly Toynbee‘s view, it was in slipping toward the attack-dog tone that Murdoch has set for the London press–“devious, politicized; nearly all the newspapers are political weapons, mostly directed at the government.”  But as the dust settles, Gilligan’s big story based on David Kelly’s professional misgivings looks solid to her.  Kelly was an honest whistleblower who “thought the evidence in the [WMD] dossier was over-egged, hyped up, sexed up.  And I would guess a lot of other professionals in his line of business thought the same.”  Andrew Gilligan protected the identity of his source.  It was the politicos in the Blair government that named David Kelly as the BBC’s authority, forced him to testify in public and threatened him with charges of violating security before he killed himself.

     Tony Blair himself will testify one day soon in the Hutton Inquiry.  The hot and heavy Web traffic meantime will get moreso when Andrew Sullivan comes off his vacation.  Robert Scheer calls it a witchhunt against the BBC.  John O’Sullivan wrote a fair and balanced piece at NR Online.  James Bennett casts the bloggers’ role in the converging information universe: “In the blogosphere, the sun never sets on the Anglosphere press.”  Boris Johnson had a counter-intuitive view for readers of the Daily Telegraph in London.  Headline: “But Andrew Gilligan Got It Right.”

“…if there were BBC reporters who opposed the war, Andrew Gilligan was not among them. I know, from talking to him while he was reporting from Baghdad, that he supported the enterprise to remove Saddam. He proves, in fact, that it is possible to support the war, and still to have doubts about the evidence submitted for the existence of weapons of mass destruction.”

     Almost everybody on the case has been pithier than The Economist or than Alan Cowell in the New York Times

     Add your own comments, please, but first listen to Polly Toynbee here.

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