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Creating the anti-war truth

John Rentoul

marsh 198x300 Creating the anti war truthKevin Marsh, who was editor of the BBC Today programme when it broadcast one of the most serious libels in political history, has a book out next week in which he explains how he was sort of right and Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell were totally wrong.

It will play well into the post-Tutu tantrum into which the Blair-ragers have worked themselves, but if they pay close attention they will find that Marsh disagrees with the sainted archbishop:

Does that mean Desmond Tutu is justified in saying that Blair’s case for war was “premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction”? I think not. And for that reason, I’ve never called the dossier or anything in it a “lie” nor accused Tony Blair or Alastair Campbell of “lying”.

Grateful for small mercies and all that, although Marsh goes on to compensate for that outbreak of good sense. But first he says:

Nor did Andrew Gilligan in his infamous broadcasts of 29 May 2003, when he reported the concerns of Dr David Kelly.

Well, Gilligan did not use the l-word, but he said, in effect, that the Government “probably” lied:

The Government probably knew that the forty-five minute figure was wrong, even before it decided to put it in.

This is, of course, er, not consistent with the facts, and no “probably” about it. You would have thought Marsh would know what Gilligan actually said on his programme, but he is not detained by such detail in his blog post – perhaps he analyses it in the book; instead he deploys a rhetorical device worthy of Peter Oborne. Blair and Campbell did not “lie”, he says:

It was much more complex than that. And in at least one important way, very much worse.

What they did, he says, is “create the truth”. A media-studies phrase that he attributes to Peter Mandelson in order, well, to ”create the truth” that the whole New Labour thing was a propaganda machine.

Marsh’s account of the drafting of the September 2002 dossier is fairer and more balanced than most anti-war versions. He rightly attributes the certainty of the document to “groupthink”, although that was more the result of Saddam’s history of obstruction and concealment than of Blair’s history with Milosevic, important as that might have been in sustaining Blair’s confidence in his judgement.

So at least we do not get the “war criminal” nonsense, and some care exercised in accusing people of lying. But Marsh has an interest in proving that what the Today programme alleged in May 2003 was “essentially” true, even though it was false in every specific, which has been the anti-war BBC position ever since, so he simply contradicts by assertion the findings of the Hutton and Butler inquiries, because they do not fit.

Thus we are in the mirror-world, where a many of the people who work or worked for a great institution of journalism continue to defend its publication of falsehoods on the grounds that they reflected some higher truth and, besides, “the decision to take a nation to war is the most grave any democratic government can make”.

And to accuse those whom it defamed of “creating the truth”.

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  • Pacificweather

    If congratulations are due to Blair for supporting the invasion of Iraq to defeat a tyrant, why is not equally condemned for failing to quell the tyrant Mugabe? I would feel better about the the one if his supporters were prepared to condem him for the other easier and likely to be the more successful option.


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