By Nicole Ashford
So, did Alastair Campbell sex up that dossier? It's a question that brings to mind oft-quoted lines about the Pope and bears. Come on. Alastair Campbell is paid to sex up Government information. That's his job. The idea that on this occasion, with public opinion split on the war and Tony Blair desperately needing to win round his own MPs, Campbell sat back, put his feet up and tossed the dossier back with a "Looks fine to me" is laughable.
If you want evidence for the Government's behaviour, look no further than ex-minister Lewis Moonie. He turned up on the "Today Programme" this week to claim the Government had a duty, no less-once it decided to accept the intelligence that Iraq had WMD-to spin the case for war to the best of its ability. His comments are telling (although as a supporter of Gordon Brown Moonie has his own agenda in the factional world of Blair's court).
Campbell's diversionary tactic of laying into the "Today Programme" reporter Andrew Gilligan, though, has had some success. Instead of debating the rights and wrongs of the Government's case for war, the media coverage of the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry was dominated by a slanging-match between Downing Street and the BBC. As we go to press, the Committee has been taking evidence from the alleged MoD mole, Dr David Kelly, while the BBC is steadfastly refusing to reveal its sources.
It's easy to understand why Blair and company are annoyed. They put Greg Dyke-a big Labour donor-in charge of the BBC as Director-General. They put another crony-Gavyn Davies-in as Chairman of the Governors. And this is how the ungrateful recipients of New Labour's largesse repay their erstwhile patrons, by questioning the Word of Tony.
In fact, the controversial Andrew Gilligan report is far from typical of the Corporation's coverage. If you look at the evidence of how the BBC reported the war with Iraq-as the Cardiff University School of Journalism has done-you get a somewhat different picture to that conjured up by Campbell. Their researchers say: "The BBC emerges as generally more respectful and sympathetic towards the Government than other broadcasters. It was Channel 4 News-the venue Alastair Campbell chose to attack the BBC-that was consistently the most questioning of Government information."
The BBC was most likely to use the British Government as a source of information, and less likely than the other three channels to use independent sources like the Red Cross-many of whom were critical of the war effort (Channel 4 used such sources three times more often than the BBC, Rupert Murdoch's Sky twice as often).
It was less likely to report Iraqi casualties than the other channels: 44 per cent of Channel 4's reports about the Iraqi people were about civilian casualties, compared with 30 per cent on Sky, 24 per cent on ITN, and only 22 per cent on the BBC. The head of the research team, Professor Justin Lewis, said: "It's clear to accuse the BBC of an anti-war bias fails to stand up to any serious or sustained analysis."
So, as the hot air of the Campbell-Gilligan affair begins to waft away, what have we learnt? That the "Today Programme" offers controversy with the cornflakes, that Alastair Campbell has created a smokescreen to hide the real story of the Government's dishonesty, that the security services now and again like to stitch up the politicians, and that you can still rely on Auntie to protect the "national interest" in a time of war. Oh, and what was that about the Pope again?