Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GILLIGAN/KELLY/BBC UPDATE....I have both a mea culpa and a (probably unoriginal) observation about the Gilligan/Kelly/BBC affair.

First, I've written a couple of posts suggesting that if you look at what Gilligan actually said on BBC radio, it's not nearly as bad as his critics have made it out to be. And while I think most of my specific points are still essentially accurate, I found out today that I haven't been working off a complete transcript. In particular, here's the part I missed:

And what we've been told by one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up that dossier was that, actually the government probably knew that that 45 minute figure was wrong, even before it decided to put it in.

....It didn't - the draft prepared for Mr Blair by the intelligence agencies actually - didn't say very much more than was public knowledge already and Downing Street, our source says, ordered a week before publication, ordered it to be "sexed up", to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be, to be discovered.

....our source says that the dossier, as it was finally published, made the intelligence services unhappy, because, to quote the source, he said, there was basically, that there was, there was, there was unhappiness because it didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward - that's a quote from our source - and essentially, the 45 minute point was, was probably the most important thing that was added.

(Italics mine.)

Gilligan's assertion that the government "probably knew that that 45 minute figure was wrong" seems to go much further than anything Kelly told him. Furthermore, saying that the dossier "made the intelligence services unhappy" rather strongly implies that the intelligence chiefs were unhappy, when in fact it was only some members of the intelligence team who were skeptical of the 45-minute claim.

As I said, I don't think this affects any of the specific points I've talked about previously and it certainly doesn't absolve the Blair government of their exaggerations and sloppiness but at a gut level it certainly makes me less sympathetic to Gilligan. Whereas before I criticized him only for "dodgy wording," I now understand that it was rather more than that.

And here's the peculiar part: the reason I never saw this before was because I had been using this transcript of Gilligan's report from the Guardian. But despite the fact that it was billed as a "complete transcript," Gilligan actually spoke twice that morning (May 29) and the Guardian completely left out his first report. I have no idea how they could have done this.

(This wasn't an isolated mistake, either: the Guardian genuinely seems not to have known about this first report. They ran a long article on July 22 explaining the origin of the term "sexed up," saying that "Gilligan never actually uttered the phrase he has become famous for." But he did, and the only reason to write such an article is if you're entirely ignorant of Gilligan's first report.)

And now the observation. It appears that Gilligan used information from a single source that he says he had reason to trust, he tweaked the wording to make it sound a bit more ominous than it was, and in the end it turned out that his specific charges were probably untrue.

But regarding the infamous 45-minute claim, Tony Blair's dossier also used information from a single source that British intelligence says they had reason to trust, they tweaked the wording to make it sound a bit more ominous than it was, and in the end it turned out that their specific charges were untrue.

This leads to a pretty obvious question for both sides: why is it OK for your guy to do this but not the other guy?

Kevin Drum 4:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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