Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE CULTURE OF SPIN....Following up on the Hutton inquiry post just below, one of the most remarkable things to come out of the inquiry is that apparently everyone including David Kelly thought that the bulk of the "dossier" was pretty good, pretty solid stuff. In other words, telling the plain truth probably would have been sufficient.

So while Alastair Campbell may not have been directly responsible for inserting the doubtful 45-minute claim, there's not much question that the aggressive culture of spin he brought to his job as press secretary was ultimately responsible for the exaggerations in the dossier. They just had to put a few cherries on top, even though they probably didn't have to.

And Tony Blair knows it. Campbell is stepping down from his post, but it's not just Campbell who's leaving, it's the entire culture he brought with him, where the press secretary is responsible for everything that issues forth from the government:

This afternoon's appointments follow this morning overhaul of No 10's media machine, which saw the civil service take back overall control of the government's communications operations following the departure of Tony Blair's all-powerful press chief, Alastair Campbell.

The creation of a new post of permanent secretary with responsibility for "communications across government" is one of the recommendations of the Phillis communications review, that Downing Street today announced it was to implement in full.

As predicted David Hill will become Mr Blair's new communications director, but he will be junior to a civil servant and will not inherit Mr Campbell's powers to direct civil servants.

Billed as a break with "spin", the overhaul follows Friday's announcement of the departure of Mr Campbell, the prime minister's long-serving "spin doctor".

The "Phillis communications review" includes the following observation:

The review group says research and other evidence suggests the way the media have responded to a more proactive government communications strategy has led to a culture of claim and counter claim.

"This adversarial relationship between government and the media has resulted in all information being mistrusted when it is believed to have come from 'political' sources," says its report.

"The public now expects and believes the worst of politicians and government, even where there is strong objective evidence in favour of the government's position."

Exactly. Even though most of the Iraq dossier was a reasonable summary of intelligence agency opinion, the fact that it had been put through the Alastair Campbell wringer gave it less credibility than it would have had otherwise. What's more, David Kelly knew it, and was upset that the credibility of a good report about someone he considered "uniquely evil" had suffered because Campbell just couldn't leave well enough alone.

Alastair Campbell will not be missed.

Kevin Drum 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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