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Home > Politics

Hutton: revenge of the nerds

7 February 2004

The Hutton inquiry and subsequent report have been a gruesome triumph of nerdy detail over common sense - rather like producing a voluntary code of conduct for Turkish heroin gangs, and just as worthwhile.

Melanie McDonagh neatly summed up one aspect in the Observer:

"The very idea that the BBC might lose its independence because of inexact wording by a single reporter during a live broadcast lasting two and a half minutes at 6.07am - it's just silly."

Quite. Journalists get things wrong. Some of them get things wrong because they're arrogant little shits who subscribe to the cult of sensationalism. This isn't a new problem. It's not even a sackable one in most media outlets - look at the almost universal media hysteria over MMR jabs (an example where reliable scientific opinion repeatedly warned that the original research was deeply flawed).

Meanwhile those who supported the war in Iraq seem to miss the point, treating Hutton's report as a clean bill of health for the government, while ignoring much bigger issues that are staring them in the face. The (pro-war) Economist notes:

Alastair Campbell was cleared of any inappropriate interference with the dossier: it was reasonable for him to be involved in strengthening the wording of the document as long as Mr Scarlett accepted only changes that were consistent with the intelligence services' assessment.

But was it appropriate for Campbell to be 'strengthening' the wording in the first place? Campbell, it has been shown, is totally partisan and, on a personal level, bullish and aggressive. Given that the evidence for WMD was confused in the first place, it was an obvious opportunity to produce a dossier that told Tony Blair what he wanted to hear. Not necessarily by making things up or lying by omission (although that seemed to go on) but by tinkering with the precise meaning of various statements.

With a new, wider-ranging inquiry in the pipeline, maybe we'll discover what the relationship between politicians and the joint intelligence committee really is. But after Hutton, why bother?

In this case - by simple virtue of the fact that no WMD have been discovered - the intelligence quite clearly was not much good. In fact it was completely wrong. And yet it was acted on. It's like saying 'I know I failed my exams but I believed that the answers I was giving were right, and so I should have passed.' It's an argument that wouldn't wash with any GCSE exam board, and it
won't wash with people who (justifiably) believe that settling scores with Saddam was on Bush's agenda long before the issue of WMD came up.

And now Blair is arguing that any further inquiries must be limited in their scope and not address 'political' decisions about the war. Presumably decisions that might be in some way related to the question of why a prime minister who is desperate to be an international statesman and make his mark on history goes to war on obviously flawed intelligence to support a US president who could help advance his career and ego.

Cynical, maybe. But at least it's a real question, unlike Hutton's 'Who should take the blame for everything? The BBC, the BBC, or the BBC?'

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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