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Hutton Inquiry « Previous | |Next »
September 23, 2003

In this piece by Gerard Henderson about the Hutton Inquiry Henderson observes that:

"The Hutton inquiry is regarded as providing a unique insight into the operations of democratic governments - political leaders and their advisers, bureaucrats, the military, even security services. Much of the material which has come before it would not normally become public for 30 years. Some information concerning security would never be released in the normal course of events. Little wonder, then, that Lord Hutton's deliberations have attracted such interest."

Gerard moves onto the light thrown on the media practices of the BBC by the Hutton Inquiry. I want to stay with the murky role of ministerial advisors and how Alastair Campbell, then the Blair Government's director of communications, understands it. He says that his role in the writing of the Blair Government's dossier was concerned with editorial presentation. Campbell says that he was asked by John Scartlett, the Senior intelligence official,
Steve Bell 2003
to provide presentational advice on the draft dossier on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Campbell says:

"...what the Prime Minister expected of me in this particular communications exercise, if you like, was to perform my role, which I traditionally would perform, on something which crosses Departments, which is the role of coordination. The second point is that this was a document that was to be presented to Parliament and to the public, not just at home but also overseas. It was a major communications exercise. The other point I would make is that the Joint Intelligence Committee, for very obvious reasons, do not have the expertise or the personnel to do that kind of job."

Campbell then adds in response to some questioning from Lord Hutton that this was a document that Tony Blair:

"...was presenting to Parliament. He was going to have to be answerable to Parliament for every word in it. Equally, those of us whose job it is to help the Prime Minister and other Ministers put the Government's case to the media and, through them, to the public were going to have to be on top of the detail; and I would say that I was making presentational points in accordance with the job that the Prime Minister and Mr Scarlett had asked me to do."

Editorial presentation. That is how Alastair Campbell understands rhetoric, political spin or sexed up. It was devising ways to enable the PM to take all the questions from MP's upon it, and to be answerable to Parliament and the public for its contents.

Campbell disengeniously says that it was not presenting a particular case for a particular policy in relation to Iraq. All that was being doing was setting out the facts on Iraq's WMD as the British Government understood them to be. So there was just facts not rhetoric or interpretation. A director of political communications just presenting the facts? Just being concerned with clarity? Just removing the inconsistencies?

Hardly. Campbell was very consciousof the the expectations surrounding the publication of the dossier were huge and that the media and Parliamentarians were likely to pore over every word. So a lot of effort went into the words and the sense with an eye to persuading a sceptical readership and shift public opinion.

The spin is in the very first line of defence. Spin? Me my lord? As you read through the transcript a lot of emphasis is being given to interpretation----what Campbell calls 'the point is weak and it can be strengthened. Here are some words to do the job.' The editorial presentational devices include rhetoric---presenting the case in order to persuade. The rhetoric and persuasion --the spin---is downplayed. Campbell's political instincts say that it is best to wear the mask of a British empiricist. It is the classic rhetorical appeal to the commonplaces of the culture.

There's the Blair spin machine at work. It never actually expresses what is going on.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)