Journalists (and Blunkett) pour scorn on Simpson

War on terrorism: Media
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The Independent Online

Just as at one time a war was not legitimised until Kate Adie arrived, now it seems a city is not captured until John Simpson leads the invasion force.

In a sentence that will certainly go down in the annals of media history and possibly military history, the BBC World Affairs editor announced on Radio 4's Today programme: "It was only BBC people who liberated this city. We got in ahead of Northern Alliance troops.

"I can't tell you what a joy it was. I felt very proud to be part of an organisation that could push forward ahead of the rest."

As luck would have it, Mr Simpson's words came before an interview between the Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys and the Home Secretary, David Blunkett. As he was introduced, Mr Blunkett, halfway between puzzlement and hilarity, said: "I'm still reeling here from the news that the BBC and John Simpson have taken Kabul." Mr Humphrys, laughing, replied: "Liberated, you mean."

Mr Simpson's career has spanned 32 years, during which he has been gassed in the Iran-Iraq war, sniped at in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and reported from 101 countries. But rarely can he have placed himself quite so squarely at the centre of world affairs.

But his version of events surprised other journalists, particularly his colleagues William Reeve and Rageh Omar, both of whom arrived in the Afghan capital a week before Mr Simpson's own air-punching entrance.

Julian Manyon, ITN's Asia editor, said Kabul was "swarming" with journalists. He added: "One can think of all sorts of comparisons between John Simpson and a B52 bomber, but it's clear which did the most damage in pushing the Taliban."

Mr Simpson had earlier said he and his team were greeted by jubilant scenes as they entered the city by foot, bicycle and taxi. He spoke to the Today programme, BBC Breakfast and BBC News Online. He told BBC Online that earlier in the day, as he was walking a couple of miles ahead of the Northern Alliance troops, local people were going "absolutely crazy". Many were chanting "Death to Pakistan, death to the Taliban" in the aftermath of the Taliban's withdrawal.