Stephen Glover: Press were wrong on Iraq

On the press: Why won't the British press come clean about its mistakes over Iraq?

The British press does not like apologising when it gets things wrong, and the bigger the mistake, the greater the reluctance to say sorry. I am still awaiting an apology from those newspapers that assured their readers, before the invasion of Iraq, that there was absolutely no doubt that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

That, you may say, was the prevailing view among weapon inspectors, and it was certainly held by the Government and the Tory front bench. But there were some serious doubters. For example, Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden wrote in The Times, on 17 February 2003, which was five weeks before the invasion of Iraq: "Saddam has very few, if any, long-range missiles." Nonetheless, several papers, most notably The Sun, The Times and The Daily Telegraph, continued to write about WMDs as though they were a proven fact, very possibly capable of hitting British bases in Cyprus.

All this came back to me last week when I read about a new book called The Way of the World, by the American writer Ron Suskind. There are several serious allegations concerning the Iraq war in Mr Suskind's book, not all of them necessarily well-founded, but one particular story concerning The Sunday Telegraph undoubtedly is.

On 14 December 2003, the paper carried a long article about a letter purporting to be from the head of Iraqi Intelligence to Saddam. It appeared to demonstrate a link between Saddam and al-Qa'ida, and in particular to Mohammed Atta, who masterminded the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre. The Sunday Telegraph piece was written by Con Coughlin, the paper's then Middle East expert. With a scintilla of a reservation, he accepted the letter's authenticity.

The piece attracted considerable attention in America, and provided the White House with a new, and most welcome, pretext for having invaded Iraq. The trouble is that the letter was a forgery. Mr Suskind suggests it was the work of the White House, an allegation that is vehemently denied. Its authorship need not detain us here. The point is that The Sunday Telegraph published an article, admittedly in good faith, based on a falsehood.

Will it now retract the piece? Of course not – just as The Sun is not going to say sorry for informing readers a week before the invasion of Iraq that "Saddam has stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, and he's not going to give them up". (Never forget, by the way, that the paper's proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, spoke three times on the telephone to Tony Blair in the 10 days before the invasion.) As I say, the British press does not like putting the record straight. The New York Times, by contrast, carried a lengthy editor's note, in June 2004, regretting that it had given too much coverage to the proponents of WMDs, and not enough to the sceptics.

An apology is only worthwhile if it conveys an intention to do things differently next time. The lesson we should draw from the Iraq war is that some editors and journalists too eagerly lapped up government propaganda about Saddam and WMDs, sometimes for reasons of ideology, sometimes out of sheer credulousness. If newspapers only said sorry, one might be more confident that they will not do the same again.



By George, there must be another expert ...

Is the environmental campaigner and fierce critic of capitalism George Monbiot the most feted columnist in Britain?

Last Tuesday, the decks were cleared at BBC2's Newsnight so that The Guardian's colossus could totter down Mount Olympus and inform us he had had a change of heart. It was the first item, and we were all agog.

In fact, George's announcement was not obviously earth-shattering. It seemed he had withdrawn his opposition to nuclear power stations. He did not love them, but he was no longer cut up about them. This shift in his views was nonetheless hailed by presenter Gavin Esler as a major development in contemporary thought.

The next morning George was given star-billing by Radio 4's Today programme, as he defended the green movement against the charge (pretty fair, I would have thought) made by Julie Burchill that it is predominantly middle-class, and lacks working-class support.

What is it about George? In a recent interview in this paper, Mark Damazer, controller of Radio 4, referred to the "Radio 4 rep company" – the usual suspects who crop up as guests across the schedule. Perhaps George has a sleeping bag at the BBC, and they keep the fridges stuffed with yoghurts and pulses lest he go hungry.

That reminds me of an experience I once had with George on the train back to Oxford. Or was it a dream? I can see him removing his socks, and putting his splendidly bony feet on the opposite seat. He laboriously reaches for various food containers full of rice and yoghurt, and munches his way through Slough and Reading.

I am perfectly willing to concede that George is a national treasure whose views deserve airing. But I wonder whether there aren't other environmentalists – or antis – who might occasionally be given a shot.

A painful lowering of the 'Standard'

Notwithstanding my main piece, there are occasions when a newspaper has no choice but to apologise. One such is when it alleges that the spouse of the head of state is suffering from a serious illness when he is not.

Last Wednesday, the London Evening Standard splashed with a story that the 87-year-old Duke of Edinburgh is suffering from prostate cancer. Naturally, I believed it. One journalistic acquaintance loyally proposed writing an article on the lines of "Good on you Philip, thanks for everything".

The trouble is that he isn't suffering from prostate cancer – or doesn't know about it. Buckingham Palace went nuclear, and on Friday the Standard was forced to run a front-page apology regretting its false allegation, and breach of his privacy. Wasn't this an appalling cock-up?

scmgox@aol.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss