The Media Column: 'Apart from the faked photos, Piers Morgan was right about Iraq'

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There are a number of important implications raised by the media coverage of the Butler report..

There are a number of important implications raised by the media coverage of the Butler report. For example, Richard Desmond has obviously given up any thoughts of a peerage from this Government and seriously believes the Conservatives can win the next general election - the Daily Express description of Michael Howard's lacklustre performance in the House of Commons as "electrifying" and "brilliant" read like an order form for ermine.

More seriously, there is the question of culpability and how, as ever, the wages of sin vary between the establishment and those whose job it is to blow the whistle on incompetence in high places. As was pointed out in most of the newspapers, the only casualties through error of judgement during the entire Iraq controversy have been the BBC three and the high-profile editor of a national newspaper. Dr David Kelly, whose death has become a hostage to time in that it has been shuffled from front pages to columns inside, paid the ultimate penalty for doubting the famous dossier's accuracy.

Yet at the time of writing the grass is still green on the other side of the fence. John Scarlett, head of a Joint Intelligence Committee whose incompetence was roundly criticised by Butler's inquiry, remains untouched and quite likely still to be given a leg-up to run MI6 in the autumn. Butler urged Scarlett not to withdraw from taking charge of the spooks. The Prime Minister gave him a metaphoric cuddle. No wonder Greg Dyke and Andrew Gilligan felt peeved enough to claim publicly that the report vindicated the broadcasting of Gilligan's now infamous report.

As for Piers Morgan ( pictured), whose editorship of the Daily Mirror was summarily terminated after he published those equally infamous photographs of British troops apparently ill-treating Iraqi prisoners, he surely must have been reflecting that all is not fair in love and war, especially war.

Gilligan's comments following publication of the report do not quite support the Daily Mail headline on the story: "This proves I was right all along". It did no such thing. Gilligan himself talked of Butler's report supporting "much of what I already said". Note that "much". He also volunteered that not everything he did was perfect.

If he continues to miss the point, the BBC doesn't. Greg Dyke's vow to "defend forever" the decision to broadcast is disingenuous. Gilligan made a serious journalistic blunder in relying on an unchecked single source - it is no use in such circumstances being right about "much" of what you allege; perfection is required - and the Today programme's use of the reporter's first, flawed story was wrong. That's why you heard no crowing from the Corporation's news operation after Lord Butler's pronouncements.

But if the post-Davies, Dyke and Gilligan BBC was mute, the Daily Mirror's reminder that Butler had supplied ample justification for the paper's anti-war stance was little more than a whisper. "The facts support the Daily Mirror's doubts about the run-up to this illegal war," wrote Paul Routledge, and the paper's editorial observed mildly that the facts would come as no surprise to its readers.

It can be only Piers Morgan's cock-up over the "fake" pictures that prevented the Mirror wading in with aggression that would have made Greg Dyke's look genteel. It could have pointed out that from the very beginning the Mirror was demanding more time for the United Nations inspectors to confirm the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Had this happened, and the necessary UN resolution been passed, the paper would have supported military action. Had the inspectors still emerged empty-handed, history might have been different.

As a senior executive told me: "The Mirror's was never a pacifist campaign. It was never anti-war, full stop. It was urging caution so that the country did not get caught up in an American right-wing imperialist administration grabbing a country's oil and blindly seeking revenge for 9/11." In other words, with the exception of those photographs, Piers Morgan and the Mirror were absolutely right about Iraq.

One further thought about the pictures: despite them being discredited and Morgan paying the sort of price that should right now be ringing up on John Scarlett's personal cash register, how is it that despite intensive investigation nobody has been charged with fakery?

Bizarrely, perhaps the most noticeable front page immediately post-Butler was that of The Sun. Not a mention of the report and, inside, an editorial that amounted to a fan letter to Blair and Bush. Across the compound at Wapping, The Times was also bending over backwards to be uncritical. Richard Desmond may have blown his peerage, but Rupert Murdoch is welcome for tea at No10 any time.

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