'My editors tell me to tone it down...' but Snow still ploughs into Campbell

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The Independent Online

Fans of Jon Snow's famously iconoclastic style were not disappointed by his festival appearance, in which he ridiculed George Bush, castigated Alastair Campbell and came out in support of the former BBC correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, over the "dodgy dossier" incident on Radio 4. "The Gilligan thing - and again this is strictly between these four walls," he said, leaning forward conspiratorially. "What exactly did he get wrong?" There was applause. "The more we find out about it," he continued, "the more it seems we can now say with absolute confidence that the dossier was sexed up, and it was sexed up by Alastair Campbell. So sue me!"

Fans of Jon Snow's famously iconoclastic style were not disappointed by his festival appearance, in which he ridiculed George Bush, castigated Alastair Campbell and came out in support of the former BBC correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, over the "dodgy dossier" incident on Radio 4. "The Gilligan thing - and again this is strictly between these four walls," he said, leaning forward conspiratorially. "What exactly did he get wrong?" There was applause. "The more we find out about it," he continued, "the more it seems we can now say with absolute confidence that the dossier was sexed up, and it was sexed up by Alastair Campbell. So sue me!"

Snow has landed himself in hot water recently with his e-mail newsletter, which is known affectionately as "Snowmail" and has developed a cult following. In these regular bulletins to subscribers, the Channel 4 News anchor makes no secret of his feelings about government decisions, leading one newspaper to contact Channel 4 bosses to ask if he ought to be reined in. "My editors are a bit worried, they'd like me to tone it down a bit," he told The Independent. "Because I'm a news presenter I'm supposed to be 'neutral'. But I think [outspokenness] is kind of the point, isn't it?" Even the concept of neutrality came in for a bashing. "None of us is neutral," he told interviewer, Pamela Armstrong. "You're a woman, I'm a man. You turn on the radio in the morning and your perception will be different to mine. We're not neutral. We need to understand where we're coming from, we hacks, and be quite open about it.

"I don't say 'I cover elections so I'm not going to vote'. We have to put a tick in a box; we're citizens first and hacks second."

His book, Shooting History - about his life as a foreign correspondent - is a departure for Snow, who says that being an author offers very different journalistic opportunities. "9/11 was what made me want to write a book," he said. "Many of the more dispossessed parts of the world weren't nearly so surprised by what happened [as Westerners were].

"They thought it was something the West had coming to it. And isn't that what we should be interested in investigating and finding out? How those symptoms could have been felt?"

Snow was, by turns, serious and lighthearted, didactic and intimate - a range illustrated by an exchange about Mikhail Gorbachev, the Cold War and the "emasculated" United Nations. "Gorby was absolutely lovely," he reminisced, fondly. "He's still lovely; I interviewed him again the other day." Then, turning steely, he added: "And he thinks we threw it away."

With his cuddly iconoclasm and warm intelligence, Jon Snow is in danger of becoming a national treasure. It's a risk raised by stepping out from behind the newscaster's desk. "Can I say thank you for the ties?" asked a fan in the audience. "And the socks are a new joy." "Ah yes," replied Snow, solemnly. "That's what happens when they take the desk away. You have to worry that the sock and ties are going to clash."

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