Boris Johnson: Government and the media

From a speech in the House of Commons by the Conservative MP for Henley

I hope that Lord Butler will somehow in his findings pay tribute to the work of Andrew Gilligan in exposing the way in which Downing Street revised raw intelligence material in the hope of making the threat sound more imminent.

To understand what I think happened, one must remember the origins of Alastair Campbell as a tabloid journalist. Alastair Campbell chaired a series of important meetings. Very senior civil servants were there, among them John Scarlett, chairman of the JIC. Alastair Campbell told John Scarlett: "I will chair a team that will go through the document [the dossier] from a presentational point of view, and make recommendations to you."

Everyone who has worked on a newspaper, tabloid or broadsheet - as I have - will know that newspapers are basically monarchical. If the editor is known to be partial to a certain story or a certain subject - pheasants, say - loyal underlings will provide the editor with pheasants. He is the Sun King, and they are sunflowers who turn their faces towards him. As Lord Hutton himself observed, this may be subconsciously corrupting. I think that in the case of the influence of Downing Street on the intelligence services it was more than subconsciously corrupting.

There was a sentence that read: "The Iraq military may be able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so." Mr Campbell pointed out that that was weaker than the wording of the summary, and requested that it be changed. That request was granted. The Government allowed the tabloids to misconstrue the 45-minute reference to mean ground or air-launched missiles rather than battlefield weapons. In other words, a claim that was rubbish had been embellished at the Government's behest and at the specific request of Alastair Campbell.

That is, in essence, what Andrew Gilligan reported. He said the Government probably knew the figure was wrong. They and Campbell certainly did not know that the figure was right, yet they put it before the public and before Parliament as an incontrovertible fact.

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