This Thursday morning the BBC Breakfast TV was very excited about what General Sir Richard Dannatt had said in a Daily Mail article. The presenters were palpably excited because our top Army General had apparently criticised Tony Blair politically, and had thus exceeded the remit of an army General, breaking precedent provocatively, deliberately and knowingly, it seemed. What a scoop.
This was the BBC News flagship programme directed at its peak breakfast “news” audience.
The Army General was trailed to appear on the steps of the Ministry Of Defence in a live interview.
The BBC filled the 30 minute wait until the General appeared. I watched and listened to comment on the opinion of the Army General. The BBC reported that the General was so opposed to government policy that he felt compelled to speak out. The BBC reporters informed the nation of the Generals opinion, about cutting and running in Iraq, or wanting to withdraw from Iraq “soon”. The BBC repeated, over and over again, their reports of what this new General was about to say, confirming his criticism of government policy.
In that 30 minutes news spread across the world and according to the Observer, a US embassy diplomatic called Downing Street and asked them “What the fuck is going on?”
When the Chief Army General eventually appeared, he said that you, “could not place a cigarette paper,” between what he had said and government policy. He also said that he had received government approval on what he had said and that when the article was concluded with the Daily Mail, everyone agreed with him that it was an “unremarkable” interview. He explained that it had always been government policy to leave Iraq as soon as possible and that British Forces had in fact already left two of the four provinces they had occupied.
Tony Blair appeared at lunchtime to announce progress on Northern Ireland, and this was good news it seemed. But the BBC were there to report on the General’s so-called indictment of government policy, but Tony Blair said he had read the transcript of the General’s interview and that he concurred with every word that he had uttered.
Since both the General and Tony Blair had both made it quite clear that they did not disagree about Iraq, and in particular on and when to leave Iraq, the media were unable to honestly persist with the charge that they disagreed.
The BBC must have felt unable to comment upon what the General and Tony Blair had said and meant since they had expressed it so clearly in real time, live on TV.
The media were not about to let that abate the feeding frenzy. Accordingly they looked elsewhere for comment. Former Tory Defence Minster Rifkind appeared on Channel 4 News and accused Tony Blair of lying about something unspecified. News anchor Jon Snow did not ask him to explain
The BBC Breakfast News Couch could no longer legitimately offer comment but this morning, the BBC invited guests to provide comment on opinion they generated so energetically two mornings before. Susanna York was on the couch and she said the General should be applauded for being a “Whistle Blower” Mathew Paris says the General should have been sacked for criticising the Prime Minister politically.
Paris and York disagreed but were both apparently committed to the idea that Tony Blair had been criticised by the General, even if TB and the General disagree with them, that they disagreed with each other.
Comment by couch potatoes, on what the General meant, is preferred over what the General himself, said he meant.
Today’s Observer offered up two pages of comment on the “crisis” They also preferred to disregard what the General said on the steps of the MOD and in fact embellish and conflate the tale with unattributed criticism of Iraq policy, as if there had not been enough of that already.
Last weeks Observer had a fine article by Nick Cohen about news offered as Comment
The BBC - where facts are expensive and comment runs far too free
. Shoestring Chronicle