The End of the Affair?

Letter From England

At 6:07 A.M. on May 29, 2003, in a BBC Radio broadcast, reporter Andrew Gilligan commented on mounting criticism of the Blair government’s rationale for going to war against Iraq.  Citing an anonymous “official” involved in the preparation of the Joint Intelligence Committee dossier used to justify the military campaign, Gilligan said that

[The dossier] was transformed . . . to make it sexier.  The classic example was the statement that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use in 45 minutes.  That information was not in the original draft.  It was included in the dossier against our wishes, because it was not reliable.

The implication was that No. 10 Downing Street had inserted false information into the dossier to justify action it had already decided to take.  This throwaway comment, in one of about 19 live broadcasts Gilligan made that morning, began a bitter struggle between the BBC and the government and led to the death of one man, a special inquiry, and the resignations of Andrew Gilligan and some of the BBC’s top executives.

The government already had a grudge against Gilligan because he had been a journalist for the right-wing Sunday Telegraph and had been the first mainstream journalist to broadcast details of the politically embarrassing proposed E.U. Charter of Fundamental Rights.  The government had also been incensed...

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