It was the Sun which splashed the exclusive ‘HUTTON REPORT LEAKED’ by the paper’s political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, on 28 January 2004. The Hutton Inquiry was set up by Blair’s government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, a biological warfare expert and former UN weapons inspector in Iraq.
Lord Hutton was clear that the six parties represented at the Inquiry (the government, the BBC, Dr Kelly’s family, the Speaker’s Council, Andrew Gilligan, Susan Watts) would have 24 hours’ notice of the report and that they would be required to sign an undertaking not to reveal the contents of the report before publication.
So much for ‘undertakings’. The report’s main findings were leaked by an unnamed source over the telephone to New Labour’s favourite tabloid. Hutton launched a further inquiry into how the report came to be leaked. It was carried out by a solicitor, reported on 11 August 2004, and failed to find the source of the leak.
But the bigger issue was how the Hutton Report flew in the face of the accumulated evidence from the Inquiry. And it is this which makes the revelation in the phone-hacking trial that Blair advised Brooks to push for a ‘Hutton-style report’ so puzzling. The reception and criticism of the narrowness of the report in the media was summed up by the Independent‘s front page with the word in red “Whitewash?” on the top half of the front page.
The editor of Today at the time of the Andrew Gilligan 6.07am two-way with John Humphrys on 29 May 2003 was Kevin Marsh. His book, ‘Stumbling Over The Truth’, documents Lord Hutton’s legal career and demonstrates how the Blair government carefully selected a ‘safe pair of hands’. Marsh writes,
“Hutton’s career up to the summer of 2003 had shown an exaggerated respect for authority, especially the authority of the British government. He’d shown little sympathy for whistleblowers and for independent, critical journalism when it and government had come into conflict.”
Hutton’s report focused on the BBC and ignored any forensic examination of how the ‘dodgy dossier’ was created, and who was responsible for its creation.
What is revealed in the email from Brooks to James Murdoch on the day after the last edition of the News of the World about Blair’s advice is something quite repellent. Blair is drawing on what was the short-term success of his news management strategy, orchestrated by Alastair Campbell, to deflect criticisms of the government disinformation campaign on the BBC.
The Hutton Report did damage the BBC (Gavyn Davies, Chair of the BBC governors, and Director General Greg Dyke resigned), but what Blair demonstrates in his poor advice to Rebekah Brooks is that he has learned nothing about the long-term damage that the tricks of spin-doctoring, disinformation and fawning support for Murdoch have had on UK politics.
Kevin Marsh again:
“Blair and those around him realised that political communication was much more than just putting the best gloss on things. The words didn’t have to follow the politics. The words were the politics. The narrative, the ‘truth’ you created was more important than any reality. It was the reality.“
Blair’s advice to Brooks is to push for a ‘Hutton-style report’ in order to deflect attempts to get at the truth. Of course truth will out and all the ‘evidence’ from the dodgy dossier about Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is now shown to be rubbish. All of which is little comfort for those people who have died, and continue to die, as a result of the Blair-Bush push for war with Iraq.
This post originally appeared on the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom website and is reproduced with permission and thanks