Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mostly Indispensable

Last month, Bruschetta Boy discussed Nick Davies' talk about 'Flat Earth News'. Reactions in the comments were mixed.

Now David Aaronovitch has reviewed the book. As far as I can tell, it's the sort of book you like when it says nasty things about people you don't, and disagree with when it criticises your side. As everyone in the media and politics pretty much hates everyone else most of the time, the result is a "mostly indispensable book".

Good clear review, and Aaro was a splendid choice of reviewer. Naturally, I don't agree with any of his opinions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, it's the sort of book you like when it says nasty things about people you don't, and disagree with when it criticises your side

Er no. Surely its the sort of book you look at, examine the arguments and the evidence marshalled and make a verdict.

Davies is, in fact, not saying anything that hasn't been said many times before in the academic literature on Journalism. The material that talks about the need to produce more copy and the fact that leaves journalists more dependent on PR handouts is utterly uncontroversial.

Aaronovtch predictably hates the stuff about Hutton. Like Brownie, one of HPs NuLab robots, he will deny that Blair misled parliament and public, despite the mountain of evidence which says otherwise. Ultimately this leaves him looking like a total ideologue.

As for the suggestion that it was natural for the Observer to support the Iraq debacle, with all the death and destruction it would inevitably entail, because of the fate of a single individual, Farzad Bazoft is perhaps the weakest argument I have ever heard.

2/10/2008 09:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick Davies isn't discussing the editorial line of the Observer about Iraq; he is discussing the news stories that were in the Observer 5 years ago in the run-up to the invasion. Davies is saying that the Observer printed stuff coming from Campbell and the Coalition Information Centre more or less verbatim, and that it supressed stories that contradicted the stories coming from Campbell. When I look back at what the Observer was publishing 5 years ago, I think that Davies might have a point.


2/11/2008 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it too much of a conspiracy theory to wonder about Nick Cohen's 'epiphany' in relation to the 'turn' in the Observer's coverage of Iraq?

2/11/2008 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When do you think that there was a "turn" in the Observer's coverage of Iraq? There are some very reasonable articles in the Observer in July 2002, which point out that the first "dossier" (of March 2002) didn't convince anyone. The publishing of the Hitchens article at the end of August 2002 seems to mark a definite "turn". This is of course precisely the time when Blair realised that Iraq was going to let in the weapons' inspectors so Blair would have to work very hard to get support for UK participation in the invasion.

I wonder when Coehn met the INC?

And where did Aaro come from?


2/11/2008 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cohen had met the INC on a number of occasions before that - Aaro is correct to say that as a result of the Farzad Bazoft judicial murder, the Obs had always been close to Chalabi and Makiya. But the news stories that Nick Davies talks about didn't come through that axis - they were nearly all derived from Kamal Ahmed and there were (apparently) a lot of the Observer staff, including plenty of pro-war people, who were worried about them.

2/11/2008 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

July '02; month of the Richard Dearlove mission and Teh Downing St MemoTM. Dearlove comes back and reports that the "facts are being fixed around the policy". Dossier No.2 starts drafting; AliC or J-Po in the chair.

...cue Operation Decent Left.

Makes sense.

2/11/2008 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The immediate response of Blair et al to the results of Dearlove's mission (and to Iraq's agreement to let in the inspectors) was a bout of dossier-sexing. In late 2002 most effort went into trying to persuade the public that it was an established fact that Iraq had WMD, and into trying to make Resolution 1441 give the US the right to invade Iraq without going back to the Security Council. (There were also some news stories dropped into the media that tried to suggest that Iraq was threatening neighbouring countries or actually sponsoring terrorist activity.) By early 2003 however, this was clearly not working and Blair et al were in panic. This is when, in my opinion, Operation Decent Left really starts (though it is true that there were Nick Cohen articles on this theme as early as August 2002). The famous Aaro article (with or without a second resolution I support an invasion) dates from this period. This is also the period of the dodgy dossier, which was an attempt to create confusion about why the Uk should invade).


2/11/2008 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The famous Aaro article (with or without a second resolution I support an invasion) dates from this period.

It is of course, a historical fact (which I simply remind readers of without attempting to draw conclusions) that Aaro's support for the war "with or without a second resolution" and his unshakeable belief in the accuracy of the WMD intelligence, were both seemingly acquired during his gardening leave after leaving the Independent (where he'd been consistently against war without a resolution) but before joining the Guardian.

2/11/2008 05:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is quite interesting and perhaps deserves a front page post. We did a timeline of the development of Aaro's views on Iraq, and the switch from "I need more evidence of Saddam's duplicity" (Independent, Dec 2002) to "With or without a resolution" (Guardian, Feb 2003) happens just exactly on the cusp of the crucial period when the facts were being fixed around the policy and the dodgy dossier was being prepared. I'm not sure there's an actual conspiracy theory here, but there is a definite scent of a journalist having been fed a line of bullshit and I'm surprised that Aaro (who presumably isn't mentioned in "Flat Earth News") doesn't give more a sense of how close he was to this one.

2/11/2008 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gardening? In January?

December 2002 and January 2003 was when it became more difficult for the UK Government to fix the facts around the policy: the inspectors were seen on TV zooming around Iraq and visiting places unchanged since they were last there and made them non-functional. Blair's statements were getting and more more bizarre. After 4 months of incessant "WMD, WMD ..." enter stage left Aaro saying that WMD isn't the issue. Coincidence?


2/11/2008 09:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's a good time to get your bulbs in.

Guano - is the idea here simply that Aaro was fed a line of bullshit by Campbell or the intelligenc services, or that he was in some way an intelligence asset himself? I would not run screaming from the second as unlike "serious" commentators I don't piss myself in knowing chuckles every time the concept of an inteliigence agency is mentioned (and Dave if you are looking for material for your book on "Conspiracy Theories from JFK to Diana", be my guest), but the first seems the more parsimonious hypothesis, particularly given Nick Davies' book.

2/11/2008 10:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gardening? In January?

If the roots are strong, there will be growth.

2/11/2008 10:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You tell me what Aaro was up to! You're Aaro Watch.

A lot of the reviews of Nick Davies' book say that the bit about the Observer cannot be true and Davies has a grudge. There is no evidence though that Davies has a grudge, and I think that it might be true, given how extraordinary the context was 5 years ago. How do you explain the extraordinary things in the press back then, especially the Observer?

Bribing journalists? Blackmailing them and their editors? Extraordinary, but not beyond the realms of possibility.


2/11/2008 11:44:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

It depends what you mean by an intelligence asset anyway. It doesn't follow that because one may be considered such, one has a little membership card, or receives payments from fake insurance companies into one's bank account, or meets people on Hampstead Heath hissing the password "the owl of Minerva flies at teatime". For all I know it may just mean that somebody with good information invites you to lunch a couple of times and shows you some documents.

2/12/2008 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that's probably right, although the part about documents sounds a bit crude - I imagine it more in terms of the man in the expensive suit putting down his brandy and saying "Look, can I tell you something? You won't have heard about this, but the thing is..."

2/12/2008 09:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most important "Saddams got a bio nuclear bomb terror group" stories on the Observer did come from an intelligence asset - David Rose. We know he was an intelligence assett because he admitted it

mind you he only got a few nice dinners and some sexy stories out of it.

2/12/2008 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

One of the things that made me uneasy about my lunches with MI5 and MI6, which usually took place at very expensive restaurants, is that, in a reversal of usual journalistic practice, the agency men insisted on paying

I'm not sure that it would make me uneasy, though it might make me select from a different range in the menu.

2/12/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

The intelligence trade calls a person who isn't actually on the payroll but who can be relied on to put your point of view an agent of influence.

2/12/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried to read that David Rose piece but gave up when I got to the ooh-gosh bit about sending a limo for the editor. You cannot hope to bribe or twist... - because if you do he'll just think you're being really, really nice. I'm not saying I couldn't be bought, just that I think I'd be aware that it was happening.

2/12/2008 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I remember thinking during the run up to the Iraq war that he was clearly a useful idiot for MI5. Judging by the article an idiot still, even if his usefulness has been squandered.

Its fairly easy to control most journalists depending upon their character type:
1) appeal to their vanity by offering them glimpses of secrets other mere mortals cannae hope to see.
2) Appeal to their sense of decorum by being, gosh, really really nice.

Useless fuckers.

2/12/2008 07:41:00 PM  

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