Rehabilitating the Damned: The Media and Alastair Campbell

If you turn on your TV and see a war criminal[1] gurning at you as you eat your morning cornflakes, please don’t doubt your mental health; it’s not you that’s sick, it’s the system.

Alastair Campbell, famously accused of “sexing up” the dossier that led to the war in Iraq, will guest host Good Morning Britain during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Campbell was pictured hamming it up on set in anticipation and posing beneath a picture of previous host – and fellow narcissistic media bully – Piers Morgan.

It’s been a great week for Campbell’s reputational rehabilitation. The avalanche of scandal surrounding Boris Johnson’s government has gathered enough momentum that even the corporate media are covering it.

Campbell has, therefore, enjoyed increased airtime – up on his high-horse complaining about…other people’s lies.

“Something very strange has happened to our political-media ecosystem… lies aren’t called out, scandals are not seen as scandals…. if there’s any suggestion of scandal, if there’s any suggestion of lying, their instinct is not to cover it.”

Those reporting Campbell’s comments kept a remarkably straight face. Even independent media outlets who should know better appeared to temporarily lose the words “pot”, “kettle” and “black” from their vocabulary.

The article in question is called “We’re Living in a Bizarre Fantasy World”. That sounds about right. How did Campbell go from a foul-mouthed spin doctor who “browbeat other people into supporting an illegal war” (George Monbiot) to morning TV host? We investigate…

The Blood

First of all: the context others failed to provide.

Britain Loves a War Criminal” on Open Democracy sets out in detail the reasons “the blood of the Iraq War drips from (Alastair Campbell’s) hands”.

They quote at length from exchanges between Campbell and British Intelligence officials where they discuss redrafting intelligence reports with the aim of “beginning to turn the tide of public opinion” in favour of war.

This became known as the “dodgy dossier” and hit the headlines when BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan got hold of the fact that Saddam Hussain’s WMD threat had been “sexed up”. Specifically, Gilligan stated:

“(My) source’s claim was that the dossier had been transformed in the week before it was published and I asked, “So how did this transformation happen?”, and the answer was a single word, which was “Campbell”.

Blair’s spin doctor went on to instigate a “multiple car crash”, in the words of Tom Mangold, as he embarked on a full frontal assault against Gilligan and the BBC for daring to reveal his machinations. Caught in the crossfire was respected weapons inspector Dr David Kelly, the “source” in question, who took his own life under the unexpected scrutiny.

Kelly’s family urged “the (Hutton) inquiry to find that the government made a deliberate decision to use Dr Kelly as a pawn as part of its strategy in its battle with the BBC”. “It would fuck Gilligan if that was his source,” Campbell had written at the time, adding that he encouraged Tony Blair and others to “get the source out”.

Dr David Kelly: merely a “pawn” to Alastair Campbell?

Campbell resigned as Blair’s director of communications midway through the inquiry but bragged, after another inquiry (Chilcot), that “four inquiries…have cleared me of wrongdoing with regard to the WMD dossier presented to parliament in 2002.”

A classic example of spin.

Campbell was not explicitly censured by any of the inquiries. That’s hardly the same as being “cleared”.

Indeed, Campbell effectively avoided censure on a technicality – the fact that, while he drafted reports, ultimately they were signed off by Tony Blair and Sir John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Blair and Scarlett were both heavily censured by the Chilcot Inquiry. Chilcot was critical of the “misleading” foreword to the dossier, signed by Tony Blair, which stated that it had been “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein “continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he had been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme”.

Who wrote the foreword in question?

In a memo to John Scarlett dated 17th September 2002 Campbell referred to “my draft foreword…he [Tony Blair] will want another look at it before finally signing it off.”

The Damned

How would the UK media treat a propagandist from an official enemy like Iran or Russia who contributed to destruction on the scale of the Iraq War?

Best estimates of the Iraq war indicate that it killed a million Iraqis, disabled two million and displaced two million more. It is impossible to comprehend the full scale of the human suffering unleashed by Blair, Campbell, Bush et al.

And the technicality is unlikely to save Campbell if he’s ever called to the Hague.

“The Principles applied at Nuremberg in 1945-6 make clear,” Tim Holmes writes, that “complicity in the commission of a crime against peace … is a crime under international law””. The information revealed about Campbell’s role in reworking the dodgy dossier, he goes on to add, would be “more than sufficient as prima facie evidence.”

Circa 2003 Alastair Campbell didn’t have much going for him. He’d resigned in disgrace, been heavily implicated in the suicide of a civil servant and watched, with the rest of the world, as the absence of WMD was confirmed and Iraq descended into sectarian chaos, torture scandals and corporate profiteering.

The media, who Campbell had browbeaten for years in his Downing Street role, surely wouldn’t touch such a man with a bargepole!

Think again.

In the 2000s Campbell appeared on Richard & Judy, Newsnight, Question Time, a Comic Relief Apprentice Special, Sky News, BBC News, This Week, Channel 4 News, Have I Got News for You (as guest host), on BBC 2’s The Speaker, Channel 4’s Jamie’s Dream School, as a presenter on Panorama and as a columnist for the Times.

The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker – surely the only way Campbell should be allowed on TV is in the guise of satire

“So frequently has the BBC put Campbell on air,” Tim Holmes lamented in 2012, “that in January last year it was forced to address the issue publicly.”

The BBC’s fondness for Campbell is especially remarkable given the ferocity with which he went after them for (correctly, as it turned out) exposing the “sexing up” of WMD – and it continues to this day.

A search for “Alastair Campbell” on the BBC website returns 29 pages of results. Most of those would be news results, you might think.

In fact, 17 of the first 20 listings are programmes featuring Campbell. Recent titles include:

Meeting Myself Coming Back: Alastair Campbell, Alastair Campbell: Depression and Me, and Into the Wild with Gordon Buchanan: Alastair Campbell.

Clicking on the Guardian tag for Alastair Campbell returns 34 matches between 2015 and 2020. Titles include: “Alastair Campbell: I couldn’t stop Brexit, but I could do my bit to save the planet” and “Jeremy Corbyn, I no longer want to be a member of your Labour party.”

In comparison, the Guardian tag for Jeremy Corbyn returns 26 matches during the same period.

2015 was the year Corbyn became Labour leader. Since then the Guardian have commissioned more articles/features from a 1997-2003 Labour frontline figure, associated with a disastrous illegal war, than they have from a current Labour frontline figure who passionately campaigned against the war. 

You may wish to keep this in mind next time someone accuses the Guardian of being “liberal”.

Bizarre Fantasy World

Gallery posted by Campbell on social media to announce his GMB role. Smug much?

And now Campbell has his most high-profile role so far: hosting Good Morning Britain.

“To some (Campbell) is the architect of spin,” GMB editor Neil Thompson said. “To others he is one of the few people in the country able to call things out as they are.”

Such a “constrained” view of Campbell is typical of the corporate media. Journalists working within a system driven by business interests (as explained by the propaganda model) would be expected to self-enforce parameters of discussion that bar powerful figures like Campbell and Blair being branded as criminals for acts committed while in charge of state-corporate affairs.

Of more interest is why the media actively work to redeem and rehabilitate such figures after they’ve left office.

We put it to you that the rehabilitation of figures like Campbell stems from unconscious awareness that the corporate media as a whole share their crimes.

After all, Gilligan’s expose of the dodgy dossier stands out because it was one of the few cases when the BBC seriously challenged the pro-war narrative. A study by Cardiff University, commissioned by the BBC itself, found that “like most other broadcasters, the BBC generally leaned towards pro-war assumptions”.

“Nine out of every 10 references to weapons of mass destruction during the war suggested that Iraq probably possessed them, and only one in 10 questioned this assumption…. News anchors…were seven times more likely to refer to jubilant rather than disgruntled Iraqis.”

No wonder Julian Assange, currently in Belmarsh prison for exposing lies in Iraq, stated “nearly every war that has started in the past 50 years has been a result of media lies”.

If Alastair Campbell is a war criminal then he is the UK corporate media’s war criminal. A constituent part of the constrained system of debate, even while raging at journalists from Downing Street, Campbell has to be excused and rehabilitated because the state-corporate system itself, fed on blood and oil, has to be excused.

So much for the truth. We live in a “bizarre fantasy world” indeed.


[1] Someone ourselves and many others consider a war criminal, we should say

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2 thoughts on “Rehabilitating the Damned: The Media and Alastair Campbell

  1. Great to have found you. At last, the truth will out. UK MSM and broadcasters are just corporate mouthpieces, issuing a lot of false info and propaganda to the public. (Mind you, it stuns me how many of the population seem to just ‘suck it up’.)
    Many thanks.
    Joe

    Liked by 1 person

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