The BBC is having a Jayson Blair moment of sorts. It’s an interesting, complex story, which may wind up getting Tony Blair out of the tight spot he’s in.
On May 29th, Andrew Gilligan said that a British official told him that the government spiced up a dossier which made the case for war. He did not name the official, because he wanted to keep his sources confidential. That’s reasonable journalism.
On June 19th, Gilligan told the Foreign Affairs select committee that his source was one of the senior officials who assembled the dossier. The British government promptly accused Gilligan of lying. The BBC Board of Governors backed Gilligan up.
In mid-July, speculation that David Kelly was the source arose. He was questioned by the Foreign Affairs committee on July 15th. Kelly denied being the main BBC source at that time.
Kelly appears to have committed suicide on July 18th. On Sunday, the 20th, the BBC admitted Kelly was the sole source for Gilligan’s story. Kelly was not a senior official in charge of preparing the dossier, so there’s a bit of a mismatch between what Gilligan told the Foreign Affairs committee and the facts.
The BBC says that they never included those words in a report, which is true enough, but I think there still has to be some concern about Gilligan’s testimony. Certainly that testimony helped create and define the news story.
The furor about what the BBC did, in any case, obscures the issue of whether or not the British government intentionally exaggerated Saddam’s WMD capacity — which is why Tony Blair may slip out of that problem without as much damage as seemed likely last week.