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Coverage of Fallout From Kay's Report

Aired February 7, 2004 - 19:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
We begin this week with the debate that just won't go away, weapons of mass destruction and whether Iraq really did have them or not. Much political ranting, countless acres of newspaper polemics and television time all dedicated to the latest development, the fallout from the David Kay report.

Speaking to CNN this week, Kay said he didn't believe the United States was threatened by Iraq's intentions of developing WMD.


DAVID KAY, FMR. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: If the administration had laid out a case based solely on the intentions of the Iraqi regime, I doubt that you would have had massive public support or any international support for that.

The argument last year was one not only of intentions, but of capability and of actual possessions of weapons of mass destruction.


SWEENEY: Comments made by Kay prompted much political debate on both sides of the Atlantic. In Washington, CIA Director George Tenet defended the pre-war U.S. intelligence and in British Prime Minister Tony Blair faced some tough questioning from members of Parliament, but he urged everyone, including the media, to read the report thoroughly.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MIN.: What he goes on to say, however, is that he's found ample evidence both of breaches of U.N. resolutions, of weapons of mass destruction programs and capability, and he goes on to say that he actually believes that Iraq is possibly a more dangerous place than we had thought, that the conflict was justified, and that if we refused to go to conflict, than the security of the world would be put at risk.

And I think it's as well that the whole of his evidence is taken, not simply one part of it.


SWEENEY: I'm joined now by the "Guardian" newspaper's Washington bureau chief Julian Borger and Matthew D'Ancona, deputy editor of the "Sunday Telegraph."

First of all, Matthew, do you believe the media in Britain has been guilty of cherry picking our information, much as Tony Blair has alleged?

Matthew D'ANCONA, "SUNDAY TELEGRAPH": Well, I think that the Kay report was much more balanced than has been generally reported. I think that people who opposed the war have seized, perhaps understandably, on those elements of Kay's findings which support their case.

I mean, Kay's point is that there have been no finds of WMD stockpiles, but that's not all he said, and he's conspicuously continued to support the war and it's also the case that his survey group discovered considerable evidence of activities related to WMD and laboratory work, research into all sorts of new and horrible nerve agents.

So I think it's important to remember that Kay is not as it were a dove. He's merely trying to provide a balanced report of where we are now in the hunt for WMD.

SWEENEY: Julian Borger, do you believe that the media has been using the evidence to date to its own advantage?

JULIAN BORGER, "GUARDIAN": No, I don't think so. I think the media has been doing a pretty good job here really in examining the U.S. and British governments' cases for going to war before the war started and questioning them.

And it turns out that the media, in questioning the cases put forward, were absolutely right. The holes they poked in the cases turned out to be real and gaping holes, so I think in this instance the media, which has often been accused of mounting its own agenda and mounting it's own campaigns, which is often true, mounted a campaign that was worth mounting.

SWEENEY: Well, over here in Britain, Julian, it's been the case that David Kay has been reported as saying there were no weapons of mass destruction probably, and that's been the headline here. How has that been reflected in the U.S. media?

BORGER: Exactly the same. It's really reawakened the debate over Iraq, in the midst of a presidential election. And it's become really front stage issue number one as a result of the Kay testimony, which it really hadn't been before. It had sort of faded as an issue before David Kay went before Congress.

SWEENEY: Matthew, if I can return to you for a moment, David Kay believed that the war was necessary, even though as he said he hasn't been able to find evidence of WMD so far. He does say it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat. Now how does that square with what George Tenet had to say earlier this week, that U.S. analysts never said that Saddam posed an imminent threat? Is that another example of us picking what we like in terms of our headlines and our sound bytes?

D'ANCONA: Well, I think Tenet was simply trying to clear his own agency of what he regarded as an excessive reaction to a threat, but it's interesting that Kay said what he did. I think that reflects considerable concern amongst people who have been involved in inspecting Iraq over the years, but there remains an enormous quantity of WMD, which Saddam himself admitted to having in the 1990's, which is completely unaccounted for. Tons of VX nerve agent, tons of anthrax agent, all of this stuff is simply unaccounted for, and Hans Blix, no fan of the war, admitted in his report last May that all of these items were simply unaccounted for, they hadn't been found.

So one can turn the question on its head and say maybe the WMD haven't been found in the sands of Iraq, but where are those WMD?

SWEENEY: On another point, this 45 minute claim, Matthew, that's been in the headlines very much this week, do you think the press was willing to be fed morsels, really, from the government at the time the dossier was published and didn't do enough of its own investigation into that claim?

D'ANCONA: Well, it wasn't so much that. I think it was that the government desperately wanted to get out an easy nugget which it would be possible to repeat in the press time and again, and there is absolutely no doubt that is why the 45 minute claim was so prominent in the dossier.

The ministers are rewriting history now, saying it wasn't important to the case. Well, of course it was. It was desperately important, and that was reflected in headlines the day after, and I don't think that the press can be criticized for that, because it was, after all, in the forward by Tony Blair to the September dossier.

SWEENEY: And Julian, in Washington, is this whole issue of weapons of mass destruction and what David Kay had to say last week, grabbing the same headlines in the United States as it has been in Britain?

BORGER: Yes, very much so. Alongside the primaries, it is really story No. 1 in the American press, which, as I said, it hadn't been for a while. The WMD controversy has not been such a threat to President Bush as it has been to Tony Blair, but it looks as though it might make foreign policy this year become unusually important to the presidential elections, and it's clear by President Bush's agreement to setup a commission that he is feeling the heat and that this will be an important issue.

SWEENEY: On a more general note, Julian, there have long been complaints about the media in America during this particular Bush administration, that it's too compliant, that it doesn't do enough proactive work, that it's very different from the British media. Has it woken up, as some commentators say they'd like to see?

BORGER: No, I don't think so. I think the American media operates in a different way. It doesn't as a whole mount its own campaigns on its own front pages. It really follows what the political leaders in the country do, and for a long time the Democrats weren't really putting up a significant counteroffensive toward the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Most of the Democrats voted for the war resolution.

And so the American press really followed that along. I mean, there have been examples -- the "New York Times" relying very heavily on intelligence provided by the INC as the Pentagon and the White House did, and that is definitely a flaw in the coverage. But I think there are really two different newspaper and media traditions in Britain and the United States, and in Britain it is much more a campaigning style, which does have as many flaws, but I think in this case the press fulfilled its role very well in Britain, because it is a campaigning press, and arguably less so here.

SWEENEY: And, Matthew, would you agree with that?

D'ANCONA: Well, I certainly think that it's good that the press has continued to scrutinize the claims that were made about Iraq and I agree, Julian, that that, you know, reflects well on the press. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I do think, however, that the overall effects of the controversy of the last few weeks and months has been damaging in the sense that it's turned the political system in this country in on itself. The Iraq War has simply become another aspect of domestic policy. The whole row about Iraq has become a row about trust in Blair, and that's fine up to a point, but it's important too that we don't lose sight of the broader picture, which is that this is a very important conflict.

And the risk in all of this is that Britain will somehow retreat from its participation in that war. The war isn't going to go away simply because people think that Blair lied.

SWEENEY: So, Matthew, finally, is there a danger that really because of the media campaign here against Blair that's been growing in the last number of months that really we've lost sight of the facts of the war?

D'ANCONA: Well, I wouldn't attribute that to the media. I think that Blair landed himself in this difficulty because of the way that he handled the information in the run up to the war. I think he had a strong case for war. I personally supported him in that endeavor.

But I think that with the 45 minute claim and in many other aspects of his preparation for war he set himself up for the kind of treatment that his government is now receiving, and the endless audit of the war and the endless stream of inquiries, which seem to be without end. We're now perhaps a little more than a year away from an election, and it's hard to see that the war, though fought in early 2003, will not be quite a large issue.

SWEENEY: All right, there we have to leave it. Matthew D'Ancona of the "Telegraph" and Julian Borger of the "Guardian," in Washington, thank you both very much for joining us.

Well, the debate over the Kay report comes of course hot on the heels of the Hutton report here in Britain, and the implications of Lord Hutton's findings are still reverberating across the journalistic community.

The editor of the "Financial Times," Andrew Gowers, has been writing on the subject, and he joins me now.

You're basically saying, Andrew, that the true message of the Hutton report wasn't really about the deliberate embellishment of the government dossier on weapons of mass destruction or not, as the case may be. It really was about journalism in this country.

ANDREW GOWERS, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, I think that's right. I mean, the way that Hutton's remit was defined and the way he defined it for himself led him to the conclusion that really the countdown in a way to David Kelly's death, which is what he'd been asked to investigate, was the publication of a report, a broadcast report, on the BBC, that was based on his testimony but was imperfect in a whole variety of respects. In fact, it was, as he put it, unfounded.

So it's hard to escape the conclusion that journalism of the BBC in this instance is right at the center of the issue.

And the piece that I wrote last Saturday was really aimed at saying there was a lapse standards of the BBC, for sure, but are we sure the journalistic standards in Britain generally match the highest in the world?

SWEENEY: Well, that's what I was about to ask. I mean, do you believe that this is limited to the BBC, which of course has been doing a lot of soul searching over the past week or so? But what about the wider press? Doesn't this kind of thing happen on a far too regular basis?

GOWERS: Well, I think so. I mean, the truth is that the BBC, it causes particular shock when something like this happens on the BBC because it is the public service broadcaster, it enjoys a great deal of public trust. And its standards have clearly lapsed in this case. And it's all brought to the point to my mind by the assertion of various people involved, including Greg Dyke, the ex-director general of the BBC, that the original Gilligan report at the center of this was mostly right, as if that is a justification for broadcasting it.

SWEENEY: Well, that's what also Martin Bell has been saying, the distinguished former BBC broadcaster, saying that it was a good, old- fashioned scoop and there were some elements of it that weren't exactly right, but the basic tenant of the story was.

GOWERS: Well, that's based on a fairly loose and I would say ignorant interpretation of what basic journalistic practices should be.

In the first instance, the source of this Gilligan story was misdescribed in his report. He could not have been in a position to know in sufficient detail of the matters he was being made to comment on and he was actually misquoted and variously quoted by Andrew Gilligan in his various reports. The story seemed to change from one broadcast to the next and indeed in the newspaper column in the "Mail on Sunday."

It was vaguely phrased. I mean, what does sexed up actually mean? Well, Hutton said it could mean two things, either deliberate embellishment of the dossier on weapons of mass destruction against the wishes of the intelligence services -- that's what he actually said. He found that convincingly to be unfounded.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you about the wider question, which has been that many people are growing of the opinion that -- rather, let me rephrase that. There is a body of opinion that people are beginning to just take, cherry pick, as it were, what they see in reports and dossiers, what we've seen of the whole weapons of mass destruction issue, really, to suit their own editorial judgments and views.

GOWERS: Well, I think that is happening. I mean, but I think the Hutton report could not have been clearer. It started with a journalistic exercise that was deeply flawed and indeed the source of the BBC report, or the source that was used in the BBC report, recognized that flaw himself.

SWEENEY: OK. All right, where would you say that we go from here, journalists in Britain?

GOWERS: I think that a period of soul-searching is in order. I know a lot of journalistic organizations in this country are searching their souls and they're issuing guidelines to staff, reminding them of what good sourcing is and reminding them of the need for multiple sourcing when you have an exclusive, and that is exactly what's happening at the BBC. And I know that the new acting director general who has taken over from Greg Dyke is saying all the right things in terms of basic journalistic (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SWEENEY: All right, we're going to have to leave it Andrew Gowers, on that note. Thank you very much indeed, indeed, from the "Financial Times".

Well, time now for a quick break, but when we come back, the media fallout from Janet Jackson's risqu performance at the Super Bowl.

Don't go away.



This year's Super Bowl will not be quickly forgotten, and that's not because of the football. A certain singer and a controversial stunt was what dominated the headlines around the world.

Pop star Janet Jackson was seen not only on national but international television, baring her right breast. First branded a wardrobe malfunction, Ms. Jackson has since admitted that it was a plan that went to far.


JANET JACKSON, SINGER: My decision to change the Super Bowl performance was actually made after the final rehearsal. MTV, CBS, the NFL, had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and unfortunately the whole thing went wrong in the end.

I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention.


SWEENEY: Well, to discuss all the media mayhem, I'm joined now by media critic and columnist A.A. Gill, and in New York, media ethicist Bruce Weinstein.

Bruce, this has caused absolute uproar in America, perhaps more so than in Britain. Do you think the uproar is justified?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN, MEDIA ETHICIST: It is absolutely justified, because the Super Bowl is supposed to be family entertainment. It's broadcast to the largest audience in the world, larger even than the Oscars, and this kind of behavior is simply unacceptable.

Now my position is not based on my personal preferences, you know, whether I happen to be offered by nudity, but rather as a policy issue, there are no winners in this case, Fionnuala. CBS looks horrible. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake come out with dirty hands. The NFL comes out looking sullied. There are no winners. They really ought to rethink this kind of so-called entertainment, and we hope make a difference next year.

SWEENEY: A.A. Gill, I have a feeling that you're going to take a very opposite very.

A.A. GILL, MEDIA CRITIC: Honestly, who cares? Only Americans care. OK. Let's first of all get one thing straight, is that the bosom is faultless. I mean, people, 1/3 of the world walks around with their chest out all the time because that's how they live.

SWEENEY: But you know that is not the case in America.

GILL: It's only Americans who get this upset about their upper body nudity. It is absurd.

The great thing about this being international is that the rest of the world is howling with laughter.


WEINSTEIN: It's not just about her breast. It's about the entire halftime show. You had Kid Rock draped in the flag, desecrating our national symbol. You had.

SWEENEY: But nobody is speaking about that internationally.

WEINSTEIN: You had Nelly grabbing his crotch every few minutes. He had lyrics about "I'm going to take clothes off." Now you know why I'm not a rap singer.

But you have to wonder, is this really appropriate to show in family entertainment? And what's ironic about this, Adrian and Fionnuala, is that 50 years ago CBS would not allow Lucille Ball to use the word pregnant in an "I Love Lucy" episode, and now here we are with the most lascivious kind of conduct.

And again, this has nothing to do with my personal reactions toward the Super Bowl halftime event. I mean, I like lascivious conduct and vulgar displays of celebrity as much as the next guy. We're talking about whether it's a matter of public policy this kind of conduct ought to be allowed on an international broadcast, and it ought not to be.

SWEENEY: Bruce, isn't it rather interesting that in a country like Britain, which is quite liberal, this kind of thing, stunt, rarely, if ever, happens, and yet in America, where there is this huge outcry about it, it will happen?

WEINSTEIN: Well, it will happen, but should it happen? You know, we have the Grammys coming up. We have the NBA All Stars Game coming up. We have the Pro Bowl coming up. And what the networks ought to do is instigate a 7 or 10 second delay, the way is done all the time on radio, so that when these things come up, they can be bleeped out.

And again, we're not advocating government censorship. We're talking about tasteful responsibility. That's all. And, you know, if Adrian personally gets off on this, that's fine, but that's not the issue.

SWEENEY: But, A.A. Gill, we're also talking here about money and the reason CBS and MTV are all very worked up about this is that they're all set to lose a lot of money.


WEINSTEIN: Why don't we do the right thing? Why don't we do the right thing as opposed to the easy thing or the lucrative thing? In the long run, we benefit and businesses benefit, in the long run, economically. So if CBS -- all they care about is the bottom line.


SWEENEY: Is it about money or is it about ethics, really, when it comes to the bottom line?

WEINSTEIN: Well, you know, the good news is that when you do the right thing, in the long run you're doing the best thing from a business perspective. So there's not a distinction between doing the right thing and doing the business-wise thing. In the long run, they are exactly the same thing. They are.

GILL: Are you finished now?

WEINSTEIN: Yes, go ahead.

GILL: I think the whole point is this is a massive hypocrisy. This is -- I mean American television sells an enormous amount of titillation overtly, and this one thing comes out, and it's all about hysteria. It loves to become hysterical and point fingers at people.

When you think what else happened this week in the news, is this really anything? Is this worth 2 seconds of anybody's time? It just isn't.

You also think this is -- you talk about ethics of broadcast. This is a country where the hardcore pornography industry is bigger than Hollywood.

SWEENEY: Now we're looking at a situation where I understand an episode of "E.R." this week, which apparently had a glimpse of an 80-year- old woman's breast being operated on in the emergency room, had to be edited because of the fallout, so to speak, from all of this at the weekend. I mean, is it bordering on the ridiculous?

WEINSTEIN: Well, we don't really want to make a fetish of the breast issue. It goes beyond that, and quite frankly I think Janet Jackson's bear breast is the least concern. You have, again, Nelly grabbing his crotch every few seconds and you have these lyrics that are totally inappropriate for a public broadcast.

You know, MTV was thinking like a good cable network does, for its own audience, but they weren't thinking about the broader implications of what they were doing, and that is the problem. It's not hypocrisy at all. It's an issue of moral responsibility, and again in the long run business will benefit by taking the high road, because they'll attract more viewers, they'll attract more advertisers, and they will promote the bottom line by doing the right thing.

SWEENEY: Adrian, much ado about nothing?

GILL: Oh, I mean, it's a huge about of ado about nothing. But also, what I do think is depressing for America abroad is that it makes you all look so childish.

WEINSTEIN: Well, I mean, for one thing, I'm speaking not as an American but as a citizen of the world, and I've had the opportunity to travel all over the world, the United Kingdom, to Africa, and I'm not really speaking -- I'm certainly not representing my country. I'm really talking from the point of view of an ethicist and also to question whether or not CBS's policy is good from a business point of view and from a moral point of view.

So I really resent the implication that this is hypocritical or this is childish or foolish, because for one thing it's obviously of interest enough to an international audience that CNN would have you and me on to debate this issue. So it is an important issue because of the broad implications from a policy point of view. This isn't hypocritical at all.

SWEENEY: Right. But Adrian, what you're saying is it's almost a wider take on American society.

GILL: I just think that you couldn't have this fuss anywhere else in the world, which is why I'm here telling you about it. I mean, I absolutely understood this problem when I was asked to come on this program, and I thought the one thing you can say is, lighten up about this, and see how this effects the rest of the world when they're thinking about America.

SWEENEY: But what about the wider issue about whether TV has a moral right to legislature of the public at large?

GILL: Yes, I think up to a point television has a broad moral responsibility not to lie, not to gratuitously shock people, but honestly, a tiny moment of nudity in a pop show is really not where television should be drawing the line anymore than we should be pleased that they once stopped someone saying "pregnant" on television.

This is a terrible aspect of retrospective moralizing censorship.

SWEENEY: Bruce Weinstein, in New York, A.A. Gill, here in London, thank you both very much for joining us.

And that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London, thanks for joining us.



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