Has Goldsmith hung Blair out to dry? Er… NO. But the tense-challenged press still try

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    18th January 2011

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    With the imminent re-appearance of Tony Blair at the Chilcot Inquiry on Friday comes Lord Peter Goldsmith’s timely written statement to the Iraq Inquiry. It certainly looks at first glance from the press headlines on this that Tony Blair’s for the high jump. To some of our press, anyway. It was ever thus.

    Lord Goldsmith gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry in January 2010 Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

    But taking as read the press headlines, articles and such as the BBC’s Nicholas Witchell’s TV News reports can be misleading. You don’t say, I hear you say.

    In the next post I will look at the reporting on this by several sources. Just for the exercise I intend to give them a score out of 10. This will take into consideration their headlines, their opening remarks, the gist of their articles, their balance and their conclusions left by implication or their ‘factual’ analyses. But before we get there, this is my first impression of Goldsmith’s written evidence.


    As Bill Clinton said once – it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.

    Only in the Goldsmith/Blair discrepancies case it’s far less complicated. It depends on the meaning of the word “was”.


    What Goldsmith meant with regard to his state of discomfort is all in the meaning of the tense he used or meant!  Was it past tense or past perfect?  I hope this isn’t getting too technical and linguistically challenging but it IS important.

    Saying “I was uncomfortable about” is actually quite different from saying “I had been uncomfortable about”. The former implies one’s final and unchanging and unchangeable state (of discomfort). The latter indicates that that discomfort may alter, or may have altered as time went by, or goes on. And it DID alter.

    Unfortunately, throughout his evidence paper Peter Goldsmith doesn’t make this distinction. In fact not until you get to the last few pages do you realise that he had been talking mostly about an earlier state of mind, BEFORE he concluded that he actually agreed with Blair on the legality issues.

    This is unfortunate use of language, but it is not technically wrong, with reference to the time period being discussed. But its interpretation is even more unfortunate by most of our word smart and meaning-savvy journalists who fail to mention the final position of “discomfort”. Journalism and interpreting words and meaning is what they are supposed to be about. If nothing else they should ALL ensure they refer to ALL of the evidence and not just the parts that suit their own particular (anti-Iraq war/anti-Blair) agendas.C

    But this surely tells us something: if we can get ourselves into knots of confusion, intended or not, over words, imagine the Gordian knots over issues of legalities if this business ever got into a court!


    Before you gird your loins trying to get to the bottom of the naysayers’ thinking on Goldsmith’s evidence, you should cheer that there is at least ONE British journalist who tells it like it is.

    John Rentoul, writing at the anti-Iraq war Independent – (the headline & picture are the giveaways) – has this – “Breach. Once more. Into”:

    Rentoul: “Goldsmith thought there was no basis in international law for the use of military force in Iraq – that is, it was on the same legal footing as Nato’s intervention in Kosovo – until he discussed the negotiating history of UN resolution 1441, when he decided that there was a legal basis for it after all.”

    Er, quite, Mr Rentoul.

    The tenses have it. The tenses have it.

    I am part way through drafting a score rating comparison post on the accuracy, fairness and balance on the press’s reporting of Goldsmith’s evidence, but I’m cheesed off already. Can’t imagine how you feel.

    So the others will be in my next post. Bet you can hardly wait!

    John Rentoul, as you might expect, gets 10 out of 10.  Might as well start at the top of the class and work backwards.


    Another sane voice here at Normblog WOW! Two. And it’s only January!

    Hang on – here’s another one at Harry’s Place –  “Tony Blair and Goldsmith reached agreement on Iraq shocker”

    Both of the above via John Rentoul’s Twitter link. Thanks JR.

    To be continued…

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    4 Responses to “Has Goldsmith hung Blair out to dry? Er… NO. But the tense-challenged press still try”

    1. Julie Says:

      Someone should award John a medal for keeping common sense alive in this bloody country. Seriously.

    2. Julie Says:

      JR was so brilliant today – I am afraid but I think he’s got a groupie now. And that is me 😀

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