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18th January 2011
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.
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.
LIBERAL WITH THE TENSES
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”.
THE PAST IS PERFECT, AS IT WERE, WAS or HAD BEEN
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!
RENTOUL. A SOLE, SANE VOICE IN A JUDGEMENTAL PRESS WORLD
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.
(the headline & picture are the giveaways) – has this – “Breach. Once more. Into”:, writing at the anti-Iraq war Independent –
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…
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
“All countries need a leader who isn’t afraid to fight terrorism. I believe Mr. Blair did a necessary job in helping his allies. Are we all just supposed to lie down and wait for them to come for us, I don’t think so.”
And – “Mr. Blair is one of the finest politicians to have had the privilege of serving the United Kingdom, and Britons are fortunate to have had him as their Prime Minister. Time will show that Mr. Blair’s approach to affairs in the Middle East were and remain correct. From a member of the Commonwealth, thank you, Mr. Blair, for your continued service to legitimate and lasting (and not convenient or politically expedient) freedom.”
AND – “Tony Blair was the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill and the only regret I have he didn’t get my vote as I live in Canada.”
AND – “I am sick and tired of television and radio interviewers asking the same old questions over and over, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, presumably they hope Mr Blair will let slip some secret information which they would then use against him. History will show if the decision was the right one, (I believe it was) but people must accept that Tony Blair is an honourable man, and made his decision based on the known facts and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”
Tags: attorney general, BBC, Bill Clinton, hung Blair out to dry, Iraq, Iraq inquiry, John Rentoul, lord goldsmith, meaning of is, Nicholas Witchell, past perfect, past tense, Peter Goldsmith Baron Goldsmith, tense-challenged press, Tony Blair, video