BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. This week in London, Lord Hutton declared the BBC the loser in its long-running battle with the government of Tony Blair. Last year, BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan charged the Blair government with, quote, "sexing up" documents to bolster its case for the war in Iraq. The government was outraged, but the BBC stood by its story, and the network's alleged source, government scientist David Kelly, killed himself in the wake of the scandal. The Hutton Inquiry was convened to find the guilty party. It found the BBC. [CLIP PLAYS]
LORD HUTTON: The allegations that Mr. Gilligan was intending to broadcast in respect of the government and the preparation of the dossier were very grave allegations in relation to a subject of great importance, and I consider that the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective in that Mr. Gilligan was allowed to broadcast his report at 6 or 7 a.m. without editors having seen the script of what he was going to say and having considered whether it should be approved.
BOB GARFIELD:In the wake of Lord Hutton's conclusion, the BBC's chairman, Gavyn Davies, and Director General, Greg Dyke, resigned. Later, more than a thousand BBC employees walked out, protesting Dyke's resignation. Meanwhile, the BBC's acting chairman, Lord Ryder, issued an apology on behalf of the board of governors. [CLIP PLAYS]
LORD RYDER: I have no hesitation in apologizing unreservedly for our errors and to the individuals whose reputations were affected by them.
BOB GARFIELD: WBUR's Michael Goldfarb has been monitoring reactions to the Hutton Report from London.
MICHAEL GOLDFARB: I think that what Lord Hutton didn't take into account in his very narrow judicial remit was the longstanding dynamic between the BBC and British governments of either political stripe. The BBC is always relied on by the government in, in a country where most of the press is nakedly partisan to be very straightforward, and of course it always disappoints each government, because governments think, well, BBC should sort of be giving our message unfiltered to the people. For years before the Iraq war, the BBC was a constant recipient of criticism from Downing Street, and so when it finally happened that Andrew Gilligan made these "sexed up" claims about the government's use of intelligence going to war, the BBC dug in its heels and said, well you know, you just can't push us around. And of course, fatally, this was an instance where a BBC journalist had made an error, and by the time they got around to investigating it, processes had been set in motion that ultimately led to David Kelly's suicide.
BOB GARFIELD:Well there seems to be a subtext here. With the resignations, the BBC response seems to be well, Lord Hutton, thank you very much --we're abashed, of course, and all the appropriate leaders will fall on their swords, but of course you really don't understand the context, and by the way, you don't really understand how journalism works, do you? Are you sensing that kind of response from the Beeb?
MICHAEL GOLDFARB: The BBC has been excessively, I think, fair and really looked at itself with great scrutiny. The rest of the British press, however, has taken to calling this a whitewash. The Independent newspaper, the day after the Hutton Report was published, above the fold -- it was all white -- except for one small headline that said "Whitewash." And then below the fold it was an editorial saying that Lord Hutton had missed the point. Interestingly enough, if Tony Blair had wanted the judgment of Lord Hutton to end his misery, it hasn't, because the press I think will probably be even more aggressive in trying to find out why there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and how it came to be that the case for war was built on the fact that the intelligence seemed to indicate that there was.
BOB GARFIELD:Now, as you read the press in England, putting aside the question of whitewash, is there an overall sense that Lord Hutton's report was somehow fundamentally naive -- that he just simply doesn't understand how journalism is accomplished and the relationship between the BBC and the government?
MICHAEL GOLDFARB: The general feeling is this man is an establishment judge, so they, they sort of knew what they were going to get, and not unsurprisingly, the establishment judge found that more or less the civil service and the government behaved honorably. But the amazing thing is that Gavyn Davies, who resigned as the chairman of the board of governors and Greg Dyke, who resigned as director general, were both members of that establishment. Gavyn Davies' wife actually works for Gordon Brown as chancellor of the exchequer, and the anointed successor to Tony Blair, and yet these two men and Downing Street were somehow not able to make a private personal call to just cool off temperatures. I mean the one argument in favor of a closed establishment is at least gentlemen of a like mind can sit around and have a whiskey and sort the problems of the world. But in this case, gentlemen of a like mind ended up having this enormous ego contest.
BOB GARFIELD:I want to ask you about the lasting effects. The Beeb -- it isn't merely a network. It is an institution in United Kingdom, kind of like the monarchy, I suppose, because it's resented and revered at the same time. What do you think the impact will be on the standing of the BBC for the British public?
MICHAEL GOLDFARB: Well, it's really interesting, Bob, that you should choose the monarchy, because it is an institutional part of British society, the BBC, but rather like the monarchy, it needs to modernize. And yet, if you were to hold a referendum on turning Britain into a Republican, a modern society, people would still vote to keep their monarchy in place. Same with the BBC. People complain about it all the time. They pay a tax to sustain it. Yet if you were to say we're going to eliminate the BBC, I think there'd be a huge outcry in this country. The BBC is a cultural reflection of the British, and perhaps you could even say Britain's always difficult encounters with modernization are simply reflected in the BBC.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Michael. Well, thanks very much.
MICHAEL GOLDFARB: My pleasure, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael Goldfarb of WBUR reported to us from London.