Monday, January 09, 2006

The neverending story

You may recall that back on December 1 TAE pointed out some deficiencies in a Newsnight piece about the Joe Wilson/Niger affair. On the same day, I sent an official complaint to Newsnight pointing out directly to them the same problems. Today, January 9 - that's 39 days later, for those counting - I finally got a response.

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the 'Newsnight' website. May I start by apologising for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents expect a swift response and I am sorry that you have had to wait so long on this occasion.

The report you refer to was drawn from a number of sources across BBC News Online and was an attempt to accurately summarise the key issues for viewers. I appreciate you feel this has not been achieved; however, there is not a great deal I can add to the response you received to a similar complaint about News Online recently from Laurence Peter.

Having said that, 'Newsnight' have now decided to take down the story.

Thank you again for contacting the BBC.

Yours sincerely
Stewart McCullough
Divisional Advisor
BBC Information

It is something, I suppose, that they have removed the article, although that could be simply due a judgment that the story is stale rather than wrong. But it is instructive that Newsnight drew the story from a number of sources across BBC Online. As TAE has already pointed out, those sources were more often than not wrong themselves. A fine example of how errors get perpetuated through either laziness (why bother checking the source documents when I have a nice, convenient storyline already?) or arrogance (if the BBC has already said it, it must be true.) My guess is that it is arrogance. In my comment to Newsnight, I included references and links to source documents (Wilson's original NYT op-ed, the Senate Intelligence Committee report) which proved that the Newsnight timeline was incorrect, but Mr. McCullough makes no mention of those whatsoever.

BTW, the reference to the response from Laurence Peter is to a response TAE received to an earlier complaint that, in another on-line article, the BBC had erred in asserting what Wilson had "reported" upon his return from Niger. Mr. Peter defended the article by quoting from the Senate Intelligence Committee:
The Senate report you link to contains this passage: "the former ambassador described his findings to Committee staff as more directly related to Iraq and, specifically, as refuting both the possibility that Niger could have sold uranium to Iraq and that Iraq approached Niger to purchase uranium."
When I pointed out to him that the sentence immediately following the one he quoted made it plain that the CIA report based on Wilson's debriefing following his trip contradicted Wilson's testimony and "did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium," Mr. Peter had no response.

That Mr McCullough has little to add to Mr. Peter's non-response is, somehow, not that surprising.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Particularly galling for your old mate Reynolds who had written a AmEx approved version. Why didn't Newsnight just use his work?

12:30 AM  
Blogger Simon Lazarus said...

Scott, the media in this country doesn't even mention Wilson's name anymore - because the Plame Affair dropped dead when Karl Rove was not indicted. However, Chris Matthews continues to run programs on his "Softball" show on MSNBC with "Breaking News in the CIA Leak Case," despite the fact that "breaking news" hasn't occurred in 4 months.

10:43 AM  

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