The latest Private Eye runs extracts from Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News which is thought to have precipitated the resignations of the appalling Observer editor Roger Alton and his sidekick news editor Kamal Ahmed (see previous stories here).
The book lays bare the corrupt or dodgy practices of modern journalism and in particular reveals Alton’s Observer to have been severely compromised by Ahmed’s intimate relationship with New Labour. As for Alton, I must examine his horoscope for an astro-view of how he got to be appointed to the top job in the first place. Nothing rational can account for it.
Back in October it was claimed that Davies’ book accused Ahmed of helping to sex-up the dodgy dossier that enticed the UK into the Iraq War. Davies denied making any such allegation. An anonymous Arcati contributor wrote at the time: “Forget the sexing up chatter – that'll be more a question of Kamal inflating his own importance. But Davies is missing the larger point: The Observer, for several years, barely qualified as an independent voice, so slavishly did it follow whatever Blair/Campbell dictated.
“This was the truly sad thing for an otherwise v. good newspaper. The slavishness to the Campbell/Blair line was often embarrassing. Forget Ahmed. He's just an arse, who was doing Campbell’s bidding.
“The most depressing thing, ultimately, is that as Observer editor Alton often thought it more important to keep the government happy than to offer a proud, independent voice.”
Flat Earth News focuses, among other things, on the dodgy dossier episode. Back in January 2003 a group of political hacks flew to Washington with Blair. At some point during the flight, Alastair Campbell invited Ahmed to join him and the PM. Ahmed later revealed that he’d been shown a document on Iraqi weaponry – what came to be known as the dodgy dossier. Ahmed told colleagues he had been asked his opinion of the report – even though the Foreign Secretary had yet to be consulted. When later the dossier was revealed to be a load of lying rubbish, Ahmed denied giving Campbell any advice and refused a request by the Observer’s news desk to write about the encounter on the plane.
So, Davies may indeed not be accusing Ahmed of helping to sex-up the dossier, but his disgraceful sucking up to Blair and Campbell will have emboldened them to push ahead with their claims against Iraq.
For more extracted delights on our press, get Private Eye (No 1202), or order the book, Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media by Nick Davies, click here.
The man who extracted Flat Earth News for the Eye, click here