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Monday, July 21, 2003

Trying to sort this David Kelly business out in my head. It's not funny and never was funny, even before the guy apparently killed himself, but regardless, it's now a complete Horlicks to me.

BBC reports that British gov't "sexed up" weapons dossier, citing "senior intelligence official." British gov't demands to know who this source is. BBC says take a hike. British gov't pull out some unnamed guy and says, "Did he look something like this? Because you got the story all wrong and he denies saying that!" BBC says no, he didn't look like that, and sticks its story. The name of the guy fingered by the gov't emerges, somehow: David Kelly. (Here's how it emerged.) But he's not a senior intelligence official, he's a scientist, and he denies saying all those things. BBC stays mum. Then David Kelly slits his wrist and dies. After talking to his family, BBC confirms he was the source after all. (Thanks to Jeff Buehler for that link.)

All in all, this is just about the strangest, saddest and least predictable news episode to come down the pike in a while.

But what, it gets even better: Andrew Sullivan says the BBC has blood on its hands! Let me see if I can follow this, um, "logic." The BBC misrepresented what Kelly said, and that's why he killed himself. How do we know? Because Kelly himself denied saying the things he was quoted as saying before he killed himself. How do we know Kelly wasn't lying, and the BBC isn't telling the truth? Because the BBC are liars. How do we know they're liars? Because they're Bolshevik bastards and that's what Bolshevik bastards do. They lie. Case closed.

I'm reminded of Thomas Friedman's comment about France and its objection to war... This is not an argument. This is station identification.

By all means, according to a summary glance at the facts of the case, the BBC has one big something to answer to: Why did this scientist get ID'd as a "senior intelligence official"? (Here's the BBC's Andrew Gilligan's response: "[N]one of our reports ever described him as a member of the intelligence services[.]") It's a dodgy defense, but even so, I have a hard time believing this false ID was the reason Kelly killed himself.

The British government, in its zeal to discredit the BBC, played a far more unsavory role in this affair than the BBC itself. Maybe it's just a differing approach we have in American toward anonymous sources and public policy: A source is cited anonymously because he/she wants to remain anonymous and because the media trusts the source. It's up to the public to decide whether or not to believe a statement from an official who doesn't wish to stand behind his views by using his real name. The British government was right to challenge the veracity of the anonymous statements of an unnamed "senior intelligence official," and I can see why it would have privately reprimanded Kelly for unauthorized contact with the media. But it went way too far when it outed Kelly himself. This is the Blair spin machine at its ugliest and cruelest.