Be Like Us

The Guardian blog wonders why blogland isn’t more like mainstream media and misses the point again.

Attorney general told Blair war could be illegal

Guardian exclusive: Tony Blair was told by the government’s most senior law officer in a confidential minute less than two weeks before the war that British participation in the American-led invasion of Iraq could be declared illegal. Read the full story here and the legal summary itself here.

‘Lawyer gave both sides of story two years ago to client’ would have been as good a heading but who am I to tell journalists how to present a story ? I’m just a blogger.

Such thoughts don’t trouble Ros Taylor in the Guardian blog who chastises the British blogosphere for not giving the Guardian exclusive the prominence she thinks it deserves.

Socialism in an Age of Waiting deliver a broadside to the intellectual equivalent of hunting in a pack here and respond to her ‘advice’ to blogland.

It’s not worth taking, predicated as it is on the absurd assumption that journalists are role models and bloggers need to be more like them, rather than as little like the general run of journalists as possible – specifically, by not following a line imposed by proprietors and/or editors; not feigning omniscience, while making innumerable errors about basic dates, names and other facts; not harrassing and misrepresenting members of the public, or peddling their own unstated and unexamined prejudices, while claiming to be seeking the truth; not lazily regurgitating press releases from single-issue obsessives or PR operatives, or the results of quick Google searches; not ganging up on celebrities who are out of favour while sucking up embarrassingly to celebrities who are out of favour; and, above all, not presuming to represent anyone but themselves.

And they’re not finished there.

If Ms Taylor is truly concerned to prove the superiority of old media over new, she might consider indulging in fewer exercises in flatulent pontification and, instead, get someone on her paper to report on the pensioner beaten up by Respect supporters in Bethnal Green and Bow last week; or to investigate exactly who is funding Respect’s election campaign, the first to have led to outbreaks of violence and disorder, requiring the intervention of the police, since the 1930s; or to engage in some serious analysis of how the Attorney General’s advice was leaked, why the BBC encourages Kirsty Wark and others among its overpaid and underinformed staff to browbeat anyone who disagrees with the BBC’s party line on Iraq; and so on and so on. Such an outbreak of unprecedented and implausible independence and honesty among the metropolitan media elite would be worth taking seriously.
As for the prospect that “the old-fashioned media will give up on you altogether”, we’d be pleased if they did. Better no coverage of blogs at all than the supercilious and ignorant drivel that Simon Jenkins (in the Times), Mark Lawson (in the Guardian) and, now, Ros Taylor have recently signed their names to.

Welcome back SIAW, we missed you.

The leaked source which has caused so many beating hearts at the Guardian can be found here but people might consider reading this before they join in the ‘excitement’. It might allow the reader to make more informed comment than anything the papers have come up with so far.

David T adds

Excuse my cut and paste from the Grauniad comment boxes but…

About 20 minutes after the Grauniad “exclusive” was published, an email was circulated between my lawyer contemporaries from college, all of them Tories, bar me. It read:

“Is there anybody here who *hasn’t* been asked to firm up legal advice by a client?”

That’s the point. Goldsmith is a decent commercial silk: but commercial law is a very different field – and style – of lawyering than public international law. Goldsmith’s opinion has the look and feel of a very clever lawyer busking it, with the best help he can get from some other non-authoritative lawyers. Its a classic arse-covering exercise. I’ve written advice like this myself. Lawyers end up producing wishy washy stuff like this whenever they are called to advise in a complex, uncertain and unfamiliar area of the law.

We know that what happened is that Christopher Greenwood QC was latterly called in to advise, and opined that the war would be legal. That was the basis of the advice that the AG finally delivered to the Government.

Three things.

1. The Guardian has been a willing participant in a bit of pre-election skulduggery by the FCO old guard. They’ve hauled out an old buffer, the LibDem peer Lord Lester, to do a bit of lazy huffing and puffing. Well done.

2. Its effect is that, in future, advice to the Government by its lawyers will need to be given with a view to it being published and subjected to partisan debate. That means that lawyers can no longer advise candidly. This is not in the interests of good decisionmaking.

3. I discussed the effect of the Guardian story on the election with the political editor of a national newspaper. He reckons, as do I, that this will have little impact on the election.

Those – like the Soviet spy, Richard Gott – who think that the war was illegal, and that Saddam should be restored to power, still think Blair is the devil.

The rest of us aren’t about to be persuaded by them.