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Exclusive: Alastair Campbell interview

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 27 June 2003

Alastair Campbell's remarkable interview with Channel 4 News over the government's row with the BBC about its Iraq coverage.

The Downing Street Director of Communications was questioned live by Jon Snow, in an interview which has only increased the tension between the government and the BBC.

Mr Campbell has accused the BBC of lying, after a 'Today' report claiming that he had 'sexed up' a government dossier about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The following is the full transcript of the interview with Downing Street's Director of Communications Alastair Campbell on Channel 4 News.

Jon Snow: And now we are joined by Alastair Campbell - a rare moment - thank you for coming in.

This is row between you and the BBC. Many will see it as a diversionary tactic to prevent people from actually seeing the real issue there, which is that MPs are not getting to the root of whether in fact the intelligence we were provided with was the real intelligence provided by the intelligence services.

Alastair Campbell: Well, if people wish to see it as a diversionary tactic, they may. The media are constantly telling people never to take things at face value.

This is not a row between me and the BBC. This is an attempt by the government to get the BBC to admit that a fundamental attack upon the integrity of the government, the Prime Minister, the intelligence agencies, let alone people the evil spin doctors in the dark who do their dirty works in the minds of the journalists.

Let them just accept for once that they have got it wrong. The allegation, let's just understand what this allegation amounted to.

And these weasel words in Richard Sambrook's letter today that says to me, we didn't make the allegation. We reported a source making the allegation.

What does that say about journalism? You have been in journalism for decades, I was a journalist for quite a long time, I respect a huge number of journalists including many at the BBC, but they now say you can say anything you want on the television because somebody said it to you.

It doesn't matter if it's true. It doesn't matter if you check it. It doesn't matter if it's corroborated. You can say it.

Behind the scenes at Channel 4 News

On the day Alistair Campbell made an unexpected visits to the Channel 4 News, there happened to be a TV crew making a 'fly on the wall' film about the show. Watch the backroom team as they deal with an uninvited, but very welcome, guest.
- Watch Behind the Scenes
- Watch the interview in full

Jon Snow: The BBC's riposte to you is very reasoned. It is set in the context of all the other information which was in the public domain.

It is entirely consistent with that information. It credits the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, The Times, I mean most of Fleet Street had similar accounts of what intelligence sources were telling them.

The BBC doesn't seem to be out of step with anybody else.

Alastair Campbell: The BBC in their letter to me, and it is fascinating, they have post facto justification of a story by citing sources in newspapers which wrote stories subsequent to their, to the story they had done.

Some of those stories, I know for a fact are incorrect. One of them, there is no point in going through all the detail, and I think the public are probably bored rigid with this already.

One of those stories I know for a fact is wrong, and I have addressed in evidence to the Select Committee.

Jon Snow: I think the public is more likely to be concerned at the extraordinarily intemperate language which is coming out on behalf of the Prime Minister in your name. 'The story was a lie, it is a lie.' 'Weasel words,' weasel not incidentally spelt correctly in consistent terms of the original fake dossier...

Alastair Campbell: If I may say so, the statement that you are reading from was read to the Press Association.

So that, that, I would not get hung up on the spelling mistake by somebody who's typed it, although I know that you, you also Jon, reported that the four people in my office were responsible for writing the so-called dodgy dossier when they were not.

However, put that to one side, the reason that is weasel words is that it does not answer the questions that I put.

I asked the BBC whether they were standing by the allegation they made, the BBC made, as John Humphrys described it, the BBC made the allegation that we deliberately exaggerated, abused, distorted.

Jon Snow: The answer to the question you put to the BBC, do they stand by it? The answer is yes, a robust yes.

Alastair Campbell: Excuse me, that letter is about as robust as Blackburn Rovers were when they played Trelleborgs (sic).

I'll tell you, the answer to the question - yes or no? Did we abuse British intelligence? The answer to that question is no.

Jon Snow: The answer to that question is - we do not know. And the reason we do not know is that there is obfuscation and diversion, part of which we are seeing played out right here before us.

The fact is that MPs want to question the chiefs of the intelligence services, and should be allowed to do so.

Instead you are preferring, you the government, are preferring a 'hole in the corner' operation with an intelligence committee which is not held in public, and which is answerable to the Prime Minister.

Alastair Campbell: Well, part of the problem I alluded to in my evidence to the select committee is that a lot of journalists see their mission to discredit politicians in the political process.

You describe people like Ann Taylor who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee as a 'hole in the corner' operation. You're talking about an intelligence agency, about people who do very difficult, brave jobs...

Jon Snow: ... Ann Taylor was appointed by the Prime Minister, is answerable to the Prime Minister, and accountable to the Prime Minister...

Alastair Campbell: ...No, she submits her reports to the Prime Minister...

Jon Snow: She has the rights to publish....

Alastair Campbell: The Prime Minister has the right to make judgements about what is published, on security and intelligence grounds.

Jon Snow: The point about the committee that is sitting here and that questioned you the day before yesterday...

Alastair Campbell: on Wednesday...

Jon Snow: ...on Wednesday and questioned the Foreign Secretary today is that it is one that is accountable to MPs selected by MPs, and accountable to us, as electors.

And that is the committee, which should be allowed to get to the root of this issue. And that surely is what the government is preventing them doing.

Alastair Campbell: Let me just say this about that, I'm not going to talk about the FACs (Foreign Affairs Committee's) inquiry because I don't think I should until they have concluded it.

I will however say this, Donald Anderson, as I understand it, and his committee had a private session with Jack Straw today, in which they will have discussed some of these issues.

I have submitted today to the committee, and I don't intend to discuss the contents at all, but I have submitted further answers to the questions they asked me which go into some detail to the intelligence issues and the specific question, the charge that I distorted British intelligence, that I inserted a claim that was not true, that I knew it not to be true. They are serious allegations.

Jon Snow: But you have heard the Foreign Secretary himself tell that committee that that dossier was a Horlicks.

Alastair Campbell: Well, I am sorry, again, deliberate conflation of two things. Correct yourself. Correct yourself, it is not the same document. Do you accept that?

Jon Snow: Which is not the same document?

Alastair Campbell: You just said that the Foreign Secretary described the dossier as a Horlicks

Jon Snow: The dodgy dossier

Alastair Campbell: Excuse me we were talking about the weapons of mass destruction dossier.

This is the problem. The people who have been opposed to this conflict from the word go are now seeking to change the ground and to say the Prime Minister led the country into conflict on a false basis and you are deliberating conflating the issues.

Jon Snow: The issue in play here today is absolutely that this war was fought on the basis of intelligence information. That intelligence information firstly; the charge that in the first document in September there were serious errors of fact.

Alastair Campbell: Sorry the first document in September? There were serious errors of fact? And what were they Jon?

Jon Snow: The Niger allegation in which the Minister who was supposed to have signed the nuclear purchasing order had himself resigned many years before.

Alastair Campbell: You know do you Jon that that was the basis on which British intelligence put that in the dossier?

You know that, do you? Because if you think that, you are wrong. There were no errors of fact in the WMD dossier in September 2002.

Jon Snow: The Niger source has nothing to do with us?

Alastair Campbell: It was another country's intelligence, and the British intelligence put what they put in that dossier on the basis of British intelligence. Get your facts right before you make serious allegations against a government...

Jon Snow: Well, one, one fact is one is absolutely incontrovertible and that is the second dossier, the dodgy dossier, was indeed just that. And the last question...

Alastair Campbell: And I have acknowledged that. As I have acknowledged. And I have admitted. Let me just draw this contrast between myself, between the government and the BBC.

On Wednesday, at that Select Committee, I acknowledged we had made a mistake. I accepted responsibility for that on behalf of the junior.. The official in my office who made the mistake.

Jon Snow: That's a matter of record.

Alastair Campbell: Can I finish the point? The BBC... I'm all in favour of senior management defending...

Jon Snow: I want to ask you one last question. The last question is, you are now part of the story. When the government's communications' chief is himself part of the story, isn't it time he resigned?

Alastair Campbell: Oh for heaven's sake. The reason I am part of the story is that a BBC journalist made an allegation about me.

Jon Snow: Against whom the BBC believe you have a vendetta because he's caused you trouble.

Alastair Campbell: I have never met the guy. I have never met Andrew Gilligan. I don't have a vendetta against him. I do believe that anybody with an interest in good, decent journalism, of which there is a huge amount in this country, should understand that when allegations are made, when lies are broadcast, when as that letter shows, there is not a shred of evidence to substantiate the allegations, they should apologise and then we can move on.

We can get focusing on the things that really matter to your viewers out there, which are the public services in this country, the economy of this country, and the foreign policy of this country. This distraction created by the media....

Jon Snow: ... Given the mistake that you've admitted regarding the second dossier, have you offered your resignation?

Alastair Campbell: No I haven't Jon, and once more, that's a further attempt to conflate the two issues. In contrast to the BBC, I have acknowledged we made a mistake.

I have apologised on behalf of the government. Now the BBC should acknowledge they've made a mistake and they should apologise to the government, then we can move on.

Jon Snow: Alastair Campbell, thank you.

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