David Rose is an experienced writer and investigative journalist who has worked for the Observer and the Daily Mail, and is by all accounts a decent sort. But he caused dismay to many in Jersey when, last November, he wrote a piece in the Mail enthusiastically endorsing the establishment's attempts to discredit Lenny Harper's investigation. The article contained clear signs that he had been got at by the establishment's PR machine. But why would such a seasoned journalist have been so easily duped by transparently self-serving spin?
The answer may lie in Nick Davies's polemic on the dire condition of the UK media "Flat Earth News", published earlier in the year. In his book, Davies characterises Rose as having "all of the self-confidence of the great reporters, but less of the judgement." And here is why. During the period between 9/11 and the war on Iraq, Davies tells how Rose wrote a series of "high profile and aggressive" stories for the Observer linking the 9/11 attacks (amongst other atrocities) to Iraq, and trumpeting his belief that Saddam Hussein was preparing weapons of mass distruction. This campaign led to the Observer endorsing the Bush/Blair illegal war, and ultimately caused serious damage to the paper's reputation for well-evidenced independent journalism.
Rose has since confessed that his enthusiasm for the invasion had been "misplaced and naive" and that he had been the victim of a "calculated set-up , devised to foster the propaganda case for war". He had allowed himself to be misled both by accounts from unreliable Iraqi defectors and by deliberate misinformation from CIA and MI6 sources. He has since published a retraction. (Roger Alton, whose role in this fiasco is starkly detailed by Davies, resigned as editor of the Observer shortly before the book was published.)
Whether or not the Jersey oligarchy knew that Rose had a history of being duped, they fed their line to an investigative journalist with clear potential to be manipulated. (Davies, incidentally, has also written about the Harper investigation, but mainly as a critique of the media for over-hyping police press releases.)
Davies's book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in poking beneath what is presented as fact in large swathes of the UK national media. It sheds light on what motivates Rupert Murdoch, Andrew Neil, Paul Dacre and the other unsavoury big beasts who have presided over the decline of journalistic ethics in the UK in the last 20 years or so. It is not hard to see some of the same structural fault-lines that he describes at play in the Jersey media.
I was thinking of reviewing "Flat Earth News", but it is quicker and far more useful to suggest you read this.