The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Richard Clarke, another of the anonymice

A piece in the blog of Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Doug Clifton notes Clarke's infamous background briefing in the context of the debate on anonymous sources.

There is, of course, no justification for officials speaking on behalf of the Administration to brief anonymously at all. But it must be easier for an official briefing a journo to spout a party line in flat opposition to his own beliefs when his name won't appear in the journo's piece.

And how often is what an official (civil service or Administration appointee) says on behalf of USG completely in accordance with his own opinion on the matter under discussion?

Here, I've rather been concentrating on the corrosive effect of USG anonymous briefings on the journos (rather assuming that the briefers are political hacks who are already as corrupt as they'll ever be!). But I suspect that most anonymous briefings on behalf of USG are not done by people 100% identified with the president of the day.

(I believe that, whilst many (all?) senior appointments are not civil service, but at the pleasure of the president, the folks appointed are far from all being FOBs or Bushies (or whatever). And both Clarke and George Tenet were Clinton holdovers. I'd be fairly sure there's research on this.)

In the UK, anonymous government briefing is endemic and seemingly ineradicable. The Hutton Inquiry - whitewash of HMG though it might have been - produced plenty of material on the point.

The peculiar convention whereby ministers, and not civil servants [1], are deemed responsible for the actions of government departments also acts to dilute accountability for official utterances.

Even the daily Number 10 briefings [2] are given off camera, and reported in oratio obliqua, rather than transcribed verbatim.

We have had the Phillis Report on Government Communications (PDF) (released on January 19, just before the Hutton Report was issued) - which seems to have disappeared more or less without trace [3].

Earlier pieces here where the plague of anonymice manifested itself on March 26, March 23, March 22, March 18, March 16, March 9, March 8 - and that's just March!

  1. In the UK, all officials up to the top rank are meant to be non-partisan: there is a career progression through the ranks right to the top, and - supposedly - officials are chosen without regard to party politics. There is no Proporz - as in Austria and Belgium. Quite how much influence Blair would have on senior appointments, I'm not sure. There will be research, of course...

  2. By the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) - who is not normally referred to by name. Since the resignation of Alastair Campbell, the post has been held jointly by Godric Smith and Tom Kelly - the guy who said that the then dead Dr David Kelly (of Hutton fame) was a Walter Mitty character.

  3. Dismissive HMG response here (PDF); and the report itself is a mixture of tinkering and druther.

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