Saturday, 18 July 2009


Usually, the Independent is can be relied on to be accurate in its reporting, and resist hyperbole, but Kim Sengupta and Nigel Morris succumbed to a fit of the Daily Mails reporting on the current difficulties experience by the British army in Afghanistan:
Plans to reinforce the beleaguered British force have been drawn up after Downing Street consulted senior military commanders. (1)
Beleaguered? Really? I thought we were taking part in a massive assault on a Taliban stronghold, not beseiged.

Even more depressingly, it appears that accuracy is abandoned altogether later on, when they claim:
... Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, also delivered a rebuke to the Prime Minister by contradicting his insistence that no British soldier had died because of the helicopter shortage. (2)
Note the use of indirect quoatation. For something as significant as the Air Chief Marshall calling the Prime Minister a liar, you would expect a direct quotation to be used to verify the claim. This does not happen. Later on in the article, Stirrup is quoted, but his words do not say what Sengupta and Morris have claimed he said, though the interpretation they placed on them might mislead the reader into thinking otherwise:
Sir Jock said ... "In this situation where you have lots of improvised explosive devices, the more you can increase your tactical flexibility by moving people by helicopters then the more unpredictable your movements become to the enemy. Therefore it is quite patently the case that you could save casualties by doing that." (3)
Which is very different from what Sengupta and Morris represent him as saying. Without reference to a specific incident, the claim that he is refuting Gordon Brown's claim that "no British soldier had died because of the helicopter shortage" is at best an error, at worst a deliberate misrepresentation.

Given the degree of difference between what was actually said, and what was reported to have been said, I am inclined to think the latter is most likely. The Independent doesn't often make silly mistakes like that. The newspaper has had a long-standing - and honourable - editorial policy of opposing the hare-brained adventurism of the Afghan and Iraq incursions. Perhaps maintaining that line has lead to battle fatigue setting in, and the principles of accuracy and honesty being ... neglected.
1 - "Brown snubs Dannatt in talks on reinforcements for Afghanistan," by Kim Sengupta and Nigel Morris, published in The Independent, 18th of July, 2009. (
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.

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