A front-page exclusive in the Daily Mirror is normally something to be treated with great scepticism. Until, that is, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, offers his full stamp of approval by invoking the Official Secrets Act. Fantasies and hoaxes — unless they are fantasies and hoaxes propagated by HM government — by definition lie outside the scope of the Official Secrets Act. All of which convinces us that there must be some truth in the Mirror’s claim that in April last year President Bush, in the company of Tony Blair, discussed bombing the headquarters of the Arab television station al-Jazeera, in Doha, Qatar, and that the Prime Minister talked him out of such an attack.
It may be that President Bush was making a feeble joke, in the manner of Ronald Reagan’s declaration of hostilities against Russia to what he thought was a switched-off microphone. Or perhaps Bush was speaking rhetorically, in the manner of Henry II: ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome TV station?’
The Mirror’s unnamed sources appear to be divided on these possibilities. The matter could be cleared up if only the Mirror were allowed to publish the leaked minutes of the alleged conversation. As it is, the decision of Lord Goldsmith to block publication under pain of imprisonment of any editor who did so can only make us fear the worst: that the President of the United States really did contemplate bombing a free and independent television station based in a country which has shown no hostility towards America or the West.
The White House has denied that the President contemplated any such thing, or perhaps on closer reading it has declined to comment. ‘We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response,’ were the words used by the White House spokesman Scott McClellan.