It strikes me, as I follow the Hutton inquiry, that almost any human activity can be made to appear questionable, even dodgy. I think of my – not untypical – hurried departure for London yesterday morning. Already late, I filled the dog’s water bowl directly from a jug, though I knew it needed washing out; threw a bank statement into the bin unopened; ate half a chocolate bar left by one of my sons on the kitchen table; and induced the taxi driver to break the speed limit as we raced to the railway station, where I just caught my train, and thereby accomplished my mission.
If, though, something had gone wrong – if I had fallen on to the railway line or inadvertently pushed an elderly lady on to it – could not my behaviour have been represented as systematically irresponsible, indicative of some character flaw and in some way setting off a train of events that was bound to end in disaster? Might not a sneering QC have succeeded in persuading others that I had recklessly disregarded my health, let down my dog, my children and my family, besides flouting the law and abusing an innocent Bangladeshi taxi driver? I have a similar sense watching Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter, being slowly deconstructed. All his shortcomings – in fact not very grave ones – are totted up so as to invalidate his famous report, and make him seem a very inadequate human being.
I suppose he must now be the most disliked man in Britain. Whether in the editorial conferences of the Daily Telegraph or the tea room of the House of Commons, his name is invoked with derisive sniggers, and he is invested with all the flaws of the BBC and of sloppy journalism in general. Many people hate him without even troubling to consider what he has done.