A national newspaper editor who pulled his correspondent from Baghdad before the start of the war remains convinced he was right, writes Jean Morgan.
Despite the strength of television and newspaper reporting from within Saddam’s capital during the awesome bombing raids and the invasion of the US troops, Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph had no second thoughts about removing David Blair and photographer Heathcliffe O’Malley.
He went so far as to back up his decision with a leader, criticised by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in Press Gazette last week, that his fear that UK journalists in the Palestine Hotel would become a human shield for Saddam’s regime was beginning to be proved right.
“The Palestine Hotel became effectively the headquarters of Saddam’s regime, because that’s where they gave their speeches and increasingly they hid themselves,” Moore maintained. “It turned into something very nasty in the end when, because of this ambiguous position of the hotel, the Americans fired at it and killed two journalists. Luckily, the regime then collapsed, so we only had 24 hours of this.”
The Telegraph’s view of the risk was a reasonable one, he argued. “The issue was not the unfortunately necessary risk associated with war reporting – that you might get shot or blown up – it was that journalists staying in Baghdad may be used as a human shield by Saddam.
“That seemed to me a very unpleasant risk for them and a sort of political benefit for Saddam.”
Moore did not feel his newspaper had missed out. “We had the best reporters with the relevant armies. We had the first journalist, Oliver Poole, into Baghdad with the US 3rd Infantry Division, so we didn’t suffer on that account. Secondly, Adriana Jaulmes was there for Le Figaro and wrote superb stuff for us.”