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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 January, 2004, 22:23 GMT
US hails Hutton victory for Blair

By Adam Brookes
BBC correspondent in Washington

It's a task akin to mapping the surface of Mars, but America's journalists have been trying bravely to fashion a comprehensible narrative from the Hutton story.

Tony Blair
The location of Tony Blair's head is a principal preoccupation

"A head did roll, but it wasn't Blair's", growled NBC's Tom Brokaw on Wednesday's evening news.

The location of Tony Blair's head is the principal preoccupation here. Such is the stature of Mr Blair on this side of the Atlantic that coverage has zeroed in on his exoneration by Lord Hutton at the expense of most other aspects of the story.

ABC news uber-anchor, Peter Jennings, called the Hutton Report "an important victory for a man who has been criticized by millions of his own people for supporting the President's war effort".

Contrasting Bush and Blair

The same preoccupation, just wordier, shaped a New York Times leader on Thursday morning: "Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has given an impressive demonstration of how good governance can also be smart politics."

Mr Blair gave the Hutton inquiry his "full cooperation. Its report leaves him substantially vindicated".

The leader page contrasted Mr Blair's "co-operation" sharply with President Bush's "strategy of spin and evade" on questions surrounding the justifications for war in Iraq.

It's almost as if the newly laundered reputation of Mr Blair is a source of relief to a number of American journalists.

The PM's powers of rhetoric and persuasion are praised with striking frequency in the media here.

The New York Times conceded, though, that Mr Blair had work to do to regain the trust of the Labour Party. "More carefully grounded policies will also be needed," it noted, airily.

The Washington view

The Washington Post placed the story at the bottom of the front page and dwelt more than most on the BBC's fate.

Former US chief arms inspector, David Kay
Former weapons hunter David Kay's testimony to the Senate was linked with Hutton coverage

But this was a straight tell, and the Post - preoccupied with election politics - did not cough up an editorial on a defining political moment for its key wartime ally.

However, in a telling layout decision, the Hutton story ran in the same column as the account of David Kay's testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr Kay is the former weapons inspector who led the hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction after the war.

No weapons, of course, have been found. Mr Kay told the committee that's because, he's pretty sure, they don't exist.

But Mr Kay blames bad intelligence - and bad intelligence agencies - for overestimating the quantity and quality of Iraq's WMD. The US Government's, he insists, acted in good faith.

The hunt for WMD

There exists a powerful linkage between the Hutton and Kay stories.

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic are shaking off allegations that they manipulated intelligence in the run-up to war.

The onus is gradually shifting onto intelligence agencies to explain how they could have got it so wrong on Iraq's WMD.

Still, by Thursday afternoon, Hutton was plummeting off the TV screen here.

CNN's mid-afternoon line-up: Afghanistan; the Martha Stewart trial; a murder trial; election campaigning; Israel; celebrity mugshots; a serial killer on a pig farm in Canada.

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