Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "The SAS trapped Bin Laden"

The first casualty of war is the truth, and this is even more the case before we have fired a shot in anger. The biggest and best war stories for the tabloids are those involving the SAS. They all compete with each other to invent the first SAS story, in the full knowledge that any SAS yarn, by its very nature, will not be denied or confirmed. Even royal stories are more accurate than SAS ones these days.

Last Sunday, certain papers made the unbelievable claim that the SAS was already engaging the Taliban in Afghanistan. You might have thought that this left little for the tabloids to report on Monday, but you would have been wrong. Even though no one, especially the CIA, has any idea where the top terrorist Osama Bin Laden actually is, by Monday morning the tabloids had him "trapped in a mountain lair". And who had cut off all his escape routes? None other than our brave boys in the SAS. That was, as they say in the business, complete bollocks, but it certainly made for a good read, and that is what it's all about.

The media barons don't like to admit it, but this war is very good for newspaper sales. Over the next few weeks, we will be served up an unrelenting diet of stories that bear little relation to the truth, just as we have been during all other wars. Indeed, the phrase "Don't believe anything you read in the papers" is said to have come from troops fighting in the trenches.

When Tony Blair made his statement in Downing Street, TV viewers could see a familiar figure skulking in the doorway. That figure was Alastair Campbell: he may have given up his formal press briefings, but he will still be feeding the hacks. Campbell will be like a pig in shit, and that's mostly what the hacks will get from him.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, What would you do?