Good Cop, Bad Cop, Sad Cop
No real turning point in the European press.


Denis Boyles

Colin Powell, fresh from his starring role as an U.N.-prone master of slow-motion negotiation, demonstrated yesterday that when it comes to putting in an appearance, he has the ability to do diplomacy the way bachelors do shopping: Keep it simple, make it fast, and figure out what you got when you get home.

Yesterday, in Brussels, Powell had meetings with diplomats from 23 countries, and if he didn’t come home with exactly what he wanted, he at least left behind a stack of newspapers all bearing lots of bridge-building headlines, such as that over the coverage of Powell’s visit in today’s Die Welt and the report in today’s Daily Telegraph.

But in France, where the government is today being reminded by striking workers of the country’s mounting economic problems, the Powell visit is seen as an opportunity — for France, where bridge-building is fine, as long as France gets the construction contract.

Le Monde, sensing hope in the recent controversy between Blair and Bush over the details of running a postwar Iraq, feels unity in the air. Indeed, after his meeting in Brussels with Powell, the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, told reporters, including the New York Times’s Steve Weisman, that as the war in Iraq nears its climax, it was important to look beyond past differences and toward a pragmatic solution. (Read: Yet more French contracts in Iraq.) Lately, de Villepin has been playing against character as the good cop of French foreign policy. It’s a role that has stretched his talents to the max. (Weisman, whose report was carried in today’s IHT, does what the Times’ reporters generally do: He conflates “EU” opinion with French opinion, a notion that finds little support in the somewhat refreshing Q&A in today’s Liberation with UDF president and longtime Chirac antagonist François Bayrou.)

Meanwhile, back in Paris, the French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, was playing bad gendarme, telling the BBC that the Americans were guilty of “moral, political and strategic” errors in disregarding French opinion and invading Iraq. According to the BBC report, “‘France was on the side of peace and law, without being pacifist,’ Mr Raffarin said, ‘and we think that with this war we’ve gone beyond the law.’” By “we,” M. Raffarin did not mean France.

France’s sorrow and pity, however, were reserved for the forlorn M. Le President, Jacques Chirac, who yesterday sent an apology to the queen for the desecration of a British war cemetery by French antiwar activists. Doing his wacky impersonation of Claude Rains’s Renaud, the ambivalent police captain in Casablanca, Chirac said he was “shocked to learn of the desecration of the British cemetery at Etaples in Pas-deCalais.” In fact, Chirac said, he was not only shocked, he was appalled. the Times, which claimed the apology “reflected the anger and shame widely felt in France over the defiling of the cemetery,” offers Chirac’s letter in full.

Now that Coalition troops in Baghdad are doing what travelers abroad do best — hanging out in the airport — the British press today takes a little time out for doing what the media does best after a little orgiastic newsfest: It asks itself how good it was. These little embarrassing interludes always play the same: Have we been biased? Possibly, possibly — but, really, now that we’ve thought carefully about it, no. The British home secretary disagrees.

In what today’s Guardian calls “an unprecedented strike on the media by a cabinet minister,” Blunkett told an audience in New York that the British press had created a moral equivalency between a bloody tyrant like Saddam Hussein and British and American politicians and soldiers. In fact, this very morning, as if to give Blunkett fresh ammo that it would gladly deny the British army, the worried BBC reported that capturing the airport in Baghdad had resulted in the deaths of “hundreds of Iraqis.” That the Iraqis happened to be soldiers in uniform shooting at Coalition troops was a fact missing in the newscast.

Said Blunkett: “For the first time ever in our history we not only have thousands — literally thousands — of journalists travelling with the troops, but we have broadcast media behind what I would describe as enemy lines, reporting blow-by-blow what is happening. We have it reported certainly in our own media in the United Kingdom on occasions as though they were moral equivalents. Those of a progressive, or liberal bent, in my view, are egged on into believing that this is the right way to get to the true facts.” The response to Blunkett’s remarks, according to the Guardian, was “furious” — especially by the BBC, whose coverage has been widely and justifiably criticized.

While the usual suspects were busily denying Blunkett’s charges, the Independent had to defend itself from another British cabinet minister and take to its editorial page to explain that Robert Fisk, the well-known ex-journalist whose skill as a propagandist cannot reasonably be disputed, was not in fact a propagandist at all. Responding to disparaging comments made by Defense Minister Geoff Hoon, as reported awkwardly elsewhere in the paper, the Independent’s leader-writer asserts Fisk’s past credentials. The Independent concludes, weirdly, that attacks on the King of Compassion will not “reassure a doubtful British public that the Government genuinely wants to minimise civilian casualties” — without the self-righteous, bombastic assertion of which, of course, Fisk would be unemployed.