A Box Full of Marbles
A box full of marbles.


Denis Boyles

In 1986, I went to an auction in rural Maryland and bought a full-length sofa and a box of marbles that had been tightly stuffed into in a cloth bag. At the time, I was driving a 1973 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, for which I had paid $500. It was a huge car, with electric everything, including a little switch on the floor that changed the radio stations for you. The interior was all done up in kind of a faded pea green silk brocade. My girlfriend at the time remarked that every time she got in the car, she felt like she was checking into a cheap motel. And indeed she was. But I digress.

The Caddy’s trunk was vast, easily big enough to tote sofas home from the country. I parked the couch in the living room and promptly lost the box of marbles. Twelve years later, my children found them, tore open the bag, poured the marbles into the box and provided me with a metaphor for the story that won’t die in the European press: the weapons of mass destruction “controversy”.

About two weeks ago, Paul Wolfowitz’s mangled quote that seemed to claim that the WMD issue was just a convenient argument for war appeared in Vanity Fair. The Vanity Fair story tipped the box just a little, because as the rest of the press sought to report badly what Vanity Fair had reported badly, all the media marbles started to roll. Until something tips the box some other way, the WMD story has the advantage of gravity. Of course, there isn’t much of a story there. But that would be to misunderstand what’s really happening in the European (and for that matter American) press. As surely everyone understands by now, the story that’s being reported, especially in the left-wing media, isn’t in the details. It’s in the hyperstory: the war in Iraq was wrong, they’re reporting, just as they had always said it had been. And, since journalists can only see that for which they are looking, they have proof.

For most of the broadsheets, the WMD story is couched in what Le Monde persistently calls les polémiques. In the U.S., according to the paper, controversies are being stirred up daily as new “doubts” are voiced not only by the Democrats, but also by the military establishment. According to Le Figaro, there’s a “risk” that the controversy may trigger something the paper calls Iraqgate, because, the paper claims, the scandal has the Bush administration on the ropes because it “could be” that Blair and Bush misled the public about the WMDs. The Germans agree: If the massenvernichtungswaffen aren’t found, and found soon, says the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bush will have to admit that Hans Blix is right when he says there’s a “probability that there are no weapons of mass destruction there” at all.

The richly nuanced, sympathetic language of “doubts” and “risks” and “concerns” and “questions” is grossly dishonest, of course. Why do media weenies have to be so passive-aggressive? Why can’t Le Monde and the Independent and their ilk just run a big headline every day that says, “Bush Is a Jerk!” and be done with it? The cowardice of the left is painfully obvious when a paper like the New York Times runs a front-page story-well, more an inference than a story, I guess — like James Risen’s vaguely sourced, sometimes contradictory, always mystifying little item, “Captives Deny Qaeda Worked With Baghdad” — as if that settles the matter, when what they’re really trying to say was said most honestly and clearly last week by Liberation. The paper covered its front page with pictures of Blair and Bush beneath the huge word “LIARS”.

Bush and Blair are liars. They were wrong and we were right. They’s bad people and we’re good people. That’s what all the little marbles in the box are saying. And while I don’t agree with much of Liberation’s political point of view or its journalistic silliness (try “24 Hours in the Life of a Strike”), at least they’re not afraid to call a spade a pelle and take the heat for saying what they really think. The rest of the marbles in the box need therapy — even though, according a report in Le Monde, psychiatrists and psychologists are all busy driving themselves crazy perhaps, the paper continues, because their patients face a difficult, anguishing, crushing personal struggle every day against the odds to find le point G.

The other, less spiritually inspired obsessions of the Euro-press last week had to do with the trouble at the New York Times, where the decision to send Howell Raines back home to write Whiskey Man II: The Hangover was summed up by the Times with the understatement of the week: “New York Times Not Objective.” Not even the Independent cut little Pinch (“this sucks”) Sulzberger any slack with its piece captioned, “The Shame of the Grey Lady,” which sounds a lot more interesting than it was.

In the U.K., where most people would rather mind their pennies than their euro-cents, Gordon Brown, the man who will never be prime minister, rejected an early attempt to pick the pockets of Britons and replace the pound with the money of the French, as reported with some melancholy resignation by Suddeutsche Zeitung. Acceptance of the euro, like the acceptance of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s EU constitution, has become one of those issues that seems to break along the right-left axis. Many on the left, like the odd assortment of “analysts” employed by the BBC, suddenly fell to trying to figure out how to make Brown say something he didn’t say at all, while on the right, the editor of the Daily Telegraph was suggesting that the whole European question might be the lemming issue that drives New Labour over a white cliff somewhere. Meanwhile, in Poland, as Die Welt reported, voters were deciding to join the EU-one of a series of lucky breaks that, according to Thomas Fuller’s assessment in the IHT, has left an astonished Berlin at the center of power in the EU, for whatever that’s worth.

I won’t overstay my tenuous welcome, but in parting, may I leave those of you queuing for the Imax at the Museum of Iraq, or whatever it’s called, with some good news? According to a remarkable report in the Guardian by a “furious” David Aaronovich, almost all the exhibits that previously had been reported as having been looted have turned up downstairs, where the staff had locked them away for safe-keeping. (Or, as I heard one NPR commentator put it, “…to protect them from the occupation people.”) Aaronovitch (or his editor) can’t quite bring himself to say that he was duped by, among others, the Guardian itself the last time the marbles rolled in the box, but the paper’s website helpfully provides a link to many of the offending pieces, including this weepy piece by Jonathan Steele, written last April. Wear a raincoat, Mr. Steele; in hindsight, you look really, really bad.

Denis Boyles, an NRO contributor, is a journalist based in Europe.