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Aired March 14, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


Coming up in this program, fair game or just unfair? Are the British press adding to Blair's woes?

Plus, does in bed mean in bed? We examine the relationship between the military and media.

Also on the show, should we be talking about torturing this man? Can torture ever be justified?

But first, looking tired and dispirited, British Prime Min. Tony Blair faced another excruciating week, trying still to convince the public, his own party and the press that his case against Iraq still stands.

He also continued to face hostile public audiences where his reception was anything but warm.

Then there's this world leader, French President Jacques Chirac, who is enjoying quite the opposite; unwavering support from all, including the media.

Joining me now to discuss this, Christine Ockrent, editor-in-chief France 3 TV, and here in the studio, Adam Boulton, Sky News political editor.

Christine, can I start with you by asking, is there an element of what we call here Brit bashing in the French press's attitude to Mr. Blair?

CHRISTINE OCKRENT, FRANCE 3 TV: Well, I think there is far less of Brit bashing or Blair bashing in the French press than there is in the British press, and indeed, there are quite a few journalists who, you know, who pity Mr. Blair and who say -- I was listening to a piece on the radio this morning, and people would say, you know, he's such a brave man, and at least he sticks to his convictions and to his words.

So I think paradoxically, there is more admiration for your prime minister on this side of the channel than on yours.

ADIE: Adam Boulton, not a lot of pity for the prime minister in the British press. In one or two quarters, but not all.

ADAM BOULTON, SKY NEWS: Well, you have to remember, of course, that the British press is overwhelmingly conservative, and therefore some newspapers, even though they may support Mr. Blair over Iraq, like the "Daily Mail," see it as an opportunity to destabilize his government for other means.

And the problem Mr. Blair has in this particular crisis is that on Iraq, the left of center newspapers by and large are opposed to the idea of going to war, so they've joined in the criticism of the prime minister, really trying to push him to the line, and I think that just shows that in the end, marketing, selling newspapers, having a good story, is more important than necessarily being loyal.

I mean, look at today's tabloids. You've got the sun attacking President Chirac and saying he's equivalent really to Saddam Hussein in terms of his attitudes and you've got the mirror actually saying that Tony Blair is a potential war criminal. Take your choice.

ADIE: Christine Ockrent, do you view from your side of the channel the way the British tabloids in particular operate as something of a blood sport?

OCKRENT: Well, indeed, you know, we are lucky enough in France not to have such tabloid press, so it's always amazing to us to see the crudeness and the vulgarity and the viciousness of these attacks, you know, whether they hate our president or your prime minister. It's a cultural surprise to all of us.

ADIE: Adam Boulton.

BOULTON: Well, I think it's splendid, actually, that you've got -- we have -- we don't have political class in this country who debate things at a higher level in the more diplomatique or elsewhere. We actually have a discussion in the main million-selling newspapers.

And if you look again in those tabloid newspapers, sure, it's vulgar, but at the same time there's an awful lot of information which an awful lot of ordinary people and ordinary voters are being given in a palatable way, and all the evidence shows that people don't necessarily believe the line that their newspaper takes, but they do absorb that information, and that's why, for example, you can get these big populist demonstrations, because people are engaged. Their interested in this information, and the newspapers is one of the ways they get it.

ADIE: Taking it as a given, Christian Ockrent, that we do have a very lively tabloid press to say the least in Britain, do you think this in any way actually effects the politics?

OCKRENT: Well, as Adam was just saying, it's no secret who the owners of this particular press are, and I think Mr. Murdoch, through his various channels, certainly tries to hit not only at the prime minister, but also at Europe as such, and he has done so consistently over the past few years.

So I think it is true that it's a way to inform, you know, people who otherwise probably wouldn't read more abstract or arrogant, quality papers.

But on the other hand, the political line, the editorial line of these papers, is usually very vicious too.

ADIE: Would you think that your own press is free of this taint of ownership influence?

OCKRENT: I think it's very different. Again, we don't actually go quite for the same classification.

We do have, of course, a press, which like yours, is either more conservative or more leftist, but in this particular occasion, on Iraq, it becomes a bit boring that the whole French press is wholly in support of the French policies.

ADIE: Adam Boulton, you spent a lot of time with the politicians. Does the kind of very personal approach, attacks and such like, actually have an effect? Do you think it has -- or is it water off a duck's back?

BOULTON: Well, I think if you survive in politics in this country, you have to have a very thick skin.

The attacks don't all come from one quarter, and certainly we've seen some politicians driven out, most recently Estelle Morris (ph), the education minister, simply cited the press and the level of attack as the reason why she resigned her job. And sometimes it strikes home.

But what I always find extraordinary is the extent to which politicians on all sides want to play along with this and actually quite often enjoy the tabloid campaigns, even when the tabloid campaigns are against them. And of course on this particular point, you know, I should stress that I don't -- we don't have any editorial line on Sky News, although Rupert Murdoch is a shareholder.

But as far as this conflict is concerned, the "Times" and the "Sun," actually far from attacking Tony Blair, have been the most loyal newspapers on this particular occasion, and I think we should also point out that French opinion is not universally pro-what-President Chirac is doing. In fact, I think Christine's husband has suggested he has some reservations about the stance of President Chirac in this situation.


OCKRENT: Yes, but he doesn't run a newspaper.

ADIE: Adam Boulton, Christine Ockrent, thank you very much indeed.

Time for a short break, but when we come back, the military in the media. Will you be able to tell the difference? We talk about the new embedding process and what it will mean for war reporting.



It's the new media catch phrase, "embedding." It's the process in which journalists are allocated to different military units in the hope that they'll be able to chronicle a potential war in the Gulf from inside the military machine.

After years of mutual suspicion, defense officials, both in the United States and Britain, have thrown open the doors and are allowing the media in. But many remain sharply critical of this and view it as simply a way to censor.

Joining me now, Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations. And in Paris, Mort Rosenblum, veteran war correspondent from the Associated Press.

Mort Rosenblum, journalists have always gone with the military. What's different about it this time?

MORT ROSENBLUM, AP: Well, you know, it's -- this time I get the idea that there's an effort being made to bring us along, which I think is very good. But you don't have to go beyond the word "embed" to sort of see -- get the picture of the problem.

I mean, I kind of prefer the word that Phil Bronstein (ph) of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) uses, implant, and you're sort of stuck like a microchip in the ear of a cocker spaniel. You see only what you can see from where you are. And this is fine for what it is, but it creates the larger problem of the other side.

You can't only be in the belly of the beast. You've got to be at the beast's shoulder and get a wider perspective, and that's what I'm afraid of, that we won't be able to see the other side.

ADIE: Bryan Whitman, is the intention just to get the journalists on- side, to get them to cozy up?

BRYAN WHITMAN, U.S. DEP. ASST. SECY. OF STATE: Oh, no, not at all. In fact, I would agree that this is -- embedding offers news organizations very deep and rich coverage, but very narrow coverage of what's happening right where that reporter happens to be, and that for a news organization to be able to cover the conflict, they'll have to cover it not only from an imbedded status but from capitols around the world, from the Pentagon, from Qatar, from the command headquarters and other places.

ADIE: Well, the other places might also be places which are not the embedding positions. What's the attitude toward those who are not embedded? Are you hostile to them?

WHITMAN: Well, there will be, like you may know, there may be as many as several hundred reporters that are embedded, but for those reporters that are not embedded, there are also many other opportunities to cover the war.

And like I was indicating, from Qatar, from the command headquarters there, from Kuwait, from the Pentagon, from other capitols around the world where forces are being provided by those countries.

ADIE: Mort Rosenblum, it sounds an ideal situation. I suspect, though, that you don't believe it's that.

ROSENBLUM: Well, actually, I don't.

I mean, sitting in Qatar with the Pentagon is not covering the war.

Now, Bryan is a good guy, and I mean, if he were out there with us, I'd be less worried. But the problem is, we've done this before in different forms. We had the pools in the Gulf War. I've been on other operations. And this really is a perfect opportunity -- I'm not sure it's the intention, but I think it will probably happen -- to stamp out what the military likes to call unilateralists, which is people operating on their own.

Experience makes me very, very wary. There's a case, for example -- a famous case in the Gulf War, where Fisk (ph), Bob Fish (ph), went up to Kafchi (ph), which was the town on the Saudi side, and somebody in one of the pools saw him, and they immediately reported him. He was on his own, but he was fingered by the pool, because they were operating almost as part of the military.

In my own case, I spent maybe 5,000 kilometers cruising around away from the pools in northern Saudi, and after a couple of days, I would go back to the same sources and I'd find out that the Pentagon had tracked them down and had roasted them for talking to me, an independent -- not independent, an AP reporter, but not in the pool.

So as I said, the intention may be good, but in practice it doesn't work.

ADIE: Bryan Whitman, in practice as well, this time around, there is far more in the way of modern technology and instant communication. Will you be allowing the embedded reporters to use that communications, instantly when they see something, when they want to report it?

WHITMAN: Well, we are encouraging all news organizations to bring the type of equipment that they need to be able to file their products, but there will be some guidelines and ground rules that will cover situations in which we need to protect the operational security of a mission.

We wouldn't want to do anything in real time reporting, and I don't think reporters out there with us do either, that would compromise the success of a mission or jeopardize the personnel that are actually involved in the operation.

So it's going to take -- it is going to take a lot of judgment out on the battlefield, but I believe that mature commanders and mature reporters are going to be able to work out these issues at the unit level.

ADIE: Mort Rosenblum, do you have faith in that? Do you think there will be mature judgment or just censorship?

ROSENBLUM: I agree that reporters would certainly not do anything to compromise the mission, and where there are responsibility reporters - I don't really know of any cases of reporters who would do that. We're very sensitive to that. They're right to be careful.

But the problem is, who draws the line? I mean, there are situations where commanders just decide something is embarrassing, something is -- you know, there are guys who simply just don't like reporters along. There are guys who, you know -- there's a lot of -- once again, as I said before, it depends on the commander, it depends on the situation, and the guidelines may be all right, but in practice, it can be a serious problem.

ADIE: Bryan Whitman, it could be a problem. Do you see it being easily resolved? Or do you see the kind of criticism coming at you which came after the Gulf War, that during the actual war there wasn't much reported?

WHITMAN: Well, clearly, at the end of the day we'll be judged by how well we do and not what our intentions were or what our plan was.

I think that we have put together a framework and a structure that will allow for both the military to accomplish their mission and for reporters to be able to report from the battlefield what is actually going on.

But people are human. Reporters are human and our troops out in the field are human and our commanders are human. So I wouldn't be so načve to think that there won't be some disputes along the way, and perhaps I have too much confidence in both our commanders as well as the reporters, but I think that we can keep those disputes to a minimum under the framework that we've setup.

ADIE: Bryan Whitman, Mort Rosenblum, thank you.

Up next on the program, to talk or not to talk about torture. Should the media be airing their views on this unpleasant subject, when we come back.


ADIE: It's something most of us feel very uncomfortable thinking about let alone publicly discussing, yet torture is being debated in elements of both the British and American press.

The arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda operations chief, has sparked this debate. The U.S. government is denying the allegations of torture, but speculation is running rife.

Joining me now, Roy Gutman, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from "Newsweek." Roy has co-written a book, "Crimes of War," which focuses on war crimes and international law.

Roy Gutman, the very fact that we're talking about this, does it mean that torture has become slightly more acceptable again?

ROY GUTMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Well, torture is being used. I think we have to acknowledge that, and I am afraid to say it looks like it's being used by American forces who are interrogating al Qaeda suspects. So I think it's very topical.

ADIE: Are there voices raised very strongly against this? I imagine there are. But are there voices also raised for it?

GUTMAN: Well, you know, the debate in the United States is a little bit peculiar, frankly. There is almost a lack of debate on most of the normal issues of civil liberties and human rights, where we would usually be raging forward.

I mean, the holding of so many detainees at Guantanamo for such a long time without charges is something that is only finally just made the editorial pages. And I think the allegations of about 2 weeks ago, a week or 10 days ago, out of Kandahar, where individuals who were being held and interrogated were killed -- actually it was ruled as a homicide.

I think it certainly raised people's concerns, but I wouldn't way that there's a major debate.

ADIE: is this entirely the result of the consequences of 09-11?

GUTMAN: I think largely so. I'm still baffled. There is a lack of, to my mind, of, you know, sufficient outrage over things that really shouldn't be, that I would ordinarily expect in this country.

I wold expect a bipartisan free for all over some of these things. It's been suppressed. I think there is still this feeling of rallying around the flag, rallying around the president, and putting aside the normal concerns.

ADIE: And this is an atmosphere which therefore is conducive with people saying, well, torture may be necessary.

GUTMAN: I'm afraid you're probably right. I would like to say though I think the American military is very cognizant of the rules of international life, including the torture conventions and the Geneva conventions, and on the whole, we very much, I think, would like to see them observed and would like to observe them.

The civilian masters have a different attitude, and that is that in a terrorist or counter terrorist battle, let's say, as we now have going on, it's not really a war in any convention sense, that those rules apply only when we choose to apply them and as we choose to apply them.

So there's a -- there's really quite a difference between the uniformed, professional military, as I understand their position and that of the civilian masters.

ADIE: Coming to the media, is there, do you think, any kind of responsibility the press themselves should have in the editorials, to take a line which is solidly against torture? Or is it just another matter for moral debate?

GUTMAN: Well, if anybody really investigates torture, and I'm not sure, frankly, who has, because, you know, one of the questions I have, Kate, is does torture really work? And -- or does it backfire? Because I think on the whole there really could be quite a debate.

So we need some data if we're going to have an intelligent debate, but that's sort of almost allowing that torture is a possibility.

But I'm just thinking, if we are in this extraordinary situation, and it is a highly unusual situation, then there ought to be some elucidation of the facts and then you could have a discussion based on that.

That has not happened, and as for the moral debate, I think most people will say and many of the columnists have said in the editorial pages that we should not be practicing torture, but I don't think that there's really been a continuing investigation of what really has been a scandal.

I think the killing of these two men in Kandahar prison, what is called a homicide, is a terrible blot on the American authorities and, you know, I think we really want to find out whether this has happened anywhere else and how this could have occurred.

ADIE: Do you think that this is a temporary atmosphere which is reigning throughout the American press? Do you see it improving? Or do you think something is, as it were, getting underneath the skin, a slightly more defensive nation, worried about America's war on terrorism?

GUTMAN: Well, Kate, I find, frankly, the lack of critical coverage, of highly skeptical coverage, of the preparations for the war in Iraq, very disturbing. Disturbing almost in the extreme. Because I think that the administration is using its capabilities of spinning, you know, our minds, to the utmost, and I think the press has been very reluctant to question them.

And so I think that this is -- the discussion on the lack of discussion on torture is a reflection of this broader and I think fairly bleak picture. I can't recall the American press being so tame on major issues that really will change the world as is the case right now, and that really goes across the board.

ADIE: But permanently tamed? Made domesticated and given up its usual wild or at least sort of feral habits?

GUTMAN: I wouldn't expect that. I think that this is a passing phenomenon.

I think often the way things happen is that, you know, the government is given more rope than it should be allowed, less critical questioning, less skeptical reporting, and then they run away with it and do things to great excess, and then the press, you know, it becomes a political issue and the press catches up.

But right now I think the press is lagging. I don't find that it is at all being the watchdog that is its fundamental function. I hate to say, the watchdog has in many cases become the lapdog.

ADIE: Roy Gutman, thank you.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Kate Adie, in London. Thanks for joining us.



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