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Aired June 6, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
History in the making, or history repeating itself? This week's much awaited three-way talks in Aqaba, Jordan between U.S. President George W. Bush and the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinians set out a fresh vision for peace in the Middle East.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon supporting the formation of a Palestinian state and the removal of unauthorized settlements and Mahmoud Abbas, his Palestinian counterpart, rejecting violence, this to achieve Palestinian political goals.

But for all the media attention, is anything really about to change?

Joining me now, CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief, Mike Hanna, and Harvey Morris, Jerusalem bureau chief for "The Financial Times."

Correct me, gentleman, if I'm wrong, but haven't we been here before? We're just back at the starting like, and we're probably discovering the starting line's a lot further back than it was three years ago -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, yes, certainly we have been here before, many times.

We've seen the piece process attempt to be resuscitated on a number of occasions. But there is, I think, one critical difference here, and that is the presence of a U.S. president who is absolutely committing himself, he says, to seeing this process through.

Things have gone of the rail in recent years because there has become a vacuum at some stage in attempts to implement the process. In this particular attempt, though, what we have is a U.S. president putting himself on the like as well as the parties who are trying to implement the roadmap -- Walt.

RODGERS: Harvey, do you see that as the difference? I mean, we had Bill Clinton up to his hips in this process.

HARVEY MORRIS, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": I think what we have this time, though, is a plan where an outside party is actually laying down the process by which peace will be achieved.

In the past, everything has depended very much on the two parties reaching their own conclusion. This time around there's a strategy, there's a roadmap, which has got specific obligations that have to be met, and there's an outside party, principally the United States, with it's Quartet partners, who are going to monitor just how closely the two parties are following this scheme.

RODGERS: There was a Pew Poll taken this last week taken across the Islamic world, and it said the majority of people, and this includes Palestinians, say that they believe the needs of the Palestinians cannot be met as long as the state of Israel exists. Why should Israel negotiate -- Mike.

HANNA: Well, because there does appear to be a recognition among certain sectors in Israeli society that there is no option.

Arial Sharon stated that peace without security is not possible, but equally security without piece is not possible either. And also Ariel Sharon making clear Wednesday that he believes that getting this peace is in Israel's own interest.

So once again, there does appear to be a recognition that whether people like it or not, the fate of Israel and of the Palestinians is inextricably intertwined and this is a development, certainly, particularly given this Israeli government.

So that is once again a difference to what we've seen before, is a recognition of an inter-linkage between the fate and future of Israel and how that pans out and the fate and future of the Palestinian territories.

RODGERS: But on the other side, Mr. Morris, there used to be a constituency, a substantial constituency for peace in Israel. Is that there anymore, a constituency for peace?

MORRIS: Well, I think there is.

If you -- I think there is. If you look at the opinion polls that have come out in the last couple of weeks in Israel, it shows that well over half the population, including people who vote for Mr. Sharon's Likud Party, which after all is a bit restless about this diplomatic move, they say that they accept the roadmap.

They're not terribly confident that it will work, but they're prepared to give it is try, and I think Sharon is relying on that public support to proceed the way he's doing.

RODGERS: One of the interesting things in covering this story from afar this week was looking at the so-called clarifications that the Israelis issued.

Mike, Ariel Sharon no sooner issued his peace pronouncements than we had clarifications. What does this say about the media? And what does this say about the Sharon position?

HANNA: Well, it says that all the mead yeah can do is simply report what is said by the parties.

There's going to be lots of shifting of ground here. One has a sense that both parties have been dragged reluctantly to this part of the process, particularly to a public pronouncement about intent in the weeks and months ahead -- very difficult, both for the Palestinian prime minister and for Ariel Sharon to say what they said in Aqaba Wednesday.

Certainly, we're going to get these reservations that have been expressed by Ariel Sharon and the Israelis coming up time after time. But once again there appears to be a greater elasticity in terms of the process. There appears to be an awareness of where things went wrong before and attempts made to plug those holes -- have somebody holding hands with the partners, having an immediate address for somebody to go to when one or the other is not perceived as meeting their obligations.

So there is something within this process that may be different from what is before, and that is there is more breathing space. There perhaps is less likelihood of an incident, single incident, act of violence, something along the line, derailing the process, as has happened before.

But once again, there are going to be those objections, there are going to be those hurdles, there are going to be those reservations from both sides, each one of which is going to be a potential hurdle or stumbling block or brick wall. We don't know. We'll see how it pans out - - Walt.

RODGERS: Harvey, one quick question. With Yasser Arafat excluded from the process -- because the Americans and the Israelis have dealt him out, should the media exclude covering him now?

MORRIS: No, I don't think so. I mean, this is a political choice that's been made by Israel and by the United States. I mean, our job is to cover the views of whoever we think still plays a role.

Now, OK, Arafat's role is not official in the same way that it was. Nevertheless, he remains influential.

Had he said this week that he felt that Ariel Sharon had not offered anything tangible in his statement in Aqaba, he may not have been correct, but he was reflecting a view of many Palestinians, and he still has the influence to act as a spoiler, perhaps, if he thinks that the process is not going in the direction that he would like.

RODGERS: Harvey Morris, Mike Hanna, thanks for tackling a tough issue.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, has the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction turned into another Blair witch hunt?

Stay with us.


RODGERS: ... now back on the political agenda in both Britain and the United States, and for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, this is proving an especially prickly point.

On Thursday, outgoing weapons inspector Hans Blix further fueling the debate, saying inspectors found no evidence of Iraq's banned weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion in March.

Joining me now here in the studio, Rod Nordland, correspondent at large for "Newsweek" magazine, and James Naughtie, presenter of BBC Radio 4's "Today" program.

James, I'd like to begin by asking, do you think Tony Blair lied, as has been so widely suggested in the news media here?

JAMES NAUGHTIE, BBC'S "TODAY": I don't think he lied. I think he takes great exception to the accusation that he lied.

However, I think that in all the misty talk that went on and negotiation leading up to the effort on his part to get a second resolution at the U.N., I think he gilded the lily. I think he overstated his case.

I think he probably, because of his own commitment, which was very powerful to the belief that you have to take military action if all else failed -- I think in the effort to persuade, I think he probably exaggerated what he believed to be true.

Lie is a strong word for that. I mean, if that's a lie, a lot of things in politics are a lie.

RODGERS: It's been all over the British media.

NAUGHTIE: Well, it has, and it's trouble for Blair. There's no question about that.

Not trouble in the sense it will drive him from office, unless some extraordinary revelation comes out, which I think everybody believes is unlikely.

But I think that you've got to remember that there was an enormous reluctance in this country, particularly in his party, but generally, to go to war on the Bush agenda with the Bush rhetoric.

Blair persuaded people that he saw no alternative. Now, if people now believe that they were reluctantly drawn into a war which they didn't want because there was no alternative and there was an alternative, as Blix says, they'd be unhappy.

RODGERS: Rod, tell he why the media vitriol is so much -- a lot more venomous here than in the United States on this issue?

ROD NORDLAND, "NEWSWEEK": I don't know. It's hard to understand.

I think, partly, there never was the degree of support for the war here that there was in the United States. And probably Americans are just a little more accepting of the view point their government gives them. They always have been, especially in war time.

And also, I think, since the war, the one think that has become really clear is that this was really a brutal regime, and the evidence of that was so overwhelming, and Americans have responded to that much more viscerally, I think, than people in Britain have.

RODGERS: James, how serious is the trouble?

NAUGHTIE: Oh, the trouble is serious, and it's a very interesting question about the media.

There's a paradox here. A lot of the papers which are going for blood an this subject are papers which supported the war, papers, generally speaking, on the conservative side of the argument, the "Daily Mail," "the Telegraph" and so on.

The reason they're going for Blair with extraordinary viciousness at the moment is because of a frustration that has built up over six years. This guy's been untouchable. They didn't like him. They didn't like his philosophy, they were very angry at the way he had colonized the middle ground of politics.

The Conservative Party was in such a mess that they couldn't recommend people to vote the Conservative Party. They didn't think much of Ian Duncan Smith or his predecessor. And now they think -- although Blair was pursuing their policy in Iraq, we've got him. He's in trouble. So everything is pouring out. The feeling that he's betraying the country and Europe, which is the position from the right. The feeling that, you know, his public service reforms in hospitals and all the rest of it aren't working.

This is get Blair time. And curiously, the venom which you rightly describe is coming from papers which supported him in Iraq...


RODGERS: Why does his own party want to bring him down? Why to the back-benchers want to humiliate Tony Blair and punish him?

NAUGHTIE: Well, I think a lot of them have been extremely disturbed on a whole range of domestic issues involving hospitals, schools and various other thinks in which they feel that he's been dragging the party too far in what they would regard as a non-traditional labor direction.

And this proved the lightening rod. Suddenly the rebellion in Iraq gave them the freedom to rebel. One Labor MP said to me the other day, he said, "It's a bit like not going to church. The first time you do it, you're a bit, sort of, you feel, oh dear, I should have gone. The next week, it doesn't feel so bad."

Once you've rebelled once, you're off. And, you know, all their frustrations are coming out.

RODGERS: Rod, the United States and Britain got rid of a despicable tyrant. Why should Tony Blair repent?

NORDLAND: I think that's the view most Americans would have; what's it all about.

And an awful lot of people see the evident of that as justification for the war sort of after the fact.

I mean it's almost as if, you know, we had gone to war with Germany over the possibility they were building a nuclear weapon and then found the Holocaust instead. Nobody would have really complained about it. And it's a bit overdrawing the case, but it's something along those lines.

But that argument doesn't resonate here at home.

RODGERS: James, what does this tell us about the difference between the two peoples, Americans and Brits?

NAUGHTIE: I think it tells us that there's a European perspective on the Middle East which is different.

I think that particularly in the Labor Party, in the public generally, the chattering (ph) classes, anyway, but particularly in the Labor Party, there is a deep mistrust, historically, of American policy in the Middle East, towards Israel and so on. And I think that lies quite close on to the surface of the Labor Party's turmoil.

RODGERS: Are they punishing Tony Blair because he went to bed with the Americans?

NAUGHTIE: Yes, I think there's a bit of that in it. And I think what you've also got to remember is that among modern presidents, and I would include Ronald Reagan in this, Bush has a remarkable ability to irritate people in this country.

Partly it's the rhetoric, partly it's the style, partly it's the kind of Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfowitz-Powell kind of rhetoric that one gets. That doesn't go down well here at all. And a lot of people, especially in the Labor Party but more generally, say to Blair look, why did you sell the store to this guy? You know, OK, do a deal with him on something, but you've gone all the way.

And I think, myself, after the success in getting 1441 through the U.N., which Blair, I think, can claim some genuine credit for, the trouble then, he was trapped. He couldn't get out of it, and I think he regrets that, although he thinks it was the right thing to do, don't misunderstand that. He believes it was absolutely correct and he will defend it for every minute he's in office.

RODGERS: Rod, who are the papers flailing Tony Blair so much for this?

NORDLAND: Well, I think they see an opportunity, like, as you said, to get at him as a kind of a proxy I issue.

Bush is starting to get that in the states, too. There's a lot of criticism in the papers, in the media, and more recently the Democrats have kind of been emboldened to start attacking him on the WMD issue, which they wouldn't have dared do, even a few weeks ago.

RODGERS: One last question, quick answer from both of you. Rod, was the invasion a good idea or a bad idea? I'm going to ask the same of you, James -- Rod.

NORDLAND: Well, I think it was a good idea, bought not because of WMD. I don't -- if they ever really believed that, they should have known better, and they certainly knew that al Qaeda wasn't a reason.

But just one further thought, though. It was a big failure in terms of their goals if they did believe that there was WMD, because what we saw in many cases where there were possible WMD sites, looters got to them before the U.S. troops did.


NAUGHTIE: If they find nothing in the way of weapons of mass destruction, I think it will prove, from Blair's political point of view, to have been a bad idea, however desirable it may be for any decent person to see the fall of tyrant.

RODGERS: James Naughtie, Rod Nordland, thank you very, very much.

One major media story in the news this week: turmoil and turnover at "The New York Times."

The two top editors at the newspaper quitting in the wake of a scandal involving a young reporter who failed to report the facts.

Jason Carroll has the story.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One "New York Times" staffer called it the worst day in the paper's 150 year history.

The two top editors at the "Times" resigned, executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd. The two stepped down in the wake of a scandal involving disgraced former reporter Jayson Blair, who on Thursday spoke about his misdeeds.

JAYSON BLAIR, FMR. REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I'm truly sorry for my actions and what they've done. I felt like, you know, I was in a cycle of self-destruction that I never intended -- and I never intended for it to hurt anyone else -- and for the pain that it's caused my colleagues.

CARROLL: Blair's former colleagues are talking too.

Reporter Deborah Sontag said she was sad about the editors resignations, but also hopeful

DEBORAH SONTAG, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I hope that we will come of it, reexamining some of the ways in which we've done business for many years now and growing from it.

CARROLL: But "Times" art director Jerelle Kraus could barely contain her excitement and content for Raines, an editor criticized by staff for being arrogant and inaccessible.

JERRELL KRAUS, ART DIR. "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Everybody was afraid, and he was the nastiest editor I've ever worked with.

CARROLL: Raines was disliked by many staff after setting up a star system that they said favored a few at the expense of many others.

Raines and Boyd stepped down after the paper found one of Raines' youngest stars, Jayson Blair, was responsible for dozens of infractions, including plagiarism and lying, much of which was missed by management.

On Mother's Day, the paper printed a four-page article detailing Blair's deceptions. Moral at the paper plummeted.

Then weeks later, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Rick Bragg resigned after conceding a story with his byline had been reported mostly by a freelancer, former "Times" staffer and author Alex Jones says Raines and Boyd simply lost the staff's support.

ALEX JONES, AUTHOR: I think that the problem was that they didn't have enough in the bank with the staff. They had lost the confidence of the staff, apparently. And I think that when that happens at an institution like "The New York Times," that's something that you can't find a way around.

CARROLL: Joe Lelyveld, who was top editor for seven years before retiring, was named interim executive editor. He's respected by staff, but his temporary appointment won't solve the paper's larger problem.

LENA WILLIAMS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Joe is an interim. It's a Band- Aid. We still don't know who our next executive editor and who our next managing editor is going to be. And until we have that resolved, there's going to be some anxiety, some -- not discomfort, but we just don't know where we're going to go.

CARROLL (on camera): The turmoil at the "Times" may not end soon. Sources say an internal committee will continue to investigate the paper's editorial practices and policies. Some staffers say it's hard to predict the outcome of that review on one of the world's most influential newspapers.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


RODGERS: Once again, we would like to leave you laughing, or at least with a smile, so we called in A.A. Gill, media critic and columnist, to walk us through some of this week's political cartoons.

A.A., the political cartoonists from the West all the way to the Arab world see this as a roadmap going nowhere. George Bush standing there, what do you think?

A.A. GILL, COLUMNIST: This is a really great cartoon. This is Garland (ph), and you rather miss this not being in the newspaper, because of this great expanse of space is what points at how -- what's the point of having a map if there's no landscape.

I think it's a very well-made point, that.

RODGERS: We saw the same thing in the Arab papers as well.

GILL: This is pretty much the same joke, although made slightly more complicated. It's got the three main characters in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

I'm interested in this man who's supposed to be the engine with Sharon driving. I mean, it's, again, it's a good joke.

It's interesting to see that now around the world, Bush is being portrayed as a sort of chimpanzee.

RODGERS: Here's the sleeper issue, the move towards greater media concentration, all media outlets in the hands of a few shadowy media moguls.

Here's a cartoon, a TV presenter, "I love my new boss."

Does that scare you, or does it make you laugh?

GILL: You're talking to a man whose breakfast was bought by Rupert Murdoch this morning.

RODGERS: I understand, but you aren't wearing an "I love my new boss" pin.

GILL: No, and of course, AOL, Time Warner, big conglomerate news agency.

I think it is very funny. And this is a story that is now worldwide. I mean, there may be two or three news corporations that own every media outlet in the world. Berlusconi, there's Murdoch, various other people.

And they all say, well, you can get your news off the Internet, but I mean, who believes the Internet? Who does?

I think it's -- I think that's closer to the truth now than a cartoon.

RODGERS: Next, a rather eloquent cartoon, and the caption is important. "Still unaccounted for." Saddam Hussein is the ace of spades, and the joker in the deck, weapons of mass destruction.

GILL: This is another Garland (ph) cartoon. I think this is brilliant. This gets my vote as best cartoon of the week, because the pack of cards was such a publicity coup for the administration in a way, was such a great image. It's been used everywhere.

I was in New York last week. You can buy them on the street corners.

And then this is the joker, which we're never shown, which is the weapons that seem to be absent. It's a very clever joke, that.

RODGERS: And lastly, Tony Blair on the hot seat. Is this the view of most cartoonists? That this is mendacious?

GILL: Oh, I mean, mendacious, I think is the polite word. No, I think he's spinning like a top.

I mean, this is a story which I think cartoonists aren't going to let go. This is -- we're going to see a lot more of this in the coming weeks.

RODGERS: Tony on the hot seat, declaring his pants are completely and totally ice cool.

GILL: Yes, liar, liar pants on fire, as the English schoolchildren say.

RODGERS: A.A., thanks very much for the laugh.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next week for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Walter Rodgers. Thanks for joining us.



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