The Spine

Feckless Fleet Street

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I've been in London for 24 hours and already I am reminded wistfully of how much better--broader and deeper--the American press is than the British. Now, I don't much like the Guardian's editorial line. But its reporting is, save for the Financial Times, superior to all its competitors. Still, it's not the New York Times with which, as you know, I have my grievances.

In any case, on the Guardian website this afternoon comes a story that the Iranians have paraded another captive sailor before the television cameras to say mea culpa and to reassure (with audible help from the wings) that he and his 14 comrades are being well-fed. My guess is that the humiliating treatment of these prisoners--not by some rogue sergeants, but by the highest authorities in Tehran--is truly a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This event has thrown the English left press into a tizzy. It can't quite support the hijacking of 15 British sailors. On the other hand, it does not want to say anything that might seem like approval of a harsher response than Britain has thus far made. And what, God forbid, would be a harsher response? Nothing more, alas, than stiff wording of a Security Council resolution. (Anyway, Russia and China would probably veto that or threaten to, like France, which will have the same effect.)

It is true that an editorial in yesterday's Independent did concede that the Iranian piracy--of course, it didn't call it that--was "unacceptable." Stirring, no? But it also found in Iranian behavior after the fact "a message that was more positive than negative." You find what you want.

A column in this morning's Independent by Matthew Norman proclaims that "we've lost the authority to lecture Iran." Tehran should also be "handled by the softest of kid gloves."

But it's not just The Independent which has turned from a decent and unfettered newspaper into a disciplined ranter of the anti-anti-Islamist persuasion. The Guardian also goes in for that kind of apologetics. Case in point: also this morning, a long column by Robert Tait goes back all the way to the 19th century to trace the "bitter legacy" that distorts Britain's relationship with the Persians. Yes, and Osama bin Laden is deeply moved by the Muslim loss of Andalucia.

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