London calling

It was hard to miss the outbreak of “nuclear error” flagged by Drudge in the London newspaper coverage of the inaugural events yesterday. What gives? Have the Brits caught the French disease? Our occasional London correspondent Scott Burgess of the Daily Ablution has kindly forwarded us an exclusive round-up. Scott writes:

Needless to say, the inauguration was the big story in the British press today, and the papers covered it with the traditional gusto and partisan bias that makes reading them — and blogging thereon — such an entertaining pasttime. It also goes without saying that the coverage from the left is much more amusing than that from the right.
The left-wing Independent (story linked), in a rather gimmicky fashion, devotes its front page to an unfavourable comparison of the “pomp” in Washington with the “circumstance” in Iraq. The former is illustrated with the obligatory view of Bush on the Senate steps, the latter by an equally obligatory shot of GIs blindfolding an Iraqi captive. Bullet points beneath each photograph contrast Bush’s vow “to use US influence in the cause of freedom” with attacks in Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra, as well as repeating the untruth that this inauguration is “the most expensive ever.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lead story addresses the “circumstance” rather more than the “pomp,” focusing on “multiplying” attacks, and claiming that Iraqis were not interested in the inauguration, being too busy “rummaging through rubble.” This extract captures the tone of the piece: “Cynicism about President Bush in Baghdad now runs so deep that few people expressed much interest in the inauguration 6,211 miles away. Those who wanted to watch found themselves excluded by Iraq’s incessant power shortages…” And so on.
The Independent also carries a rather straightforward account by Washington correspondent Rupert Cornwell, a rather bland sketch (paid link — omitted) by Andrew Buncombe (“Fur coats, suits and slightly smug smiles suggested Bush supporters … Banners, jeans windbreakers and disgruntled crabbiness suggested the other side”), and some (relatively balanced) vox pop snippets from around the world.
In the latter, a 37 year-old “psychology graduate” from California, speaks for the United States, informing us that she “doesn’t believe that war is justifiable in any circumstances” — a position that inevitably evokes images of Neville Chamberlain waving his treasured scrap of paper aloft.
In light of the lead story’s emphasis on the Iraqi situation, it’s rather odd to see a leader (editorial — paid link omitted) headed “Let us hope that Mr. Bush’s more nuanced words could be heard above the gunfire in Iraq” — a hope whose sincerity is somewhat undermined by the failure of the Indy to make those words available to their readers. And one wonders how many other readers were left scratching their heads at the description of Bush as “this America-centric president,” as if there were ever any other kind.
Also on the left, the Guardian’s main headline spoke of “a fiery warning for the world,” and described the speech as “possibly the most combative inauguration speech for 50 years.” A bizarre sidebar, “Burning Bush brandishes Dostoevsky,” expounds upon the theme of fire: “It is not surprising that the US president should have invoked the imagery of fire yesterday, writes James Meek. One of the models of American leadership is that of Moses, leading God’s chosen people — then the Jews, now the Americans — towards a promised land, following a pillar of fire.”
Mr. Meek’s cheap shot loses some of its potency when one recalls this line from the President’s speech: “We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills.”
It is, however, doubtful whether many Guardian readers will notice the contradiction. But no matter — Mr. Meek’s odd piece was seemingly written only so that Bush could be accused of either “identifying here with the terrorists — or the tyrants.”
The Grauniad — a nickname born of the paper’s legendary inaccuracy — only runs one inside news article (inexplicably not online), in which the claim was made that “most of the people who made it inside the security perimeter had to undergo some sort of loyalty test,” having “at the very least been generous contributors to Mr. Bush’s election campaign.”
The article ends by immediately undermining that assertion, relating the poignant story of an art student who had nothing better to do than to make the 22-hour drive from Kansas City, thoughtlessly spewing greenhouse gasses into the air all the while, all for the sake of a self-indulgent act of meaningless protest — turning her back on the limosine.
Well, they didn’t put it exactly like that…
There’s more, of course, in the Comment & Analysis section. While the leader (“Promises and reality”) manages to remain surprisingly measured, former Cabinet official Robin Cook — who resigned over the war — gets a prime piece of real estate, which he uses to castigate the “unbridled triumphalism” of the “coronation” while contrasting it with “the disastrous military failure of the adventure in Iraq.”
One suspects that Guardian readers will prefer Mr. Cook’s bombast to the tone of the stodgy editors.

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