Saturday, November 18, 2006

Disaster in Iraq

Top story in the Daily Telegraph this morning: "Iraq invasion a disaster, Blair admits on Arab TV". The admission came in an interview Tony Blair gave to David Frost, broadcast on the new English-language service of al-Jazeera [al-Jazeera, BBC News]. Downing Street is saying that Tony Blair was just being polite to Frost, but BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson doesn't agree (Two Little Words).

All of the players in this story carry a lot of historical baggage.
  • Tony Blair invested a lot of his political authority in the decision to invade Iraq. Some people are comparing this with Anthony Eden's disastrous intervention in Suez. Perhaps Blair's purpose now is to rescue his reputation for future historians.
  • David Frost has a history of apparently soft interviews with world statesmen - most notoriously Richard Nixon. And yet it seems he hasn't lost his ability to extract the telling truth. Perhaps his apparent softness has exactly this purpose - to lull the statesman into a false sense of security. Telegraph writer Neil Tweedie comments that Blair is badly nipped by a vintage touch of Frost.
  • al-Jazeera is seen in many quarters as a less-than-objective source on Middle Eastern affairs - indeed some American sources (including Fox News) commonly describe it as propaganda. By agreeing to be interviewed, Tony Blair is clearly trying to get his message across to a Middle East audience [BBC News comment]. Meanwhile, al-Jazeera now has an opportunity to demonstrate the quality (breadth? objectivity?) of its news to English-speaking viewers.
  • The Daily Telegraph was the only serious UK newspaper to give this much prominence to the story. It is commonly seen as more right-wing than the others (including the Times), but its opinions are not always predictable on party lines. So what is the Daily Telegraph's agenda here - anti-Blair or pro-Arab, or just to upstage the Times?
  • The Times does cover the story on its website: "Iraq war 'pretty much a disaster', Blair concedes" - but unlike the Daily Telegraph, the Times story repeats the characterization of al-Jazeera as propaganda. Perhaps News Corporation (which owns Fox News and The Times) feels more threatened by a rival news organization than the Telegraph Media Group does.
  • And where does the BBC stand?
Multiple interacting systems - therefore multiple interacting purposes and effects.

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