The Breakfast Table

Tea With Maggie

I enjoyed your perceptive and amusing riff on “the Press” yesterday. I suppose the American press must seem very strange to Britons (and others) too, but I have to confess that the English papers seem to have a very particular set of qualities, both good and bad, that make them different from almost anywhere else I know. And yes, I did look at today’s “Page Three” girl in the Sun. I certainly can’t swear she wasn’t surgically enhanced, but I suppose I’ll take their word for it.

As you note, there are odd disparities among the papers today, as on most days. The tabloids, of course, pay no attention whatever to what we might consider serious news at least not on the front pages. But you’re right: The serious papers don’t seem to agree either. Even though almost everyone has been treating Pinochet as the big story (while disagreeing over whether his arrest is appropriate or not), the Times had no mention of the story on the front page at all, and not much even inside. (Is this the result of some peculiar, Murdoch-inspired political decision?) It’s interesting to see the soul-searching this has inspired among Blair-generation “chattering class” types, one of whom has written today about how Pinochet’s arrest is, in effect, a belated generational catharsis. He was traumatized hearing about the Pinochet regime in 1969 while at Oxford (with Blair), and now his generation’s government is finally doing what its members couldn’t do while they were young exact punishment. This is, of course, a somewhat awkward story for the United States (as the Guardian, I believe, pointed out), since Pinochet was our creation. The liberal papers are also trying to make it an awkward story for the Tories, noting various times when Margaret Thatcher has had tea with Pinochet, including one quite recently.

The one big story of the last two days that seems to have grabbed the attention of all the papers, tabloid and serious alike (and that inspired the story you note in the Sun about BBC coke-heads), is the sacking of one of the hosts (or “presenters”) from a popular children’s show that I’ve never seen called Blue Peter. The presenter, an attractive 22-year-old, was seen snorting cocaine at a party, and his dismissal has launched national agonizing over drug abuse. It takes the death of a basketball star (or a politician claiming he didn’t inhale) to attract this much attention to the subject in the US.

And finally, I read a very engaging interview with Prince Edward reprinted from the New York Times in one of the papers–written by Sarah Lyall. I liked the piece, but I also liked the appealing lack of institutional self-consciousness that allowed a British paper to reprint a story by an American reporter about a British topic. It’s hard to imagine a New York paper we both know doing the same.