The New York Times has got a bloody nose in England. As Thursday’s British newspapers reported, the NYT and the International Herald Tribune have lost a libel action against Marco Pierre White, the self-confessed “bad boy of the kitchen” who is the only British restaurateur to have been awarded three Michelin stars. In an article of May 1998, the NYT accused him of having had a “well-publicized bout with drugs and alcohol.” The article was reprinted in the IHT, and White sued both papers for libel. Wednesday, he was awarded $120,000 in libel damages and about $768,000 in costs to reflect the judge’s disapproval of “the overall behaviour of the defendants and the way they conducted the litigation.”
It so happens that White hardly ever drinks and has never taken drugs, and even the NYT had to admit this after 17 months of trying to back up its allegation and using private investigators to interrogate his friends and colleagues. Nevertheless, it has decided to appeal against the court’s decision. According to NYT spokeswoman Lisa Carparelli, White couldn’t have won the case in the United States, where the libel laws are much more lenient. “A report based on a good faith misunderstanding, as was the case here, could not be the basis for a successful libel suit,” she said. But unfortunately for the New York Times, the suit was heard in England, where Americans come from time to time to win libel damages they couldn’t win at home.
Nelson Mandela, who is on a private visit to Britain, told the Guardian of London in an interview Wednesday that he resents the way the United States and Britain attempt to play “policeman of the world” while ignoring the United Nations. Speaking to his biographer, Anthony Sampson, the former South African president said he suspected a racist motive behind the United States’ neglect of the United Nations. “The US did not do this when the secretary-general of the UN was white,” he said. “They are doing it now, ignoring the UN under Kofi Annan. And there are many people who are whispering it is because the secretary-general is black.” Mandela defended the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, as “a strategic thinker” and “a very capable man,” although Mugabe is under attack more or less everywhere for the crisis in his country, especially by the South African press. (For more on the Zimbabwe crisis, see this previous “International Papers.”)
British papers Thursday carried more reports of escalating violence and anarchy in Zimbabwe, with the Independent of London reporting on its front page that Mugabe has said he is prepared to go to war with Britain over the nationalization of white-owned farms. Despite an official news blackout in Zimbabwe, the Independent reported the Commercial Farmers’ Union, a white farmers’ organization, as saying that nearly 1,000 such farms have so far been invaded, and 504 occupied, by Mugabe supporters. Less prominence was given in Britain to the famine in Ethiopia, though the Irish Times led on it Thursday, saying, “Drought and regional conflicts have brought the Horn of Africa to the brink of a major humanitarian crisis that could affect more than 12 million people in Ethiopia and neighbouring states, including Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya.”
The main story in the British press Thursday was the deaths of two English soccer fans during violence between English and Turkish supporters on the eve of an important match. This competed in the tabloids for front-page billing with the conviction of two Britons for having drunken sex aboard an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Manchester, England, last October. Mandy Holt, 37, and David Machin, 40, both married and with well-paid managerial jobs, had never met until they found themselves next to each other in business class and engaged in “a mile-high sex romp,” according to the Sun’s front page. They both admitted to being drunk, and both have lost their jobs—but not their spouses.
The main story in Asia Thursday was the life sentence passed on former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for terrorism and hijacking after the country’s new military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was briefly prevented from landing his plane at Karachi Airport last October. Musharraf seized power shortly afterward. The Hindu of India said Thursday that Sharif would not be hanged like predecessor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto 21 years ago because he doesn’t have Bhutto’s charisma and popular following. “Bhutto was hanged because the military regime feared him. Mr. Sharif, on the other hand, does not pose any such challenge.”
About new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Tokyo’s Asahi Shimbun said little is expected of him except that he should call an election. The Mainichi Shimbun said he is “indecisive and sheepish despite his bulging frame” and famous for his gaffes. He had to apologize earlier this year after saying that, in his first political campaign 30 years ago, people avoided him “as if I were an AIDS patient.” More recently he said about preparations for the millennium bug, “Japanese people stockpiled food and water in preparation for the Y2K problem, whereas U.S. citizens rushed to buy firearms like machine guns and bazookas because there would be murderous mobs roaming the streets as soon as there was a blackout.”
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen was criticized Thursday in the Arab press for his Co-operative Defense Initiative proposal for the Middle East. The Pan-Arab al-Hayat said Cohen, who is on a Middle East tour, is calling for “a peace that needs weapons systems too expensive for the combined budgets of all countries in the region to sustain. And if peace is coming to put a final end to 50 years of conflict, against whom will Cohen’s weapons be used?” In the same vein, Jordan’s al-Rai accused Cohen of trying to sell arms to Arab regimes “at a time when the peoples of the region need water and bread much more than they do advanced weaponry.”