Hard News by Russell Brown

Early days

One criticism that cannot so far be levelled against the new Kim Hill TV vehicle Face to Face is that it is dull.

Having galloped through an interview last week with an American military strategist, Dear Kim hooked up this week with Saint John Pilger of the Parish of Sydney. And by the end of the programme he was shouting that the interview was a "disgrace" and she, eyebrow arched like an angry Siamese, ventured that it had been "interesting" talking to him.

It was hard to see what got Pilger's goat so badly. Sure, she interrupted his flow a few times, and got a bit catty herself towards the end, but does he do this every time an interviewer fails to go down on bended knee? Does he seriously expect to be interviewed without having his views challenged?

But it is, by any standard, an unusual week for the media. As war began and CNN entered its element, its British anchors got on with the job in their usual slightly eccentric fashion. But in Atlanta, they seemed gripped by mortal fear of appearing unpatriotic.

After Saddam (following a positively Pythonesque little sequence with the Iraqi national anthem) appeared (if that really was him) on TV to play the Palestine card, the American CNN anchor noted that "Arab leaders say that the US has not done enough in the region to help solve that dispute," then, in a slight panic. "They would say that, we're not saying that …"

Yes. We understand that perfectly well, thank you.

It is interesting the way the public in combatant nations have swung in behind their leaders as the shooting starts. Bush suddenly has 75 per cent support for war and Blair around 50 per cent. The exception: poor old John Howard, who (despite the raging support of the Murdoch papers) has been unable to convince Australians for the very sound reason that Australians perceive themselves to have been led by the nose, which sits ill with their considerable national pride.

The International Herald Tribune reported on a survey of public opinion in Europe and Russia, which indicates that public perceptions of America have plummeted in the past year. But most of those polled insisted they weren't against America per se - or even the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein - they just really didn't like or trust George W. Bush.

Bush doesn't appear yet to be bothering to play to a world audience: his war speeches have been tailored for the home crowd, with all their preposterous appeals to "peace" and "freedom", desperate running tallies of the "coalition of the willing" (I mean, they're counting Germany?) and shameless inference that taking out Iraq would prevent another September 11.

But, as his Daddy warned recently, the administration must get over its weird habit of turning allies into enemies or the whole world will suffer.

And yet, the attenuation of public opinion outside America has not been for nought. Without it, this war would probably have been fought much less carefully. The White House is desperate to avoid pictures of dead civilians and a siege of Baghdad. Maybe it will get lucky. Maybe there will be a quick war, without a siege. Maybe there won't be a wave of terrorist attacks, or terrible internecine bloodletting or a showdown between the Turks and the Kurds. Maybe.

In the meantime, here's a great blog from Baghdad. I hope this guy can hang in there and keep posting over the next week or two.