A bugbear of mine which I expect will get a frequent airing on this blog is how the British press tends to be not just insular but parochial in its coverage. Squashed between the home news and the sports section, there are usually all-too-few pages about what’s happening in other parts of Europe, and even less room for events further afield. The story with which I’m about to regale you gives one small example of the contrast between British newspapers and their continental counterparts. But it also deserves a higher profile than it seems to be received for other reasons.
It’s about what could be called Mr Putin’s ‘Yo Blair’ moment: the occasion, on Wednesday, when the Russian President continued talking to his guest, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, at the end of the press conference without realising the mike was still live. Nice Mr Putin rounded off the diplomatic occasion by mentioning his Israeli equal, even nicer Mr Katsav, who is in a little spot of bother over accusations of sexual assault. Putin’s reported words were along the lines of: ‘Wow, what a man. He raped ten women. We’re all jealous of him here.’ His 'joke' was apparently met with raucous laughter all round.
The story became headline news in the Italian newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, on Friday and it was on their website that I first saw it. To be honest, I found what I read incredible and wanted to find confirmation but when I did a quick search that morning, I could find no mention in English. Checking again, I find that it was reported in The International Herald Tribune on Thursday. In Britain, however, it only made The Guardian website in the middle of Friday afternoon, and the BBC then picked it up that night. Since then, there have been mentions of it in some of the print broadsheets, but I am surprised it hasn’t received more coverage.
As the news couldn't but give space to the EU summit on Friday where Mr Putin urged the leaders to import more state-owned Russian oil, you would have thought this would have provided an interesting sidelight. You would have also imagined that the resonances of the original ‘Yo Blair’ overheard conversation would have got the journos thinking. And there is a parallel: as that recording confirmed what we feared about George W’s head-bangingly simplistic take on Middle Eastern politics, so Mr Putin’s throwaway remark – and the reaction – is very revealing. That the President should show a sensitivity to political correctness that makes the late Alan Clark look like a dainty flower of a liberal is perhaps in itself not a surprise. But Putin was expressing a machismo which found a ready audience among those around him.
We already knew that the chief ot the world’s one superpower can think only with his balls. Now, it's confirmed that the world’s largest country is run by a man who thinks you judge a man by his balls. And those around them seem to want to play in the same sandpit. With all that testosterone pumping round at international summits, what chance progress?
Isn’t this something worth a discussion in the British press? Or have the journos here, noting what happens to recalcitrant journalists in Moscow, decided it’s safer to be parochial?