WHAT THE PAPERS SAID

WILLIAM HARTSTON REVIEWS THE WEEK'S PRESS

THIS WAS the week when a vicious man with a history of violence unleashed his fury on a defenceless victim. For readers of the tabloids, the brute was Stan Collymore; in the broadsheets it was Slobodan Milosevic. The developing disaster in Kosovo, and the danger of its turning into another Bosnia, was the main serious news story of the week. "It looked to me like every ethnically cleansed town I'd ever visited in Bosnia - complete with the silence, the wild dogs and the missing people," Robert Fisk wrote in a harrowing account in the Independent of his visit to Decani in Kosovo. It was a tale of towns burnt, houses looted and people - both Serbs and Albanians - driven from their homes. But who is to blame, and what can the West do to avert catastrophe?

The Express ("Serbs pile on the agony for Kosovo") had little doubt who the villains were: "Serb forces pounded western Kosovo yesterday as exhausted refugees fled for their lives". The Daily Mail was equally condemnatory of "this latest bloody act of ethnic tyranny by the Serb Dictator". The Daily Telegraph talked of "a potentially bloody round of Balkan brinkmanship" in a report headed "Cook warns Milosevic to `back off' in Kosovo" and the Times hedged its bets in a piece headlined "America and EU in troops threat to Milosevic", but signposted with the word "sanctions" standing out in a black box.

Simon Jenkins provided the most thoughtful analysis - especially of Robin Cook's sabre-rattling - in the Times: "In March, I distinctly heard the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, tell the Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic, that his behaviour in Kosovo was `unacceptable'. He emphasised the point by stamping his foot, imposing sanctions and warning of the `severest consequences'. When asked if this meant force, Mr Cook said he wasn't saying, `but watch it Slobodan, just make my day'."

After last week's shelling and burning, Jenkins said, "Mr Cook was so upset, he upped the adjectival ante" as unacceptable became `wholly intolerable'. "Eyes popping, Mr Cook is in such a state about Yugoslavia that he seems more likely to lay a bomb than drop one." While joining in the general condemnation of Milosevic, Jenkins also drew attention to the actions of the Albanian-trained KLA guerrillas: "The KLA is not above acts of terrorism ... its leaders are playing the old gambit of inciting the police to brutal suppression, and then daring the world to come to its aid." But Kosovo is not Kuwait, or even Bosnia. This is not one sovereign state invaded by another, and intervention is more difficult to justify. "Mr Cook's ethical foreign policy is, in truth, a liberals' jihad against any state that refuses to subscribe to Locke and Mill, and catches the eye of a passing television crew."

"Colly beats up TV Ulrika", as the Sun put it, posed less of an ethical dilemma. "Colly put the boot in" the paper declaimed across pages two and three, for anyone who had missed the front page headline, with "Raging ace is pulled off screaming Ulrika" in large letters beneath, in case readers had forgotten into whom his boot was put. The Daily Star preferred "Crazed Colly bashes Ulrika". While the tabloids tended to go for a blow- by-blow account of the assault, the broadsheets stressed Collymore's penitence. "Collymore admits attack on lover" was the headline in the Times, while the Daily Telegraph went for "Collymore says sorry to Ulrika after pub fracas". The middle-market papers were split on the issue: it was "I'm so sorry for hitting Ulrika says Collymore" in the Express, and "Collymore aims kicks at Ulrika in World Cup bar-room brawl" in the Daily Mail. The following day, the papers again generally split along the tabloid/broadsheet divide, with the former concentrating on the beauty's bruises and the latter rejoicing at her decision to drop the beast. The Sun had "Pained face of TV Ulrika", though the picture did not make clear whether she "winced in agony" at the lingering pain of the kicking or the strain of having paparazzi trying to snap her injuries. The Daily Star had "Ulrika - Face that tells it all" and the Sun adorned the same front-page picture with the words: "Beast Colly left Ulrika like this". Faced with a richness of football metaphors, the Guardian opted for: "Ulrika gives her footballer the boot", while the Daily Telegraph chose: "Ulrika gives Collymore red card."

The Daily Telegraph had the weirdest coverage of the story, with a piece by Ulrika's near-namesake, Boris Johnson, on her status as national icon: "Ulrika Jonsson is a figure of vast cultural importance. This is the age of dumbing-down when the public is so prosperous that it needs the pneumatic shock of Ulrika to interest it in politics." The best angle on the story, however, came in the Scottish Daily Record whose readers were treated to the headline: "Scots fan saves Ulrika from thug Stan".

Wednesday's Times also carried a photograph of a heavily built man apparently assaulting a young lady while three of her friends moved in to drag him off, but it turned out this was only Luciano "Fat Spice" Pavarotti expressing affection after his audition at a charity concert to take Ginger's place. The Times called him "Spaghetti Spice", the Daily Mail preferred "Pasta Spice", but the best account of the event came from Adam Sweeting in the Guardian, who reported an increased professionalism among the feisty four, even to the extent of singing in tune. Mel B, apparently, challenged Pavarotti's tunefulness, asking: "Are you sure that's the right note, Pav?" As the writer said: "He never gets this sort of lip from Jose Carreras."

Finally, I had hoped to get through this week without mentioning the World Cup, but there was one headline too good to omit: "Husband's at the match, so wife goes out to shop" in Thursday's Times. It was the story of the Queen's trip to look at the frocks in Arding and Hobbs, while Prince Philip watched Scotland-Brazil with their grandson, Peter Phillips.

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