Leading article: Alastair, I'm sorry

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The Independent Online
BY Appointment to Various Heads of State, Ghost Writers and Public Relations Consultants: Blair, Campbell & Co, 10 Downing Street. Got a problem with the more brutish element of British public opinion? Allow the experts to help.

In January, the Prime Minister's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, admitted he had advised the Japanese prime minister on the "style" of his article in the Sun which apologised (or didn't) for the treatment of prisoners of war. Last week, he provided the same service for Carlos Menem, the Argentinian president, and again there was trouble over translating the word "sorry" into English.

Somewhere on the Downing Street computer there is obviously a draft all- purpose article of apology - some of the phrases in Mr Menem and Mr Hashimoto's articles were even the same. Press the button and out it comes: "Writing exclusively for today's Sun the Emperor/President/Prime Minister of ... tells the British people he is sorry about the war crimes/bomb tests/unpleasant episodes in our nation's guilty past, and praises Tony Blair for his world leadership and contribution to the Third Way of global enlightenment."

The business is more incestuous even than these two episodes suggest. In May, through the offices, if not the office, of Mr Campbell, the political editor of the Daily Mirror, Kevin Maguire, ghost-wrote an appeal from President Clinton to the people of Ireland to vote Yes in the referendums. Mr Maguire was furious to discover that Mr Campbell had placed the "President's letter" in the Sun on the same day. Entertaining as this spectacle is when things go wrong, when the audience can see the strings and the prompt cards, it makes one wonder who else has had his articles written and placed for him by government agents. It all has a sinister air of state propaganda.