My propaganda machine is bigger than yours

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The Independent Online
HAS THE Nato bombardment of positions around Sarajevo forced Bosnian Serb leaders to talk about peace? Almost certainly, according to Thursday's Sun: "Last night there were signs that 200 bombing missions had hammered sense into the Bosnian Serbs." Maybe not, if we believe Friday's Daily Telegraph: "The Bosnian Serb leadership remained defiant. It issued a statement refusing to pull back its heavy weapons from within 12 miles of the city as demanded by the UN."

The Sun, which reported the initial raids under the predictable headline "Serbs Them Right", focused on the role of "Britain's Top Gun fliers" - the Harrier pilots who "blasted Serb command centres, missile sites and ammo dumps with fearsome laser-guided 1,000lb bombs" in a series of "deadly-accurate" attacks. The Daily Express explained that RAF Jaguars fitted with the latest thermal-imaging targeting system "designated" targets for the Harriers to bomb "with the utmost precision".

Strange, then, that the Pentagon announced on the same day that the results of the Nato bombing were only "fair to middling". The level of damage after the first day was "medium", with the New York Times reporting that air strikes had been hampered by bad weather. Does this mean that British and American planes, although flying together, are operating in different weather systems? Or have the Americans learnt a lesson from the Gulf war?

On the first full day of that war, the Allies reported a success rate for air strikes on airfields, command centres and missile bases of 80 per cent. Two weeks later, as Iraq continued to mount attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon had to admit that its claim to have neutralised Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles was all too obviously inaccurate. "Moreover," said the American magazine Business Week, "clouds and fog hampered the hunt for Iraq's mobile missile launchers - even though the search planes were outfitted with electronic systems that supposedly conferred all-weather capabilities."

The following year, when sober estimates of the effectiveness of the Allies' bombing raids were released, the Pentagon admitted that only 6,520 of the 88,500 tons of bombs dropped on Iraq and occupied Kuwait were precision- guided - and a staggering 70 per cent of the latter missed their targets. I can't help thinking that several British newspapers fell victim this week to the same rampant technophilia which inspired wildly optimistic assessments of bomb damage in the first days of the Gulf conflict.

ONE OF the chief symptoms of technophilia is a passion for flashy- dashy illustration. The Sun wheeled out the tired old SAS logo - as though there was anyone left in the country who didn't know that Who Dares Wins - alongside a graphic of RAF planes superimposed on a map of Bosnia Herzogovina. My knowledge of Balkan geography is hazy but I hadn't hitherto realised that a single British Jaguar, placed nose to nose with a Tornado, is actually wider than the whole of that unfortunate country.

The Daily Mail's graphic was a corker, featuring an enormous gun which "could punch a hole in a high-rise block" - useful for opponents of modern architecture. Its nozzle, if that is the technical term, thrust boldly into Serb-held territory but seemed to me to point in entirely the wrong direction.

I've often wondered, by the way, why defence companies give weapons boring names such as Tomahawk or ANX-13 (a French tank, apparently) when a far more obvious terminology is just begging to be used. I look forward to the day when news reports begin with the information that hundreds of American-made Phallic missiles targeted Baghdad last night, fired from highly mobile Macho-man missile launchers over the border in Kuwait ...

ON A not dissimilar subject, I was surprised this week by the tone of the obituaries of Michael VerMeulen, editor of the British edition of GQ. I feel sorry for anyone who dies suddenly at the age of 38, whether of a suspected drug overdose (as in VerMeulen's case) or for any other reason. But was VerMeulen - who apparently approved each issue with the words "Sure looks like a magazine to me" - really a "brash and brilliant editor" (Daily Telegraph) with an "uncommon nose for magazine-writing talent" (Guardian)?

The September issue of GQ, which seems pretty much like others I've seen, contains an interview with a convicted killer, billed as "a proud murderer confesses all". It begins: "It was pitch-black, the moon obscured by clouds, rain drizzling incessantly down as Michael Smithyman marched his four- months pregnant, sometime girlfriend April Sheridan across a muddy field in Kent, occasionally prodding her with the barrel of a sawn-off shotgun."

Another interviewer enthuses over nude pictures of the model Helena Christensen, while an article entitled "21 reasons why we still love Hugh [Grant]" includes this gem: "Has created a much-needed new Hollywood tourist attraction to replace Nicole Brown Simpson's fading chalk outline." Sure looks like puerile crap to me.

MEANWHILE, a firm of media analysts did a survey and reported this week that readers of women's magazines are fed up with articles about sex. I suspect that this is because they're so badly written, ranging from ghastly confessional ac- counts of affairs to bouncy how-to guides which make oral sex sound as much fun as going to the dentist.

But I have good news for the 46 per cent of women who don't want to read this sort of material: there's a range of magazines which is entirely sex-free. They have titles like Wedding and Home or Brides and Setting Up Home and they offer "Pages of looks for gorgeous grooms" and "50 wedding tips from real-life brides". They have none of that nasty, gropey, body- fluids stuff, confirming my view that, except for procreational purposes, the best sex takes place well before marriage.