Notebook: Going but not gone

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The Independent Online
AS Presidents Bush and Yeltsin have set the seal on the end of the Cold War, their teams of summiteers could turn their diplomatic skills to another global problem which calls for urgent settlement. I refer to the Transatlantic confrontation between Donald Trelford, editor of the Observer, and the paper's Washington correspondent, Andrew Stephen. Trelford wants to bring Stephen home from Washington; Stephen refuses to budge. Trelford does not wish to sack Stephen; Stephen shows no inclination to resign. Something must be done because Colin Smith, the paper's new Washington correspondent, turns up there next week, and so far Stephen has refused to relinquish such essentials as his house, office or car. British journalism has not seen such an impasse since Harold Evans refused to quit his editor's office at the Times after Rupert Murdoch fired him.

The documentary evidence - letters between the two parties and others - is thought to stretch over a year and many thousands of words; there have been meetings in London clubs ('Wring at the withers, but lunch at the Garrick' has always been the Observer's motto); the board of directors has even been involved. The odd thing is that Stephen has been a remarkably good Washington reporter. Last year he was honoured as Washington's foreign correspondent of the year - an award that the Observer made much of in its promotions to advertisers.

So why ask him to come home? Observers suggest that the roots of the crisis lie in the newspaper's cost-cutting exercise last year, when attempts were made to reduce annual losses of many millions of pounds. Some people were paid off, others were moved, promises were made. An everyday story of recessionary Britain, in fact.