Tuesday, 18 November 2008

A Royal Pain for IHT Readers - repeat stories, way behind the news curve.

I'm becoming increasingly frustrated by the IHT running NYT pieces, on stories that IHT editors (alert, on the ball, all good) had already picked up weeks earlier.

To give an example from today's paper, compare and contrast the following:

A royal pain for the Spanish monarchy
By Victoria Burnett
Monday, November 17, 2008
MADRID: When the English monarch in Alan Bennett's novella "The Uncommon Reader" decides to write her memoirs, she takes the prudent step of abdicating first. Queen Sofia of Spain may be wondering whether she, too, should have waited for her husband, King Juan Carlos, to leave office before granting a Spanish journalist a series of uncharacteristically candid interviews.
The resulting book, "The Queen Up Close," has provided Spaniards an uncomfortably close look at their queen's conservative views. Her comments on homosexuality, gay marriage, euthanasia and religious education have outraged liberal Spaniards and tarnished an image of discretion that she had carefully tended for decades.
In the most notorious gaffe in the book, the queen said that she respected people's different sexual tendencies but did not understand why "they should feel proud to be gay."
"That they get up on floats and parade in the streets? If all of us who are not gay were to parade in the streets, we'd halt the traffic in every city," she said. She then added that while gay people had a right to unions, they should not be permitted to call them marriages.
As well as homosexuality, the queen takes several forays into politically tricky territory, saying that she does not support euthanasia - an issue being hotly debated in Spain - and that she believes schoolchildren should be taught the origins of man from a creationist point of view.
The book is also peppered with personal tidbits about world leaders and royal travels. At one point, Sofia congratulates herself on persuading the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, to wear a suit and tie, instead of his "shapeless" military garb. The late King Hassan of Morocco drove her "crazy" with his mania about food, she says, bringing a retinue of cooks and his own supplies when he visited Spain because "he didn't trust us." Former President Jimmy Carter was a good enough sort, but "behaved really badly toward the Shah of Iran" when he refused him asylum, she said.
The controversy is one of a series of incidents that have revealed cracks in the cocoon of respect that envelops the Spanish royal family. Recent attempts to stifle embarrassing cartoons or claim privacy from the news media have challenged the balance between protecting free speech and protecting Spain's royals.
"I don't think many people would be surprised to learn these were the queen's views," said Juan Díez-Nicolás, a professor of sociology whose organization, ASEP, polls the Spanish public about the monarchy. They are routinely voted the most respected public figures in the country.
"What surprises them is that she would say such things for publication," he said. And moreover, "not offering a view that is widely shared by Spaniards."
Born Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark in November 1938, the queen converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Catholicism when she married Juan Carlos, then the future king, in 1962. Elegant, circumspect and fluent in several languages, she became popular in part because of her role in helping to steer Spain toward democracy after the death of Franco in 1975.
Long considered a paragon of royal reserve, the queen emerges from the book as the 70-year-old observant Catholic that she is, rather than the sweet, demure figure that the Spanish public apparently wants her to be, people who follow the monarchy said.
Her comments on gay pride and marriage provoked indignation from the gay community, which won the right to marry in 2005, and prompted a swift apology from the royal household. In a statement read to the press late last month, a spokesman for the royal family said the queen "deeply regrets that the inaccuracy of the comments attributed to her may have caused discomfort or offense."
The statement claimed that the queen had been quoted "inexactly" and suggested that the interviewer, the journalist Pilar Urbano, had published comments intended to be private. Urbano denied this and said galleys of the book had been reviewed by the queen's office, which approved them for publication.
In an interview by telephone, Urbano said she had interviewed Sofia several times, though she did not use a tape recorder. Journalists who closely follow the royal family said that the king was incensed by the book and that those responsible for giving the green light may yet be fired.
Antonio Poveda, president of the Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, said his organization accepted the palace's apology but that "there's definitely still some bad feeling among the gay community."
"The monarch has always been at pains not to comment on social or political issues," he said. "It seems they have broken with this tradition."
The publication of the book, "The Queen Up Close," follows a rash of setbacks for members of the royal family and Spanish aristocracy looking for greater protection from the press that have contributed to a sense that they are no longer untouchable. A court this month ruled against the Duchess of Alba, who was seeking to have copies of a satirical magazine whose cover featured her lying naked in pile of money removed from news stands.
Telma Ortiz, sister of Queen Sofia's daughter-in-law Princess Letizia, this month lost a court battle to obtain restraining orders against dozens of media outlets, which she accuses of hounding her and her family. The court ruled that Ortiz, an aid worker, is in the limelight by dint of her relationship with her sister and ordered her to pay around €45,000, or about $57,000, in costs, according to press reports.
While Díez, the sociology professor, said the ruckus over the book would blow over and have no impact on Sofia's popularity, other analysts said the dents in the Spanish royal family's image were part of a wider trend away from monarchy in Europe.
"Monarchy is old-fashioned by nature, and Europe is modern in its self-esteem," said Geoffrey Hindley, a historian who has written on European monarchy. "The ethos of republicanism is the style of the majority in Europe."

Over two weeks ago, the IHT ran the piece below on www.iht.com and an edited version in the paper.

I imagine the NYT didn't but their global edition did and it's not evident to me that two weeks later Victoria Burnett (was she on holiday at the time?) has added all that much value.

And if you're an IHT reader in Spain, you must be yawning over breakfast.

Spanish book quotes queen's disapproval of gay marriage
The Associated Press
Friday, October 31, 2008
MADRID: A Spanish journalist on Friday defended the accuracy of her book that quotes Queen Sofia criticizing gay marriage.
The book has irked the Royal Palace.
The Spanish king and queen are largely respected as figurehead representatives of the state, and rarely speak out on political or social issues.
The veteran journalist, Pilar Urbano, released the book - "La Reina muy de cerca," or "The Queen, very close up," - this week to mark the queen's 70th birthday Sunday. The journalist said it was based on 15 interviews with Queen Sofia, and that the Royal Palace approved the book's galley proofs before it was published, according to news agency Efe.
"What the queen said is what my book says," Urbano said.
The Royal Palace has challenged the comments attributed to the monarch, however, saying in a statement they "do not correspond exactly" with what she said. The palace also said the book also fails to reflect the queen's traditional neutrality on public affairs or respect for people who suffer discrimination, like homosexuals.
"I do not answer to the queen or king, or the Royal Palace. I answer to the truth," Urbano told Efe.
In the book, the queen is quoted as addressing a wide range of issues and saying she opposes abortion and euthanasia. Spain allows the former under restricted circumstances, and outlaws the latter. But the queen's alleged remarks on same-sex marriage are the main source of friction and have angered gay rights groups.
Spain legalized gay marriage in 2005, becoming one of the few countries in the world to recognize same-sex couples as having the same rights as heterosexual ones, including the right to adopt children.
"If those persons want to live together, dress up as bride and groom and get married, they can do so, but that should not be called marriage because it is not," the queen is quoted as saying in Urbano's book.
The conservative newspaper El Mundo said the queen erred by breaking with her tradition of quiet neutrality.
"As human as this burst of royal sincerity might be, certainly there were better ways to make Queen Sofia's birthday a new tool for bringing society closer to the throne," the newspaper said in an editorial.



Just so you know I'm not imagining this problem as being regular, as opposed to infrequent, compare and contrast today's story about fighting in the Congo threatening gorillas (by Gettleman) with the same story from Reuters run in the IHT and on www.iht.com on November 10th, 2008, on the same subject.

Once again, wire service well ahead of the curve, and not a hell of a lot of added value from the NYT correspondent.

It's this type of absurd allocation of precious foreign correspondent resource which is why newspapers seem so damn irrelevant and it seems their own memories of what they've already run are really pretty poor.


"Books about cosmopolitan urbanites discovering the joys of country life are two a penny, but this one is worth a second glance. Walthew's vivid description of the moral stress induced by his job as a high-flying executive with the International Herald Tribune newspaper is worth the cover price alone…. Highly recommended."
The Oxford Times
Ian Walthew

'I read
A Place in My Country with absolute unalloyed delight. A glorious book.'
Jeremy Irons (actor)

‘Ian Walthew was a newspaper executive with a career that took him round the world, who one day did a mad thing. He saw a for-sale sign on a cottage in the Cotswolds, bought it, resigned and moved in. For the first few weeks he just lay on the grass in a daze. Then he started talking to his neighbours and digging into the rich history of this beautiful part of England. Out of his inquiries grew this affecting and inspiring memoir.What sets it apart from others of its ilk is the author’s enviable immunity to cliché and his determination to love his homeland better than he used to.
His elegiac account of relearning how to be an Englishman should be required reading for anyone who claims to know or love this country. Financial Times


Ian Walthew

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