Injured Spectator


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What the deuce is going on at The Spectator? England's most elegantly written weekly (as they say at [www.spectator.co.uk](http://www.spectator.co.uk)), home base to Toby Young, Paul Johnson, Taki and others, has suddenly gone all touchy-feely and politically correct. Well, not completely?the writers just mentioned, as well as Mark Steyn and Theodore Dalrymple, continue to entertain and inform in their customary style, but elsewhere in its pages there seems to be a virus afoot of the progressively orthodox strain.


Often referred to as right-wing, the influential periodical is perhaps more correctly characterized as original, mildly eccentric and witty. It has for a long time been conservative, with both a small and big "c," a defender of traditional English values such as the monarchy, the military and the faith, skeptical of European union and a general deflater of humbug and nonsense in politics, culture and society.


All of a sudden out comes a series of articles choking with sentimentality and political correctness. First, the sporting columnist Simon Barnes (April 14) gets quite emotional about the Grand National, the world's greatest, and, okay, most brutal steeplechase, but a spectacle that is one of England's most popular sporting events and a tradition since 1839. "Appalling business," he writes. And what was so appalling? The "sheer awfulness" of the race, made manifest by a photograph of the winners covered in mud. "The jockey, eyes closed, seems to be out on his feet, while the horse seems to have laid his head on the jockey's shoulder from sheer exhaustion." Good grief, were they tired and dirty at the end of the race?


To be fair, Barnes' chief complaint is that the conditions were so wet as to be dangerous. But if you were to wait around for a dry sunny day in England in April, might you ever get one? Besides, would not the trainers and jockeys have enough sense to withdraw their mounts if conditions were so deplorable? Don't they love their horses just as much as Mr. Barnes?


Next, in the April 21 issue, columnist Matthew Parris, horrified like his colleague Mr. Barnes by the slaughter of livestock owing to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth, seems to be saying that maybe there is something uncivilized about eating meat anyway. Parris wrings his hands: "Eating our fellow-mammals may not be wrong, but it is not very nice." Veggie sentimentality in The Spectator! In the same issue, Ross Clark, who writes a column called "Banned Wagon" that normally surveys wittily things the British government wants to prohibit, takes issue with a campaign to outlaw body piercing among the young. Although he admits that the craze has health hazards, he deplores the proposed ban on the grounds that it is an infringement on personal liberty. Furthermore, he writes, "Body-piercing has a long and respectable history among African and Indian peoples." What about cannibalism, slavery and human sacrifice? The Spectator goes multicultural!


Finally, the April 28 issue has a cover picture of Timothy McVeigh strapped into Old Sparky (despite the fact that he is to be terminated by other means) and an article by Clive Stafford Smith saying that the world is turning away from capital punishment and that this is a good thing. The writer brings up a man whose only child died in the explosion. At one time the man wanted to watch McVeigh die; now he is opposed to his execution. He changed his mind, Stafford Smith writes, when he remembered his child saying about an earlier execution, "Dad, all they are doing is teaching hate to their children."


It is not our intention to debate philosophically whether horse racing is cruel enough to be outlawed, whether eating furry creatures is nasty, whether a young person's sticking safety pins in his/her eyebrows is a legitimate form of expression or whether capital punishment does any good. It's just that one is surprised to see writers in The Spectator take the progressively orthodox positions that they have. In its pages not too long ago Jeffrey Bernard held forth on the joys of dissolution and dissipation in his "Low Life" column, and Auberon Waugh defended drunk driving and famously admired a certain wine for its anal nose.


So what's the story behind the new sensitivity? A pundit suggests that proprietor Conrad Black, and his editor Boris Johnson, have other agendas going that might make some of the traditional positions of Spectator writers somewhat uncomfortable for them. Black's Hollinger International, Inc. owns a number of newspapers worldwide, including the Daily Telegraph (London) and the Chicago Sun-Times, but The Spectator, with a measly 60,000 circulation, is on the top of the graphic illustrating his media properties on his website . His scolding of Taki in The Spectator earlier this year (for suggesting that payoffs to Israel and President Clinton secured Marc Rich's pardon) came, some say, because Black owns the Jerusalem Post and is not keen on seeing any criticism of Israel in any of his papers.


Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has been given a safe Conservative seat to contest in the upcoming British Parliamentary elections, and presumably is putting on his compassionate conservative face and occupying his mind with other matters than kicking up any storms in The Spectator. One assumes he will leave the editorship if elected.




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