During the early days of lockdown, I discovered two journalist-written books that I hadn’t read yet even though it is a HUGE interest and the writers, two modern-day icons in the world of investigative journalism, something that ever since the beginning of time, has kept us safe when people are clearly out of control. You might have to scratch around to find them, but if this is a field of interest, it will be worth your while:
DIANE DE BEER
TELL ME NO LIES: INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM AND ITS TRIUMPHS, EDITED BY JOHN PILGER (Jonathan Cape London):
Pilger writes that one of his favourite quotations is by American journalist T. D. Allman: “Genuine objective journalism is journalism that not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. It is compelling not only today, but stands the test of time. It is validated not only by ‘reliable sources’, but by the unfolding of history. It is journalism that ten, fifteen, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events.”
And having read this book with great glee and horror in equal measure (joy because of the writing and horror because of the unfolding events described, some familiar, others not), it is the absolute truth.
That’s why someone like Trump, for example, can be so endlessly fascinating. It’s not the man himself (thank goodness!), it’s what the intelligent voices have to say about him as a phenomena in this time and place.
Pilger goes on to explain that Allman wrote the piece as a tribute to Wilfred Burchett, whose extraordinary career included what has been described as “the scoop of the century”. He tells us that while hundreds of journalists “embedded” within the Allied occupation forces in Japan in 1945 were shepherded to the largely theatrical surrender ceremony, Burchett “slipped the leash”, as he put it, and set out on a perilous journey to a place now embedded in human consciousness: Hiroshima.
He was the first western journalist to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bombing, and his front page in the London Daily Express, carried the prophetic headline: “I write this as a warning to the world”.
Burchell was denounced while warning about radiation poisoning, not only by the occupation authorities but also by fellow journalists joining in the orchestrated propaganda and attacks on him.
What Allman and now Pilger point out is that he had exposed the full horror of nuclear warfare; and his facts were validated, as T.D. Allman wrote when Burchett died in 1983, by the “unfolding of history”.
His dispatch is printed on page 10 of the book and Pilger emphasises that Allman’s tribute can be applied to all those whose work is collected in these pages.
He describes the huge honour of selecting the work to be reprinted, “the opportunity to honour the ‘forgotten’ work of journalists of the calibre of the afore mentioned”. Expanding his thought processes, he explains that the book and the stories it honours are a reminder that “one of the noblest human struggles is against power and its grip on historical memory”.
And all of us, especially in this current climate, can attest to that. Just listen to the leaders speaking about climate change at the most recent Cop26 conference and remember their denial only a few years back. But history fortunately has caught up with them – hopefully before it is too late.
Also think of Zuma and the Guptas who have crippled the country and the way investigative journalists fought the tide to tell their stories and bring their criminality to light. Think of the brave souls who took the daily White House beatings and the twitter humiliation from the ultimate bully with a bullhorn stronger than ever before.
With newspapers across the world in serious trouble and fake news difficult to distinguish for some, the impact of the words of these wise warriors has grown and should be nourished and given a protected platform.
“Secretive power loathes journalists who do their job: who push back screens, peer behind facades, lift rocks,” reminds Pilger.
I cannot urge you enough to read this one, be gripped by life happening and learn.
REPORTING: WRITINGS BY THE NEW YORKER, BY DAVID REMNICK (PICADOR):
David Remnick was with the Washington Post from 1982 to 1991 and then moved to The New Yorker where he was a reporter from 1992 and became the editor in 1998.
This book is different from the previous one as it is not dealing necessarily with the abuse of power, but rather with people power and someone who knows how to get under the skin of individuals and write about them in a way that has as much impact as the subjects themselves have had on the world.
Writing about one of his earlier stints as a reporter for the Washington Post in Russia, he tells how he and his wife flew back on the day before they watched “a column of tanks rumbling past our apartment building” on CNN.
The next day he was on a flight back and sheepishly had to hitch a ride to the barricades. He notes sometime later: “Flying away from the scene of a crime is a journalistic felony that can be forgiven with time only if you remind yourself that even the most observant can see only hints of a large event as it is happening.”
Obviously he recovered from there to become and establish his reputation not only as editor but also as someone who writes about others – up close. Or as he says it, attempts to do that.
His subjects are all in the public domain, passing in or out of a crisis or anticipating one on the horison. “Their time was usually limited or grudgingly provided. They had a reputation to protect, public and private agendas to consider, sometimes even a machinery of public relations to keep reporters at bay.”
He concludes in his foreword that the hope is that at some point they will let their guard down and be themselves. Generally they do what they can not to allow that to happen.
He starts with Al Gore, Mrs Graham (the erstwhile proprietor of the Washington Post) and Tony Blair. This is followed by the authors Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Václav Havel and a series on Solzhenitsyn first in Vermont and then in Moscow. Which then naturally leads into a Russian-dominated series looking at The Last Tsar; The Translation Wars and finally Putin,
A series of outsiders is then tackled with the emphasis on Israel and the PLO, and finally, his sport fetish, boxing.
It is magnificent and anyone who has listened to his New Yorker podcast will know that he has a way with words, knows how to pick his subject and then hangs out to give his readers an unexpected close-up and personal look.
Both of these books are available on Loot (and probably more outlets if you check) and would make perfect Christmas gifts for the newshounds or anyone who is dialled into the universe so that they can witness the events and people that dramatically changed our lives.