I used to be a newspaper reporter and I am grateful to have had more or less a full career at it. But sometimes I am reminded of the misery of having to write crap because crap was on the news list and nobody had the nerve to offer anything better.
An example, this Saturday 21/12/13, is the got-up row over Anjem Choudary, the public face of militant Islam in the UK, being given air time on Radio 4 yesterday, as part of the reporting of the conviction of Lee Rigby’s murder.
The real scandal was that Choudary was barely allowed to complete a sentence without being hectored by John Humphrys about his failure to “condemn” the killing. Humphrys sounded like a caricature of a Daily Express reporter, ordered to stand up an outraged headline already written. No doubt he was briefed to represent the feelings of the average Radio 4 listener and give no quarter. But the end result was that Choudary sounded, as he intended, like a man trying to present an understandable point of view which the establishment media is simply incapable of taking on board … i.e., that there are people hurt by every civilian death in Afghanistan and Iraq but their feelings are never even politely recognised. Did any British newspaper dare to balance the interviews with Lee Rigby’s poor family with even a quote from the collateral victims of a drone attack on an Afghani village?
Condemnation and outrage are the currency of the catchpenny politicians and propagandists who confirm every accusation hurled at them and who are as guilty as Choudary and his like of making jihadists out of British youth.
I am not always a fan of Martin Amis but back in 2006, he said something about jihadi hubris which struck me as effective. Writing about one of the Twin Towers kamikaze pilots, he said: “Muhammad Atta was not religious; he was not even especially political. He had allied himself with the militants because jihad was, by many magnitudes, the most charismatic idea of his generation. T o unite ferocity and rectitude in a single word: nothing could compete with that.”
How much more good would our spokespersons do if they could say something as subtle? Barack Obama might, but he is not ours. His popularity reflects, however, his understanding of the importance of argument above bluster.
I am also unimpressed by coverage of the case of the surgeon now condemned for carrying out “incomplete” mastectomies in the West Midlands.
Everybody is reporting it as if he carried out his “cleavage sparing” operations for some perverted satisfaction.
The way I read it, he offered his patients some softening of the blow of breast removal in exchange for a tiny increased risk of recurrence of the cancer being cut out. He had the nerve to suggest that the overall reduction in suffering might more than balance the odd individual case of bloody bad luck. And as far as I can see, nobody had the nerve, or knowledge, to say he was wrong, firmly enough to stop him.
It only became a scandal, I suspect, when the health authority was made aware of the potential cost of a representative of theirs taking any risks at all, however well-intentioned. In short, it was lawyers who turned Ian Paterson into a villain, not his peers or his patients.
I would have found it very hard to get this point of view past a newsdesk or a features editor when I had to. One of the joys of blogging is that I can simply say it and stand willing to be corrected.
Finally, I am not taking too much of a risk, of course, by coming out in sympathy for Nigella. Even the chatterati are aware that there is more sympathy out there than anyone will officially admit for a mum who takes the odd toke and tolerates a teenager doing the same in her bedroom, rather than finding somewhere to do worse.
But Deborah Orr, in the Guardian, puts up a fair defence of the Italian assistants who threw all the shit they could lay their hands on when called to account for the bill they ran up by awarding themselves little presents for their services.
Orr points out that Saatchi and Lawson effectively approved a level of institutionalised rip-off when they failed to react to the first bills for the bonus system the sponging signorinas thought they were entitled to. The mistake the employers made, she said, although she added in some psychoanalysis, was to imagine that you can run servants without behaving like a boss-class boss sometimes.
“It’s safe to assume that neither Lawson nor Saatchi wanted to see themselves as old-fashioned or high-handed.
“Instead, the couple opted to have messy, personal relationships with all of their staff; familiar, sentimental, patronising. In general, this arrangement is adopted out of respect for employees no more than the old ways of going about things were. It’s about the employer’s self-image – not as people who are dependent in their everyday lives on the others they employ to look after them, but as people who are sharing their largesse with people they pay but also like and respect, and who like and respect them in return. It’s flattering to the wealthy, the idea that their servants are there out of personal regard and affection for them, flattering to their idea of themselves as generous, modern, unsnobbish, laid-back, egalitarian.
“If Saatchi and Lawson had wanted to be good employers, they should have been responsible ones, who made the duties of their staff and the remuneration they could expect for those duties clear to both parties. Instead, the couple preferred to keep things fluid, taking no more responsibility than they would have in the days when they employed a servant to run the servants. They made it all up as they went along.
“The Grillos made it all up as they went along, too, taking their cue from their employers. They were not encouraged to see themselves as employees, but as ‘part of the family’.
“You cannot insist that someone is in your family, then cry fraud when they behave as if they are.”