The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Kelley: another foreign correspondent compares and contrasts

Was disgraced USA Today journo Jack Kelley really a different kind of rabbit [1]?

Romenesko points to a piece by a former foreign correspondent for UPI and USAT who provides some interesting context to the Kelley saga.

I don't know the writer, Christopher Winner, from a hole in the ground. And his article is placed in a publication - The American - which I had similarly never heard of before [2].

The piece is good for a couple of points:

First, he puts objective journalism (literally) in its place:
The fiercely guarded Puritan frontier that separates objective data (biblical literalism) from a personal sense of accuracy (a kind of interpretive theology) does not exist in any country outside the United States, and I include Great Britain.

This is guy - as he describes - brought up in the hard school of American journalism. The fact he expresses himself thus is therefore remarkable.

Second, he lists [3] the sorts of peccadilloes that foreign correspondents perpetrate which lie in the vast tract of reality between Kelley and his capital crimes and the illusory standard of journalistic perfection fit to do objective journalism:
I have seen good reporters pad their work with hearsay from local sources they did not check. I have seen fixers fix for correspondents who were too busy to authenticate sources. I have seen reporters gently conspire to adopt the same ("truthful") view of an event. I have seen enemies share, friends lie, colleagues adorn quotes; I have seen news agency reporters invent stories to recoup losses after another agency's scoop; I have myself, at wit's end, hastily grafted phrasing from better writers and accepted them (in my own mind) as my own, and I have witnessed others do the same. I have known fine correspondents to rely as invalids on work done by news agencies or by research assistants, which is tantamount to accepting a friendly bribe. I dare any English-speaking correspondent who has worked in the field to say they have been wholly original all of the time.

Not that Winner sides with Kelley on his misdeeds. But, he points out,
journalism is a crude, cruel and hyper-competitive business that turns on its own, discards them, and allows plenty little forgiveness in a pinch. Its spasms of moral self-righteousness - "We exist to serve the public; Kelley betrayed the public" - are wholly unconvincing, particularly when reportage and propaganda are sometimes literally embedded.

Now, I can imagine - and this is pure speculation - that attack-dogs on behalf of US Big Media could run a decent campaign of denigration against Winner - what is he doing with his own rag in Italy, rather than being star correspondent of the NYT or WaPo? - etc, etc.

And his stuff feeds my druthers - always a sign to be wary.

On the other hand, at least someone agrees with me...

  1. In the Wind in the Willows/Toad of Toad Hall sense.

  2. It's a monthly magazine for anglophone residents of Italy published by Winner himself. It has a considerable roster of talent (numerically, at least), including Frances Kennedy, who I've heard a good many times on the BBC. It gets a comment in the Corriere della Sera (March 4) by anglophile journo Beppe Severgnini, in response to a reader's email (!): he wishes it well, but is sceptical of its chances of survival.

  3. None of this is man bites dog stuff. It's just a handy listing for an (apparently) credible source. (Insofar as any source is credible, which is, of course, not very far at all.)


A Winner six degrees of separation thing: this forum piece says that Winner is the son of Percy Winner, to whom author Curzio Malaparte wrote in 1949 seeking publication in the US of his novel La Pelle.

According to this bio, Malaparte had a pretty colourful life - gassed on the Western Front, a Fascist pretty much from the March on Rome to the fall of Mussolini in 1943, he fell out with the fat man and survived.

And, to judge from his Google rap-sheet, quite a lot of people knew that. Not me, evidently.

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