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I gave a radio interview yesterday during which I extolled the British press for being far more open about the political views of reporters than we are in the States, where everyone pretends that journalists are blank slates, untainted by ideology or belief. The most ridiculous claim of journalistic neutrality I’ve ever heard voiced comes from Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post. He’s so pure he doesn’t vote–in other words, as a friend once remarked, Downie retains his neutrality even in the privacy of his own mind.
Last night, however, I went out with a friend and was reminded that it’s easy to be overly romantic about the British press. Karl (not his real name) recently returned from a long stay in Europe, most recently living in Berlin, where he had been working as a freelancer. He periodically wrote for a major British daily, but said it was hard to interest this newspaper in stories about Germany. The only sure route to success was to pitch stories that made the Germans look bad–a favored topic, Karl explained, because it harkened back to the World War II triumph over the Nazis, Britain’s last moment of real military glory.
One day Karl sent an email pitching a number of serious proposals to the newspaper, including a political analysis and a piece about the difficulties faced by Turkish immigrants to Germany. As a lark, he added that he could also do an item about the “recent discovery of a new beetle in Slovenia,” which had been named after Adolf Hitler.
Almost immediately after sending the email, his phone rang. “Karl,” said the breathless editor, “we’re quite interested in this story about the Hitler beetle!”
The conversation reminded me of a far worse story I heard in the early 1990s, when I lived in Brazil. An American freelancer I knew well told me he’d just completed duties as a fixer for a British TV crew that had come to Brazil to expose the destruction of the Amazon rain forest. The crew went looking for forest fires to film but couldn’t find any. In frustration, they bought a container of gasoline and started a small fire of their very own and filmed it from various close-up angles that made it appear that a large swath of the rain forest was ablaze. Being responsible journalists, they put out the fire before packing up their gear.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”