Thursday, February 3, 2011

The news becomes the news in Egypt

It’s a dynamic of recent times, an accepted narrative perhaps given birth in Baghdad twenty years ago this month when CNN correspondents Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett reported live, becoming known as “The Boys of Baghdad”. They, the journalists, became the news.

And so it’s continued over the years. Journalists have become stars overnight. Those killed or captured, the subject of books and films. I admire journalists who place themselves in danger to report the truth.

But often, their first-hand truth, takes a back seat to the story of their dangerous exploits. Perhaps we saw a zenith in bravado and search for fame when NY Times correspondent Stephen Farrell defied military advice and crossed the lines in Afghanistan to interview the Taliban in September 2009. He’d done this “crossing over” before in Iraq a few times. Farrell was a tough guy rock star.

In this instance, his decision resulted in the death of his interpreter during a rescue by British forces. He’s a citizen of Great Britain, no longer a rock star I believe.

Today the news reports about Egypt shifted to the news reports about foreign journalists beaten and detained. The news about Egypt now becomes news about the news; the journalists.

I’m reminded of Bernard Fall who covered the war in Indochina with the French and later in the re-named War in Vietnam. He was a journalist’s journalist. The story was not about him. He took you to the place with his reporting and his great books like “Street Without Joy” (1961) and “Hell in a Very Small Place” (1966). Fall died alongside US Marines on a patrol in his Street Without Joy in 1967. If his name is new to you, check him out. Read the prophetic “Street Without Joy”. His prophesy continues, unfortunately.

Journalism is a tricky business that demands immediacy and access in this very immediate, connected world. Much rides upon the reads, hits, and views. Much to gain and a great deal to lose, not to mention life. It’s a business and a sacred trust. Balancing the two is the tricky bit.

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