Category Archives: journalists

Kung Fu flu kick-starts a thousand PhD theses

Bonking boffin: the discredited and disgraced epidemiologist Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London. He touted his alleged expertise on the Wuhan flu but his real interest lay in the legover arena

The theses about the epidemic will settle nothing once and for all, Dalrymple observes. There will always be a need for further research. Science, he points out,

is not a body of doctrine, an orthodoxy from which dissent is heresy. Its truths are multiform, contradictory, and provisional.

If politicians merely followed the science,

they would zigzag or careen like a drunken sailor; they would be at the mercy of the last qualified person to whom they spoke.

Politicians,

despised as they are (they are lower in public esteem even than journalists), are expected to deliver us from death, and if death supervenes it is they who are to blame. We hate them, but we run to them.

It is hard to feel sorry for politicians, says Dalrymple, for

they have chosen their career and (especially in modern conditions) have generally pursued power to the exclusion of all other possible goals, which is not admirable. As often as not, they have not much cultural or psychological hinterland, for they have no time or energy for it, which is why they are mostly not very interesting people. The trouble is that they are important (though perhaps not as important as they think they are), and for the rest of us to have to think about people who are important but not interesting is a kind of torture.

He notes that the problem for politicians in the time of the Chinese virus is that

they are faced with a population of experts. In only a few weeks, millions have become epidemiologists of the first rank, even those who in December would have been hard put to define what epidemiology was — if they had heard of it.

Bruce Lee

How a certain celebrated journalist conducted himself

The acclaimed journalist — a theoretical egalitarian outraged (in print) by injustice — was dismissive of his social inferiors

Dalrymple hears a story from an eyewitness

about the behaviour of a late journalist, undoubtedly of very great talent, that lowered him in my estimate far more than any intellectual disagreements I might have had with him had ever done.

The renowned journalist

was, I learnt from this eyewitness, rude and condescending to, and dismissive of, his social inferiors, especially those who performed services for him.

Dalrymple comments:

Of all human qualities, this seems to me to be one of the most disagreeable, and to reflect worst on a person’s character. As the eyewitness to this behaviour had no axe to grind, and might rather have been expected to evince admiration for this journalist, I believed what she told me.

He asks:

What difference did this knowledge of his character make to my judgment of his work? His wit was just as witty, his facts as accurate or inaccurate, his deductions from them just as valid or invalid, as they had been before.

Yet

it coloured everything, for the man had been a theoretical egalitarian, outraged, in print, by the injustices, inequities and inequalities of the world.

If the lionised journalist’s disdain for subordinates were habitual rather than occasional (and Dalrymple’s eyewitness, who met him on several occasions, suggested that it was habitual), then

his professions of egalitarianism were insincere.

Castro’s Cuba: a pile of rubble flying a skull and crossbones

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-47-22The dictator’s end came 60 years too late

Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,

was his own greatest admirer. His ego was more important than the fate of anything in the world, or of the entire world. As he put it in a speech, ‘The Cuban people did not hesitate to face the dangers of thermonuclear war.’ It goes without saying that Castro did not invite the Cuban people to express an opinion on the matter of their incineration by nuclear bombs. The Romans said, ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.’ Castro, in effect, said, ‘Let the world end, so long as I play an important part in it.’ His willingness to approve an apocalypse for his own people was paralleled only by that of Hitler.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-48-22When the Russians ignored Castro in their negotiations with the Americans,

he felt humiliated by his insignificance in the larger scheme of things. The extent of his moral frivolity was demonstrated by the fact that he was reconciled with the Russians a year later after a long tour of the Soviet Union, during which the Russians fêted him as they had never fêted anyone else.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-49-41He liked nothing better, Dalrymple points out,

than to harangue hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución for several hours at a time. (Attendance was compulsory.)

A diplomat in Havana told Dalrymple that he had once dined with Castro,

who had spoken uninterruptedly for seven hours, pausing only briefly to take food and drink.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-27-46Castro was a master at

manipulating the opinion of Western intellectuals, many of whom supported him unconditionally. His creation of an utterly servile Press and suppression of all liberty of opinion did not bother those intellectuals either. The combination of his rebellious rhetoric and defiance of the US more than compensated them for the dilapidation of Cuba, the tyranny, and the large numbers of political prisoners.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-54-36Dalrymple notes that Castro knew how to get the most out of foreign interviewers.

His technique was to keep journalists waiting for days or weeks, so that their tension mounted, and then suddenly call them at 3am. Their relief was so great that they were disarmed, and susceptible to Castro’s magnetic charms. Dutiful propagandists, they would trot out Castro’s achievements in health and education, which were said to counterbalance the food rationing, the deterioration of the housing stock and the absence of elementary freedoms.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-43-54His daughter Alina Fernández, who has inherited Castro’s temper, once shouted at him: ‘You’re a mediocrity!’ Although this sounds

absurd, given Castro’s career, it contains a truth: for all his ebullience and activity, his ideas never rose above the level of cliché, and mistaken cliché at that.

The centralised economy he established

did not work, because such economies cannot work. Havana, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is crumbling into dust through lack of maintenance. Hundreds of thousands of people inhabit the ruins of a previous civilisation.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-59-07The only institution that functions in Cuba with anything approaching efficiency is

the secret police.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-03-12

Dead-tree legacy media

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 10.40.17

The Paris newspaper Libération: aimed at ageing bourgeois bohemians of left-wing persuasion, many of them with ponytails

Dalrymple knows no young person who reads a newspaper. And those few newspapers which survive, thanks to (rapidly dwindling) sales to older readers,

more and more resemble magazines.

He notes that with modern technology, newspapers

can hardly any longer be the first to break news.

As their circulations slump and journalists are sacked in large numbers, newspapers

cannot do much investigative journalism, either.

All that is left to newspapers, Dalrymple points out, is

  • gossip about celebrities
  • explanations of the obvious
  • speculation about the future based on what has happened in the recent past
  • drivel about sport
  • articles catering to modern man’s fathomless narcissism

The idiocies of journalism

G.E.R. Gedye

G.E.R. Gedye

Don’t worry, Tony Barber, all will be forgotten. And rapidly. Journalistic Barber-isms and fatuities receive, writes Dalrymple,

a swift and decent burial, never to be disinterred: nothing ever comes back to haunt a journalist and oblivion overcomes all. That is why journalists can afford to be fearlessly outspoken; no one will ever remember, except in the vaguest term, what they wrote. Fairness, accuracy, consistency: these are qualities with which the journalist can easily, and in some publications must, dispense.

Private Eye No. 1384, 23 Jan - 5 Feb 2015

Private Eye No. 1384, 23 Jan – 5 Feb 2015

The uselessness of foreign correspondents

Ordure: the scribblings of foreign correspondents Reports excreted by journalists sent to places they know nothing about are best left well alone

One native plumber, writes Dalrymple,

is worth a thousand foreign correspondents when it comes to understanding a country.

The days of Waugh’s Scoop, he says,

are by no means over. The bar at the one luxury hotel in town is often where the report of the history of an undeveloped country’s crisis is made. Correspondents are more interested in what other correspondents are going to write than in what is happening on their temporary doorstep. Lies repeated become truths, and truths ignored cease ever to have existed.

He explains the ease with which

an entire Press corps can accept the most obvious untruth, usually convenient to some interested party, without any external compulsion.