The question being shrilly postured and posed today in the horrendous wake of yet two more journalists being beheaded is: Why do reporters take such risks?
And I have a simple answer: Because everybody lies.
It is almost failsafe to assume that in every controversy the truth is always the first, second, third, and ever crescendoing, operatic casualty.
And by chronicling everybody’s lies, journalists keep us in touch with the dishonesty, mendacity and prevarications – not to mention, ignorance — of our community… and the world.
But I guess the real question is: Why do correspondents die for our sins? That is, take such risks, for such low pay to write such stories that so few of us read — beyond the headlines?
And do you really want the truth from me? Or do you want me to tell you more of other people’s lies? To paraphrase that Marine commander’s snort and retort: What truth can you handle?
For the handle, as always, is complicated. It exists somewhere in the whirlwind of our ordinary lives where people believe lies not because they have to, but because they want to. Where we don’t see things as they are, but as we are — in our unremitting pursuit of power and profit and what is personally pleasing.
(Hmm… That was a ‘p’retty good alliteration.)
And it lingers out there – this handle on the truth — somewhere, between tragedy and comedy; optimism and desperation; aspiration and limitation; ambition and curiosity; the business, the adventure, the resolve… and even between the tugs of pious responsibility.
Indeed we all have needs. We all see the same things differently. And they all get personal.
For instance, my only critical addiction has forever been the expeditions into grand adventures. They are my crucial desires. I was never one to ask why… but why-not. If you don’t leap, how are you ever going to fly – or even hang-glide on the up and down drafts of our screams and dreams?
And I wanted to tell the stories that made the whole world cry. And laugh. And gasp. And yearn for more. It was never about the money. Or the ambition. It was simply my curiosity, my obsession with escapades. To venture into the jungles of life. And come out enriched. To endure. To be heard. To be read. To be acknowledged. And perhaps, like many people wish, to make a difference.
And the requisite was always to remind you of something that you may already have known, before it got lost in the psychoses of our daily mental tumult. Because there is nothing new in the world, there is only the history we do not know… or have forgotten.
And with each quest, like a man who has seen war, you never stop seeing it. And it becomes a lifetime of stories that both haunt you… and bless you.
For I am not a tree hugger. I am a life lover. Totally addicted. As much for its risks and rewards, as to divulge its consequences — the price we always pay for our self indulgences. For that is where the parade, the band and the Miss America smiles march on. Persist, if you will, even as the Titanic is sinking.
Yes, the glory is fleeting, but the compulsion is intense. There is a certain intoxicating, salacious sensation as you indulge in your own passion. Set your own sights. Write what you discover is fit. You are on the prowl, amidst the looming dangers, including the pratfalls of perfidy.
It is much, much more than the usual stuff that even most newspapermen dream. It is seductive. It is demanding. It is a grapefruit-size knot that coils in your belly with burning unrest. We become devoted. And the real danger is that we would probably do the work simply for the sake of the work. Simply for the desire of it.
You become invigorated. Overcoming illusive barriers and obstacles to find the elusive. The bandits aren’t ransacking in the shadows, they are pillaging the daylight. And they want to use you. Just like you seek to use them. To tell the story. To tell the world. Here they are. And here I am.
At least for now.
It is indeed an elixir that turns you into an alcoholic – even though all grand adventures evolve into jobs. But you are hooked on the mysterious promise of another bigger, better high. You can’t live with it. You can’t live without it. And after a while it doesn’t seem like you are really living at all. You’re just one step ahead of another deadline.
Indeed, in the world of never-ending consequences, it becomes yet another one. Only this time it’s gotten personal. Very personal. Until you become the victim. And the story. Like journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. They lost their heads. And for what?
A journalist friend, during a drunken R&R, once related that war reporters are often seen as a wild bunch of thrill-seekers who wade into the danger zones simply for the sake of the adrenalin high the settings inevitably provide. But this one-dimensional explanation, he said, leaves out the core of the story, which is that we go to these places because we feel the tug of responsibility.
Perhaps. For him. What always tugged at me was the infatuation. The journey. And the hope that some kernel of truth, or equivocation, or fact would be revealed, leading to some enlightenment. Or at least continue the conversation and the investigation into the rational.
Actually, I think we go simply because that’s where the story is. And stories need to be told. Or at least chronicled. I would say recorded. But that’s for TV. And with TV ‘journalism’ I have my own issues. For what do you call an actor trying to portray a journalist: A TV news-anchor.
Indeed the world is a TV-stage upon which we all act. But while we are acting, truths, like the facts, do not speak for themselves. We must speak for them.
And first we have to pursue them. And write them. And then, of course, folks have to care enough to read them.
And there’s the rub. People just aren’t reading them anymore. These beheadings got quickly anesthetized by the opening of the NFL season. And more celebrity nude photos being purloined from cyberspace. And a President who doesn’t quite know what to do about ISIS, or Russia, or even his golf handicap.
People aren’t reading ‘all the news that’s fit to print’ – even though the folks at places like the ‘New York Times’ and ‘USAToday’ keep unraveling the Gordian Knots to shower us with the information otherwise hidden behind the safes and vaults of bureaucracy.
But apparently while it may be fit to print, it is not fit enough to read amidst all the entertainment and other distractions of our so-called precious time. Because we want our rewards and punishments simple, and clear and no bigger than can be carried by a messenger pigeon.
We don’t want to have to probe or scrutinize. That is, to work at exploring the mind-shattering consequences, especially when there are so many ‘prices-to-pay’ in a world zooming faster than the speed of high-tech, propelled by man’s rapacious pursuit of power and profit.
And TV, meanwhile, makes all the stories sound so urgently the same. So we’ve not only stopped reading, but the noise has gotten too noisy. We demand our news to be entertaining.
So why do journalists risks their lives? Get blamed for the bad news they report. And die for our sins?
In many respects it is nothing more than the territory of the job. No different than the firemen of 911. Or a day in the life of a cop in Ferguson. Or a soldier in Afghanistan. Journalists live to report on the fires, the shootings and the conflicts that may affect us in one way or another. And sometimes they die bringing them to you. It’s the same old story — of guts and glory. Trying to see thru the fog of lies – even when folks don’t why the hell they are lying.
What Woodward and Bernstein uncovered with the actual Watergate break-in wasn’t so scandalous or astounding; it was the lies and cover-ups that went all the way to the pinnacle of our government. The Pentagon Papers demonstrated subterfuge. And Edward Snowden lit the powder keg on “1984” arriving 25 years later.
And if it happens here – in America – it happens everywhere. Germany was appalled that our NSA had eavesdropped on their phone conversations. And a few months later we learned thru the Press that Germany had intercepted phone conversations between our present and former Secretary of State – Kerry and Clinton — while duh Germans were eavesdropping on the Turkish government.
Everybody lies and spies and cries to the skies. But the show goes on. The Press is merely informing you and me about what they and us are doing. And sometimes when a reporter gets too close to the money, the power, the truth or the war, he loses his life – terribly.
But no matter what the reason, folks: Never was anything great achieved without danger. And the peril in our play is what we seek. It is our mistress. Our dominatrix. Our doom. And always our obsession. To bring you all the news and stories that make this Earth both heaven and hell.
And meanwhile with journalism and journalists being mugged, shot and beheaded – not to mention the oppressive economics — the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. And even more lies will pass into history. And sooner than later we’ll no longer recognize the enemy — for it is us. All of us. With fewer and fewer journalists left to tell… the truth, the whole truth, and nuttin’ but the truth. So help me, G-d.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…