I’ve just finished John le Carré’s « The Pigeon Tunnel » (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books [a part of the Penguin Random House group of companies], Penguin Random House UK), subtitled Stories from My Life. As I was leafing back through the book, I was struck by a passage in the introduction, in which he talks about the truth of what he is about to recount, which brought to mind this whole new « fake news » thing. Here is what Mr le Carré has to say about the truth :
« These are true stories told from memory – to which you are entitled to ask, what is the truth, and what is memory to a creative writer in what we may delicately call the evening of his life ? To the lawyer, truth is facts unadorned. Whether such facts are ever findable is another matter. To the creative writer, fact is raw material, not his taskmaster but his instrument, and his job is to make it sing. Real truth lies, if anywhere, not in facts, but in nuance. » (The Pigeon Tunnel, p 6).
While there is probably a lot to discuss in that short paragraph, I’d like to focus on the word « nuance » and how it relates to journalism (or reporting, as it used to be known), and even though journalism and « creative writing » are generally considered as not being quite the same thing (though there are lots of people who would dispute this), this entire new flap about « fake news » reminded me of an historiography class I took as a university undergraduate in the late sixties which dealt with how to read and write about history. Briefly, everyone writing about history has an agenda, stated or not. I think journalism is much the same, and I don’t think anyone with a bit of common sense (or a working memory) would disagree with that.
So why is it that everyone is all up in arms about this « fake news » thing ? And this is where le Carré’s idea of « nuance » comes into play. Just as historiographers examine the agendas of historians, the public has the obligation to look beyond the headlines. Who is the author ? What is his agenda (and they all have one) ?
So, I’d like to take a look at an article I read yesterday on CounterPunch, written by Anthony DiMaggio.
Spying and propaganda go hand in hand. I hardly think that needs to be said. When the US admits to have spent five billion dollars on the Ukranian regime change operation, I think that pretty much explains a lot. The State Department funds Radio Free This and That all over the place and yet they quake at the thought that RT has a growing, dare I say, market share ? Or that, thanks to (or because of) the internet, lots of state actors have the possibility of putting out their versions of what they think is going on ? Perish the thought !
Which, in some way, brings me back to DiMaggio’s article on CounterPunch. He bemoans the atrocities taking place in Syria, but then goes on to claim that « real premature babies are being removed from incubators in Syrian hospitalities (sic) that are being bombed out (sic) by the Syrian and Russian governments ». He cites no source for this statement about premies being removed, nor who actually bombed the hospital, which just happens to coincide with the US narrative. In fact, they may very well have been « removed », along with their incubators, so as to be able to survive a bombing whose provenance is, to say the least, in doubt.
Mr DiMaggio goes on to say that « The dismantlement of Syria is a tragedy of horrific proportions, in which the U.S., Syria, and Russia are guilty. » Again, another nuanced sleight of hand. Yes, bombing is horrific, but putting the Russians and the Syrians in the same basket as the US is less than forthright. It was, after all, the US who wanted « regime » change in Syria, and began this entire fiasco. And it was the Syrian government, much like the people of Crimea, who invited the Russians to take an interest in what was happening to them. President Assad did not invite the US, or any of its many proxies, to intervene in any way in the affairs of Syria.
He then goes on to reverse the arc of events : « U.S. attempts to destabilize the Assad regime empowered radical Islamist groups and other rebels … ». A slightly better attempt to soft pedal the narrative of the US being some sort of victim of external, uncontrollable events, when this sort of modus operandi, employing proxies and lies, has been demonstrated again and again to have been the cover behind which the US has hidden so many of its atrocities.
I have to say I agree with much of DiMaggio’s article, but agreement with the overall tenor doesn’t absolve one from the responsibility of a close reading. All this to say that « nuance » is important, whether you’re writing a novel or, in this case, an opinion piece on « fake news ».