Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brendan O'Neill, and time for some serious thinking about the role of war correspondents ...

(Above: Charles Bean, unfortunately emotionally involved, and likely enough one of the hacks responsible for the Digger Gallipoli mythology).

Every time Brendan O'Neill puts pen to paper, he displays woeful ignorance, and so it is with Dangers of the "journalism of attachment".

Seizing on the death of Sunday Times' war correspondent, Marie Colvin, he flings about the bizarre notion of objective, unattached journalism, as if he's somehow the representative of hacks in a quest for unemotional truth-telling.

Somehow, it seems, post-objectve "attached journalism" is a new thing, and practitioners of the art are likely to be targeted by regimes - presumably because in the fog of war, regimes will be able to say "oh you're an objective truth teller, please feel free to sample our cocktails".

It's the old question of course as to at what point you put down the camera, and decide to help the person bleeding to death in front of you, nice, shocking and compelling snap though it might make. The pond never hopes to be caught bleeding to death in front of objective unemotionally detached Brendan O'Neill.

Meanwhile, O'Neill offers up this king of insight:

The journalism of attachment represented a not uncontroversial turning point in the history of war reporting.

In emphasising attachment over neutrality, and emotionalism over objectivity, the new breed of attached reporter became more like an activist, an international campaigner, rather than a dispassionate recorder of fact and truth.

New breed? If it's not too presumptuous, could the pond set a homework assignment, say 1500 words on the new breed of attached reporter, namely C. W. Bean, and his work in the first world war. Perhaps he could start with this from Bean's wiki:

In September 1914, Bean was appointed official war correspondent with the AIF troops.He was selected by ballot as the official war correspondent, narrowly beating Keith Murdoch. He was given the rank of honorary captain in the AIF and followed closely in the tracks of all the Australian infantry's campaigns. Bean landed at Anzac Cove at 10am on 25 April 1915, a few hours after the first troops had landed and he remained on the peninsula for most of the campaign, enduring the same squalid conditions suffered by the soldiers. (here)

But what then? How to develop the theme, how to make a point of the obfuscating O'Neill kind? Can the pond make a helpful suggestion?

In emphasising attachment over neutrality, and emotionalism over objectivity, the new breed of attached reporter like C. W. Bean became more like an activist, an international campaigner, rather than a dispassionate recorder of fact and truth.

Oh okay as the wiki points out Bean's copy was inclined to be detailed, accurate and dull, and amen to that - the pond having spent too much time reading Bean - unlike the copy of some of his fellow correspondents who were inclined to rah rah populism. But at the same time as official war correspondent it served what was perceived to be the interests of Australia, and the empire. An international campaigner, so to speak, since dispassionate fact and truth only resided on one side in that conflict.

But here's the rub when pups like O'Neill get to writing about current reporting, as if he's just invented the wheel all over again: it's insufferable and it's also astonishingly naive and incredibly irritating. As if in the fog of war there's objectivity at work:

... some British journalists are uncomfortable with the idea of the journalism of attachment, believing that reporters who go looking for "good" and "evil" in foreign fields run the risk of overlooking complexities and political nuances, and of substituting morality tales for tough reporting.

Yes, Syria at the moment is just the place for overlooking the complexities and political nuances of a brave regime defending itself against terrorists. Thank the lord the current crop of Murdoch journalists never go looking for good or evil in foreign fields, especially Islamic fields. O'Neill himself is a dab hand at subtle nuanced complexity:

The miserabilist Malthusian mindset is now so deeply entrenched amongst the chattering classes that you can go on TV or radio and applaud the repression of women or call for the death of huge swathes of mankind, and nobody will even spill their Ovaltine. (here).

Just one of a zillion examples, with the chattering classes usually the subject of the nuance. But let's get back to the point:

More to the point, is it also possible that in making themselves attached, in turning themselves into "players" in a conflict, these journalists risk making themselves into targets?

Ah yes, because the Syrian regime welcomes objective reporters with open arms, and would never target them. Perhaps they might invite Brendan O'Neill on a ten day tour of the war zone, or perhaps invite him into their torture bunkers for an assessment of the complexities and nuances other dullards have overlooked.

It is widely claimed that the Assad regime purposely targeted the makeshift media building in Homs that Colvin and other Western reporters were working in, which is just the kind of thing those bloody tyrants would do - set out to kill not only their opponents but also foreign reporters who dared to photograph and talk about the massacres in that city.

Oh the cads, how dare they suggest that there have been massacres, how dare they take photographs. That's shockingly unobjective.

Yet is it possible that Assad, like other ruthless rulers, now targets foreign reporters because they are actually "more than reporters"? Because, in their own words, their aim is sometimes to shift the course of wars and invite Western invasions?

Yes, yes, these reporters are nothing more than deviant agents, spies and terrorists. Just like all those deviant radical Russian journalists done over by the politically nuanced and complex Vladimir Putin. A pox on the lot of them. Fancy thinking that a mushroom farm needs light and information when all it needs is compost.

Certainly at the same time as we condemn Assad and mourn Ms Colvin, we should also seriously discuss what the role of war reporters has become, and what we think it ought to be.

Only if O'Neill is banned from the discussion, or at least until he hands in his essay on the reporting of the first and second world wars.

Or perhaps he could settle for writing about William Howard Russell, war correspondent for The Times who covered the Crimean war for some 22 months way back when. Russell's idea of objectivity and emotional detachment was typically Irish:

Russell was described by one of the soldiers on the frontlines thus, "a vulgar low Irishman, [who] sings a good song, drinks anyone's brandy and water and smokes as many cigars as a Jolly Good Fellow. He is just the sort of chap to get information, particularly out of youngsters." This reputation led to Russell being blacklisted from some circles, including British commander Lord Raglan who advised his officers to refuse to speak with the reporter.

Oh dear, you mean he wasn't entirely objective and detached?

His dispatches were hugely significant: for the first time the public could read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public's backlash from his reports led the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and led to Florence Nightingale's involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

Shocking. Will someone please tell Brendan O'Neill? We really must seriously discuss what the role of war reporters has become as the Crimean war rages around us, and what we think it ought to be.

For a start, the pond proposes sending O'Neill by way of a third class rail ticket to the nearest front. We wouldn't want him staying in comfort at home to ponder these complex, nuanced thoughts ...

But before you snicker, or even snort a little, here's the catch. It's likely the Australian taxpayer has sent a nice little recompense the way of O'Neill for writing yet more nonsense for the cardigan-wearers at the ABC's The Drum, a nice little earner for someone frequently caught rabbiting on about the uselessness of public, or civil, servants.

Well he certainly gets that right about the ABC, now routinely home for the likes of the IPA and On'Neill, but whither the objective detachment that will see him tear up their pitiful government cheque, and fling it in their faces?

(Below: would the army supply O'Neill as a non-standard bootlace for William Howard Russell? Probably not ...)

1 comment:

  1. If O'Neill would accept a deployment to Homs for one week, I'd supply the gross of Depend Super Plus pappy nappies.


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