Tuesday, April 23, 2024

THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE: Sound and fury signifying little


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Barbadian journalists these days remind me of the first school song I learned on entering St Giles in 1947. We sang it in the hall at morning prayers: “Be not swift to take offence; let it pass, let it pass.”
While tit-for-tat is never the appropriate response, the Press must still remind officialdom that it is unwise to pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.
To be sure, there are at times some strong responses, usually from the pulpit of the editorial column, to the tirades that come the way of the Press, like THE NATION recently suggesting that the Minister of Education “seems to be doing an excellent job of saying the wrong things in the wrong manner and at the wrong times”.
The late John Wickham once told me: “When you’re in an argument or debate with someone, always make sure that your voice is lower than your opponent’s.” Then he added: “This does not mean that you turn down your volume so low that you cannot be heard.”
In recent times, the bête noire of the local Press – excluding the sycophantic Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation – has been the Minister of Education Ronald Jones.
He means well but regularly gets intoxicated by the power of language – a bit of a contradiction for someone who holds the position of Minister of Education. When Mr Jones speaks I always expect to hear a nugget or two of home-grown wisdom, but it can take a little while. I first have to hack my way through a forest of bluster and emotive verbosity as he constructs mountainous arguments on top of foundations made of jello and marshmallows.
One wonders if he understands the injury that misplaced words can do. Since assuming office in 2008, he has been issuing threats non-stop.
Mr Jones has taken the lead from his Prime Minister, the only Barbadian head of Government to outsource the responsibility of leadership. Both would be wise to heed advice not to be so combative, condescending and insulting in a time of austerity when people are enduring much pain and anxiety. People don’t need lectures . . . in English or Latin.
There’s a new breed of journalists around these days – they turn the other cheek. Even Harold Hoyte, an alumnus from the “old school”, has done it. He has been called “Negrocrat” and, since his retirement, a “Quinquennial troglodyte”. With enviable equanimity, he absorbed those epithets the way Mohammed Ali took whatever punches Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman threw at him.
I shared with Hoyte that latter slur but unlike Hoyte, I responded; not in similarly insulting tones, but regretting that Prime Minister Stuart uses language like a butcher, cleaver in hand, chopping up the hind quarters of a bull, rather than as a brain surgeon, with the delicate tools of scalpel and laser.
The to-and-fro between journalists and officialdom (not only politicians) is as old as Mount Hillaby. I recall men like J.C. Proute who defended themselves on a regular basis from such assaults, taking it all in their stride as one of the occupational hazards of the profession.
But THE NATION newspaper, now in its 40th year, must pay close attention to the observations of many onlookers who have noticed drift, not only in the use of language, but positions it takes on public affairs.
Some weeks ago, Sir Frank Alleyne launched a fusillade of angry invective at the newspaper. As someone who acted as midwife at its birth, I took offence and sent a short note to the acting editor inquiring if there would be a response to the economist’s assault. It was not the first time.
No one replied. Was the paper conceding that Sir Frank’s strictures were justified? If so, THE NATION must pull up its socks.
Journalists and politicians will always be, and should always be, at opposite ends of the tug-o-war as the search for, or the need to hide, the truth continues. There is no politician who calls a Press conference to confess that he has taken a kickback for the award of a multimillion-dollar contract, or receipt of a few hundred thousand dollars quietly deposited on his account in Miami. Journalists have to dig and dig to arrive at that truth. Having smelled a rat, they must stay on the trail of that scent . . . to wherever or whomever it leads. Public opinion will decide if they’ve been “balanced” or not.
The 30th United States President Calvin Coolidge was not considered a sage in the same category of, say, the third, Thomas Jefferson, yet he delivered himself of this most poignant observation: “It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshippers. They are constantly and for the most part sincerely assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.”
While journalists should pursue their craft with diligence, they must never assume that their perspective is the only one. And they must not be intimidated. Occasionally, they will find the frothy effluvium of politicians a passing bother as these “temporary workers” strut and fret their hour upon the stage until they’re heard no more. They’re not idiots; they’re nervous trumpeters full of sound and fury, signifying little.
• Carl Moore was the first editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator.


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