Publish and Be Damned

Although widely attributed to George Bernard Shaw; the line appears in his 1898 play, ‘Mrs. Warren's Profession’, the source is Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852).

The phrase was Wellington's alleged response to an 1824 blackmail threat from a (reputed pornographic) publisher, John Joseph Stockdale, about to release the Memoirs of Courtesan, one Harriette Wilson, who had been the Duke's mistress and was ready to ‘name names’ or as we might say today, ‘dish the dirt’ on the Duke (and others).

These words supposedly were written in bright red ink on the blackmail letter, with the letter then returned to the publisher.

So, no doubt someone is asking where the hell I am going with this rant?

Hopefully, all will become clear shortly, but first a brief recap.

Let’s whizz back to the early 1960s, I was 11, 12, 13, 14 years old. And, like most boys of that age, in those far off days, the burning question was always, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. For many, the standard response was ‘policeman, fireman’ and the like. For me, I wanted to be a newspaperman, a reporter, and travel the world. This notion was partly driven by my love of writing stories, essays, and a TV series about a press photographer who traveled the world. Wish I could recall the TV show.

The school library had, I recall, no books on journalism, as I came to understand my dream occupation was called. The local public library however was far more forthcoming, although of course not the junior/youth sections.

And so while my friend’s heroes were TV/movies stars, footballers, and the like, my attention was drawn to newspaper proprietors and publishers, men like Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook; Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe; his brother, Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere; US-based William Randolph Hearst. Then there were the stories of William Howard Russell, a reporter for the London Times during the Crimean War who is recognized as one of the first war correspondents, and Paul Julius Reuter, who was among the first to exploit the new telegraphic cable lines the 1860s and gave his name to the Reuters press agency. The list goes on and on.

And of course, there was the classic Orson Wells movie, Citizen Kane, purportedly about newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst.

However, the glitch or maybe the ‘fly in the ointment’ – how I love these quaint English expressions – was that I am dyslectic. (I was diagnosed during the vacation period during my first and second years of college – 1965 – but that is another story.)

Added to dyslexia, or maybe because of it, my handwriting was and still is, unsightly (such a polite word). In fact, as a youth, I was told on many occasions that with handwriting like mine, I should be a doctor. To this day I can’t understand how doctors used to, maybe still have, have poor handwriting skills. Surely, given that patients place their life in their hands, their notes, and prescriptions should be written with crystal clear clarity.

My father and step-mother were aghast by the idea of me becoming a “newspaperman”. Leaving aside my dyslexia, their concept of a newspaperman – and remember that this was the early 1960s - was a man in a trilby hat, cigarette dangling from his mouth, (a strong) drink in one hand, pen and pad in the other. It was not to be, and I was packed off to catering college. (And that is a story for another time.)

While at school, I tried unsuccessfully to master Pitman’s shorthand, and to learn to touch type. My typing is by sight although I do sometimes manage to use more than just two fingers.

Fast forward nearly three decades to 1991, and the First Gulf War finds me working for a small hotel chain handling sales and marketing. The War, which was a hammer blow to the Israeli hotel/tourist industry, was the making of me. I found myself working, for a now-defunct English-language business publication, initially handling sales and marketing but later writing and being published. (Thirty years earlier, I had won a writing prize; but here, the wait was over.)

Thanks to Bill Gates and Microsoft, my dyslexia was no longer holding me back; it was up, up, and away.

And, so here we are, 700 words later arriving at the theme of this rant.

I am, obviously, no media proprietor, publisher, or editor. I’m not even a bonafide journalist. I am simply a guy who enjoys writing and uses the Internet and this blog as a kind of journal to record and comment on the craziness, the stupidity, the callousness of the world around us, and on many of those that we foolishly vote for and thus enable to govern us. At times it's difficult to know who are the bigger wallies, them or us.

My admiration for the Fourth Estate knows no bounds. Whether print media, radio, TV, or Internet, I am in awe, and maybe just a little jealous, of those who have made a successful career for themselves.

While the job of the media as a whole, is the dissemination of ‘news’, its responsibilities go much further than publishing the football scores, reporting on a major crime, traffic incident, and the latest scandal surrounding brainless TV personalities.

Bad news sales newspapers, or at least it used to. The media is there to offer news, both good and bad. Offer in-depth background coloring to current news stories. Comment, analysis, champion causes, rally the population in times of trouble/war, expose corruption, and wrongdoing around us, the list goes on and on. The job of the media is to make sure that our leaders are held accountable for their actions and in-actions. The media is there to praise when deserved but also to offer-up constructive criticism when required.

A strong, fiercely independent media is the backbone of any democratic society. That said, we have seen for example in the US how Rupert Murdoch uses Fox News and the likes of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and others at the station to highlight his political leanings.

And we have seen it in Israel, most recently with the firing of various journalists from TV channel 13. A TV whose majority shareholder is not I understand an Israeli citizen but is a ‘good buddy’ of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both Trump and Netanyahu would have us believe that the media is awash with ‘fake news’. The truth is however that fake news, spin, false information, disinformation, propaganda, call it what you will, has been around in one form or another well before the advent of modern media.

No doubt when Homo Sapiens, some 70,000 years ago started their journey from the Horn of Africa, some no doubt ridiculed the idea of undertaking such a passage with stories of who knows what.

Netanyahu wants to control the media in Israel. He aims to bend it to his vision and glorification. And while he may partially succeed with the traditional media outlets; newsprint, TV, radio, control the Internet, social media is a far harder undertaking.

Let me finish this rant by sharing an opinion piece by Raanan Shaked, published today under the Ynetnews banner: “Go Bibi, go to Washington and leave your sick country behind. You had one job and it was not to help re-elect Trump or rehabilitate MBS, it was to work for us, to heal us and lead us out of the crisis; can you even see us from the sky on your way to the manicured lawns of the White House?” https://www.ynetnews.com/article/rylBq113Vw

I am sure that Donald J. Trump does not give a flying fig about Israel or the people of Israel or for that matter the people of this region. He will do anything and everything to ensure reelection in November, maybe even a third time, and to secure a Noble Peace Prize.

But Netanyahu is another story. Is he so driven by his desire to cling to power at any cost, beat the court cases against him, win a Noble Peace Prize that he has forgotten the basics. Or, as seems far more likely, he simply does not care about the good people of Israel. Only he is important, no one else.

It’s to count this criminality, and I am not referring to Netanyahu’s court cases, that we need a strong, fearless Fourth Estate in Israel. Newspeople; whether print, TV, radio, Internet, that are prepared to stand-up and openly, truthfully tell the people of Israel what their ‘Crime Minister’ is really up to, what his agenda is.

All rights reserved to Murray Lewis Freeman

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