Salman Rushdie Talks Newspapers

Article excerpt

While critics of the press would readily agree that news and fiction writing have a lot in common, author Salman Rushdie means it as a compliment.

The "ultimate goal," he said, "of both factual and fictional writing is the truth, attitude, spin. We read not for raw data ... but to get a 'take' on the news that we like.

"Now that the broadcasting media fulfill the function of being first with the news, newspapers, like novels, have entered the realm of the imagination. They both provide versions of the world," Rushdie told those gathered for the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Washington.

"It is for the novelist to create, communicate and sustain over time a personal and coherent vision of the world that entertains, interests, stimulates, provokes and nourishes its readers," Rushdie continued.

"It is for the newspaper editor to do very much the same thing with the pages at his disposal. In that specialized sense - and let me emphasize that I mean this as a compliment - we are all in the fiction business now," he said, adding that, "Sometimes, of course, the news in newspapers seems fictive in a less complimentary sense."

The British royal family, for example, "have had their characters invented for them by the British press," Rushdie said.

"And such is the power of the fiction that the flesh-and-blood royals have become more and more like their print personae, unable to escape the fiction of their imaginary fives."

Rushdie was critical of what he called the aptly,, named profile reporting, which he said, like one's profile, is "flat and two dimensional."

Yet the images created in these curious texts - often with their subjects' collusion - are extraordinarily potent," he explained. "It can be next to impossible for the actual person to alter, through his own words and deeds, the impressions they create. And, thanks to the mighty, clippings file, they are also self-perpetuating."

Speaking from his own experience, Rushdie said being profiled "is perhaps closest to what it must feel like to be used as a writer's raw material, what it must feel like to be turned into a fictional character, to have one's feelings and actions, one's relationships and vicissitudes, transformed by, writing into something subtly, or unsubtly, different - to see ourselves mutated into someone we do not recognize."

Pointing to privacy, laws in Britain and France, Rushdie said he continues "to be against laws that curtail the investigative freedoms of the press."

"But, speaking as someone who has had the uncommon experience of becoming, for a time, a hot news story ... it would be dishonest to deny that when my family and I have been the target of press intrusions and distortions, those principles have been sorelv strained. …