Magazine article The Spectator

Anti-War Journalists Hope for the Worst - Because the Worst Will Prove Them Right

Magazine article The Spectator

Anti-War Journalists Hope for the Worst - Because the Worst Will Prove Them Right

Article excerpt

We journalists think pretty highly of ourselves. I don't mean the chap who touches up photographs of Page Three girls; he may have a proper sense of his place in the universe. I mean columnists, leader writers and foreign correspondents. I mean the undoubtedly brave men and women who stand in the desert in Iraq (a country most of them have not visited before) and pronounce on the progress of the war (a subject about which many of them know rather little). I mean the editors who tell us what to think. Most of us draw comfort from the thought that the job we do is a vital one. We know that a free press is the mark of a free society, and we see ourselves as the guardians of that society. And because our work is precious we are apt to think we are a special race of men and women who are not touched in equal measure by the weaknesses and shortcomings of those in public life whose performance we examine and criticise. We are not so corrupt or self-serving or incompetent or vain as politicians. We might not quite put it like that, but it is what many of us assume as we turn on our computers or run a comb through our hair in the desert wind before the camera begins to roll.

And yet, of course, we are just as flawed as any other group of human beings. More so than most, perhaps, because power corrupts, and the media have a great deal of power. We are not engaged in reporting human events, or commentating upon them, as impartial, neutral and selfless beings. We all have our preconceptions and we are all opinionated. More and more modern journalism is opinion: listen to any of the correspondents in the desert and you will find that what they say is nine parts opinion and surmise, and one part fact. It is very natural, almost inevitable, I would say, that people with strong opinions like to be proved right. Those who in their minds and writings strongly opposed the war in Iraq do not expect, and in most cases probably do not want, a successful outcome.

Let me here offer a small confession in the spirit of this piece. I was against the war in Kosovo for a mixture of reasons, some of them ignoble. I could not bear Tony Blair's messianic conviction, his apparent belief that he was totally right. The war was clearly illegal since Nato did not even bother to seek the approval of the UN security council. The mass exodus from Kosovo was also triggered not so much by Slobodan Milosevic as by Nato's bombing. Once the war was over, the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs in Kosovo was another reason to doubt whether the war had been justified. Of course, Nato lied about many of these things, which made one crosser still. I interviewed a distinguished Serbian professor in Pristina who was being driven out of Kosovo by Albanian thugs, and I fumed. And yet who could doubt that the removal of Milosevic over a year later marked a turning point for the whole of former Yugoslavia? It was difficult to argue that his demise had nothing to do with his defeat in Kosovo. A part of me had briefly hoped that this evil tyrant would survive, because his survival gave one another argument for saying that the war was wrong.

There were lots of reasons for opposing the war against Iraq. But even anti-war people would always admit that Saddam Hussein is a dictator who has tortured and killed many people, and impoverished his nation. …

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