Friday, April 01, 2011

White suit man

I was offered some work the other day; it would have involved covering a forthcoming election in Asia, which sounds terribly exciting, all very Graham Greene, sipping a whisky and soda while waiting for a sweaty man who smokes cheroots and is found stabbed to death on the bidet of my hotel room at the end of Chapter 7. Proper foreign correspondent stuff; and bear it mind I spend much of time in an eco-system where foreign correspondents are at the top of the pyramid, and everybody wants a little of their raffish glamour to rub off on them (which is why most outlets of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club are packed with people who write press releases for exhaust pipe manufacturers, while the foreign correspondents themselves are out corresponding).

Except that rather than the chance of being a proper fo-co and reporting coolly and objectively (with just a dash of the aforementioned raffishness) about the election, the task proffered to me was to write a blog that would be favourable to the incumbent who – according to his Wikipedia page at least – is something of a dodgy geezer. The offer, I should stress, came not from a conventional news organisation, but a ‘strategic communication’ company, which should have alerted me. Rather than spend several days weighing up the ethical ins and outs of the thing, I just said no thanks within minutes.

But why exactly did I turn it down? Well, the fact that the guy for whom I would have been shilling is of dubious probity certainly entered into it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean my motives were entirely pure and selfless. I’ve been watching all the people who’ve done business with Gaddafi over years furiously trying to rewrite history, and none of them comes out of the mess looking good. So maybe it’s not that I didn’t want to help a crook; just that I didn’t want it widely known that I was helping a crook. My biggest fear was getting found out. Complicity is bad; embarrassment is worse.

I could, of course, have gone in on the pretext of doing the job, and then blown the whistle on the whole story, thus provoking anguished think pieces on the dangerous grey area between journalism and political PR and perhaps a sarky footnote in Private Eye. But the person who asked me to do it is an old friend, so he’d have suffered for my high-minded subterfuge. Moreover, whereas my moral courage ebbs and flows, my physical bravery is a tiny, stagnant puddle. While the guns and grenades and catapults were tearing big holes in Bangkok last year, I was at home in the suburbs, drinking tea and following the whole thing on Twitter. If I’d taken the job, I might have been duffed up, or worse. I’ve read The Last King of Scotland, you know; these things never end well.

But really, at the heart of it is the fact that I’m very bad at lying, at pretending, especially at feigning enthusiasm. (On the other hand, today of all days, maybe I’m making up all of the above, even the bit about the bidet, like Annie Rhiannon does when she pretends to go to Tibet and America and Wales.)


Charles Edward Frith said...

Good answer. How did Vauxhall take it?

Tim F said...

With equanimity. But they remind me they still have the Polaroids of that unfortunate incident in Dubrovnik.

Charles Edward Frith said...

That's both of us. Alas I'm unsalaried.

Anonymous said...

Did you buy a trench coat anyway and prepare a sardonic lip curl for your next restaurant outing?
Glad you'll not be involved in extreme election exigencies.