Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A self-indulgent moment. My excuse is that I dislike being called a liar. It's not that I don't lie - of course I do, we all do - but on this occasion I didn't

My most recent post, a reproduction of an answer I gave on the Quora website, is to be followed by this one. Thinking about it, I am rather leading with my chin by posting it here, but I’m going to do it anyway. Some dick in Florida, a hack called Paul Ivice, left a comment on my Quora post, I responded to his, and it all degenerated rather quickly. I, of course, think I come out best; he, no doubt, thinks he did.

My reason for posting it here (apart from taking another single step towards posting 1,000 blog entries before I die) is because Mr Ivice – or that pompous Yankee prick in Florida as I prefer to call him – more or less called me a liar. Possibly, being a certain kind of American, he didn’t quite cotton on that, as always when I write pretty much anything, my tongue is quite a bit in my cheek. But lie I most certainly did not.

What I am pretty sure of is that he is a card-carrying po-faced prat who, like many other po-faced prats who work as hacks, believes his own bullshit and that every traffic accident he reports, every story he files about an extension to the city council restrooms is a blow for freedom and democracy. I agree that a free press is a cornerstone of a democracy, but it’s not quite as Dick and Dora as suggesting, as Mr Ivice and his ilk seem to, that the crucial role ‘the fourth Estate’ can play in a democracy means that every cough and fart by the media is somehow sanctified.

NB I put ‘the fourth Estate’ in quotes because the phrase began life as a snide gibe, not, as some now believe, as some kind of political wisdom.

(Later: I decided I wanted to flesh out the origins of the term ‘the fourth Estate’ and googled it - the posh term is ‘researched’ it which, of course, sounds a lot finer than ‘googled it’ - and came across the Wikipedia entry.

It seems the term was first used in the late 18th century by Edmund Burke to describe the press when they were first allowed to report on the proceedings of the British parliament, the ‘allowed’ being quite pertinent, of course, when he compared them to what he regarded as the other three estates of parliament, the Lords Spiritual (the bishops), the Lord Temporal (the nobility) and the Commons (the landowners and increasingly the merchants). The press, he surmised, would now constitute a ‘fourth estate’.

Given that, in contemporary terms, Burke was something of a progressive when he began his political life although he gradually calcified into a conservative, he would at the time most likely have welcomed press scrutiny of parliament, my claim that the term started life as a gibe, holds rather less water than I should like. But in keeping with what I allude to below - the sacred hacks’ principle of ‘not letting a couple of facts get in the way of a good story’ - please ignore this last piece of uncharacteristic honesty on my part.)

The Florida dick accuses me of being verbose and long-winded. Well, my response are certainly longer than his, but I shall leave it to you, dear reader, to decide whether he was right or not. And if I were to provide and explanation as to why my contributions are not in grunt speak but a little more fleshed-out, it would be that the nature of Quora, where these comments are appearing, is that it is informative. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (Note to self: are you not more pissed off that you were called long-winded rather than that you were accused of lying?)

Here is the first comment left by the Florida prat (and from hereon in I shall mark out his comments in itals):

Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day: ‘Essentially, a reporter’s job is to provide enough words - copy - to fill the paper, and the sub-editor’s job is to prepare that copy for printing - laying out pages, cutting the copy to fit, checking facts, choosing pictures, writing captions etc.

To which I respond:

Good Lord, an idealist! A Lou Grant fan! ‘Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day’? Up to a point, Lord Copper (and I trust you get the allusion.).

Yes, newspapers are partly rooted in a desire to pass on ‘news’, and at its purest, that news will be, for example, proceedings in parliament and the courts (‘justice must not just be done, it must be seen to be done’). They evolved from the flysheets posted anonymously by political agitators and in the pamphlets which succeeded them, but a desire to ‘get the news out there and inform the public’ was not why they evolved.

They got bigger and more extensive because canny businessmen, initially the printers, realised that there was money to be made (as canny businessmen are apt to do) by selling advertising space on such publications and adding other copy which could interest readers who might otherwise be disinclined to cough up the cover price for nothing be loads and loads of ads. So the ‘news’ was the sweetener. It is best summed up by the cynical observation of the Canadian press baron Roy Thomson, later Lord Thomson of Fleet, who will have forgotten more about producing newspapers than you are ever likely to know in the first place, that ‘news is what you stick around adverts’.

That copy - that ‘news’ - was not just, or not even mainly political. Yes, it still included accounts of the proceedings in parliament, but it was also pretty much anything which the publisher thought might interest the reader - anything. It included small ads, advice columns, cookery tips, lurid and often exaggerated accounts of crime, accounts of executions, short stories, features - pretty much the same kind of crap which fills today’s newspapers. And that ‘anything’ had to be produced by the hacks he employed to produce his newspaper.

The journalists - the name ‘journalist’ was derived from ‘anyone working on producing a journal’ - had to come up with that crap, as much as was needed to fill the empty space. NB I once in the foyer of the offices of the Northampton Chronicle in the UK came across - under glass - a copy of that paper from the late 18th century, opened at random. I took a look. The layout was just column upon column of copy, but among the news items - so and so crashed their carriage on the road just outside town, a footpad is at large so be careful after dark - there was a column of lonely hears ads and, believe it or not, an ad for a washing with ‘a blue whitener’ with which users of Persil might be familiar.

As for your Lou Grant ideals, any reporter who refused to write a story because of her or his principles would be very swiftly invited to sling their hook and take their principles elsewhere. Don’t believe the shite on TV. ‘Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day’? Think again.

PS If you’re interested in why reporters were urged to ‘get the story first’, it was merely because for purely venal reasons you wanted to beat the opposition. In those days there were usually at least two rival papers in each town, and if you got the story first with more detail etc, and you were first on sale in the street, might gradually sell more of your rag, and when you had a bigger circulation (greater sales), you could persuade advertisers to come to you with their dosh rather than to your rival on the promise that the money they paid for advertising would go further. The only ideal at play here is ‘to make more money’.

I don't have time for verbose pedants. Good luck to you.

‘Verbose’? I’m not too sure you know the meaning of the word. Ain’t nothing like a bad loser. Sad, really.

Brevity is an art you have yet to explore.

What a very, very, very silly thing to say under the circumstances. Are you suggesting all answers to questions here on Quora should restrict themselves to 140 characters to accommodate the Twitter generation? And, dear soul, a Yank journalist - I see you scrape a living writing for ‘midsized’ newspapers - banging on about ‘brevity’ is a delicious irony all of its own, though perhaps you, like rather too many Americans are unfamiliar with the notion of ‘irony’.

Briefly, what principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations?

As a rule when I hear folk bandying about the notion of ‘principles’ I resolve to count the silver well before they go. What principles held by journalists are based on shaky foundations? Pretty much all of them, including ‘it’s my round but you pay’. I do suspect that you, rather like many other American hacks I have met who work for a ‘midsized’ newspaper, are inclined to take yourselves and your ‘vocation’ rather too seriously.

Face it, we’re really not that important. Yes, there’s the philosophical argument to be made about how our industry is an intricate part of ‘the fourth estate’ and that ‘the fourth estate’ functions as a bastion of every democratic society, though most people don’t hang around long enough to hear about that argument being made and, crucially, care even less. But this is all a tad to ‘verbose’ for you, I imagine. But I do wonder what you make of all those 4,000-word New Yorker features if you don’t like ‘verbose’. Do you just look at the pictures?

I suspect that you don’t have a clue what the specific journalistic principles are,so once again you spew a lot of words without any actual meaning.

Might I suggest you read my words just a little more carefully, then? You might eventually cotton on (with a bit of luck). Just a thought. All I get from you is ad hominem abuse. That’s the easy way. As for ‘specific newspaper principles’: as I pointed out before, I always take fright when I hear folk - such as you, perhaps? - bang on about ‘principles’. It’s almost always a sure sign of a nine-bob note (U.S. - as we have to translate for the sake of our transatlantic cousins - nine-dollar bill). To be blunt, U.S. newspapers might be long on ‘principles’ but what I have seen of them they are pretty bloody short on ‘interest’. ‘Waffle’ doesn’t even start to describe their content.

Why can’t you respond in a straightforward manner, instead of piling on more BS? What journalistic principles are you referring to? I still do not believe you know what they are.

You talk of bullshit? Well, how about the bullshit of talking about ‘journalistic principles’? As I originally wrote (though you snidely and inaccurately described my outline as ‘verbose’), ‘journalism’ is pretty much a moveable feast, from the extreme of Take A Break and the National Inquirer to the FT and The Economist.

The ‘principles’ of which journalistic tradition are you talking about? Those of the men and woman engaged in ‘serious’ journalism – ‘the first draft of history’, ‘speaking power to authority’ and all that malarkey - certainly do have ‘journalistic principles’: when ‘reporting news’ ensuring they stick to what they believe are ‘the facts’ and double-checking those facts, ensuring those quoted are quoted honestly and all the rest with which dedicated viewers of Lou Grant will be familiar (the irony being, of course, that ‘Lou Grant’ was a fictional character in a TV series intended to entertain and thereby attract advertisers to the TV stations screening it).

Or are you talking about the ‘journalistic principles’ of those working for Globe and OK! Magazine, folk who, given the oh-so vague definition of ‘journalist’ are just as justified to be described as such (as I pointed out in my original ‘verbose’ contribution)? Their principles most certainly do not include ‘facts’ and accuracy, more ‘entertainment’ and ‘boosting sales’. I heard and laughed at early on in my career – and often had to follow - the useful advice given to young reporters ‘don’t let a couple of facts stand in the way of a good story’. The ‘principle’ here was not to lie, simply not to tell the full truth. Which set of ‘journalistic principles’ is it?

I most certainly do not accept the denial by some (though thankfully not all) of those engaged in ‘serious’ journalism that those others, the Grub Street gang, hack pen-for-sale men and women, are not ‘journalists’. They are, often very good ones, but they just deal in other matters. And I have a great deal of respect for them and their abilities (and you never come across any of that posturing which makes the company of some other ‘journalists’ such a chore).

Meanwhile, there is a vast in-between of publications, all employing ‘journalists’: the weeklies (my first was the Lincolnshire Chronicle), the evening papers (the South Wales Argus), the provincial morning papers (The Journal in Newcastle), then the ‘nationals’ in London (I have worked at different times on, the Sun, the Daily Express, The Times, The Independent and several others, each of which demanded of me different skills).

You work for a ‘midsized’ newspapers, and I’m certain that in your working life (whether you are a writer or copy editor) you don’t just cover the serious business of the city council, the courts or the police department, but also the report on the new fund launched to build a library extension, the kid who has just built a replica of the White House from Lego bricks, this and that couple who have just celebrated and astounding 60 years of married life (‘give and take, that’s the secret, give and take’).

This might in your eyes – in, I have to say, your distressingly pompous eyes – be a ‘verbose’ way of answering your question, so to sum up: your question is as damn close to being a non-question as is humanly possible. It is far, far too vague, which coming from a chap who advocates ‘brevity’ is a bit bloody thick. As I said before, it is safer to keep a good distance between oneself and those who bang on about ‘principles’, whether journalistic or otherwise. The chances of infection are real. I prefer the company of doers not talkers.That straightforward enough for you?

Verbose = long-winded, and it was not only accurate, but this latest unreadable reply proves it. 

Yet again all you can come up with is abuse, not reasons. Just how is my most recent response long-winded and unreadable? I truly am interested. I aimed to make several points and only a moron would try (or expect) them to be conveyed in the 140 characters of Twitter speak. Come on, laddie, a bit more beef, or else I shall assume you, too, are all talk. You probably have done some copy editing: well take my most recent contribution and sub it down. There, a true challenge. But I shan’t hold my breath. (That damn verbose Lincoln, eh? ‘Four score and seven years ago.’ Why didn’t he just say ’87 years ago’? Three words instead of six. Long-winded cunt!)

Because you still have not answered the question, and all your dancing around it indicates you are unable to answer it. If you cannot give a straightforward answer, do not bother responding with more BS. And by the way, verbose was used correctly and fairly. It was you who did not understand its meaning, not me.

Sunshine, there is no ‘question’. That was the whole point. Christ, it’s like pushing string. You are the one who uses words to say absolutely fuck all.

The question you have carefully avoided answering is what are the journalistic principles that you claim are no longer being followed. How can you say they are not being followed if you do not know what they are?

I have just spent a bit of time going through my original response to the question, then your subsequent comment, my response to you and then the rest of it. In your fourth response you ask: ‘Briefly, what principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations?’ I did so because I was puzzled: I did not remember writing that. In fact, it turns out that at no point - in all I’ve said - do I claim that ‘principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations’. I might have been mistaken, of course, so I did what you apparently haven’t yet done: I double, then treble-checked. And, dear heart, I was right: I never claimed any such thing.

So your ‘question’ really is a non-question, which says rather little for your professional skills and abilities, ‘accuracy’ - oh, another ‘journalistic principle’ - apparently not quite your strongest suit. As we say in my country ‘fur coat and no knickers’. But by all means prove me wrong - where did I make that claim? And if you can’t give me chapter and verse, do what you should have done several rounds ago: fuck off.

You are mistaken. It was in your very first comment in this thread. How you could have missed it in reviewing the thread is beyond me, unless it was a matter of convenience. I took your words almost verbatim and challenged you immediately to back it up, though you still have not.

Show me - exactly.

I got no response, so a little later:

Still waiting…

You probably have revised your comments to extract it. When I asked you to elaborate on principles, I quoted directly from your comments as they were at the time. It was too painful to read through your verbose comments once; I will not subject myself to further pain by doing it again.

It was this, the implication that I had doctored my initial response, which pissed me off and which seemed to imply that I was lying, so I was blunt. But my initial response to the Florida Dick was deemed to breach Quora’s guidelines which insist that we be nice to each other and so it was deleted. Not to be outdone, however, and in some ways being just as much of a dick as Paul Ivice, I wrote a second response:

My initial response to your accusation that I have been dishonest and deleted a part of my message so as to alter it was blunt, to the point and highly relevant, but unfortunately Quora felt it overstepped the mark. So let me leave it at simply noting that the next twice you feel inclined to accuse someone of lying, think twice before doing so. It is not appreciated, as you can imagine. I shan’t resort to using the blunt Anglo-Saxon word I used before, but I can still invite you retreat to that place where customarily the Sun doesn’t shine where you can consider both your ‘journalistic principles’ and your rather distressing pomposity.

PS You use the word ‘verbose’ so often, it’s as though you’ve just come across it and rather like it. My son used to do that with the word ‘random’ when he was 7.

Being just as vindictive as the rest of you, here is a video which might amuse you. I googled - ‘researched’ - Paul Ivice and came across this on YouTube. It helped that he has a less than usual name. Google Patrick Powell and you will never track me down. This is a rendition of Van Morrison’s Moondance. I admit isn’t too bad to start with but nosedives at 30 seconds in. However, written by Van Morrison, murdered Paul Ivice. Christ, I’m a cunt, though I must admit that his voice isn’t bad. I can’t sing either, but at least I’m not daft enough to have my singing posted on sodding YouTube.

. . .

For those of you who like or even love this song (as I do, though being the middle-class modest, retiring sort, I will admit only to liking it) and need to be reassured that it isn’t quite as bad as Mr Ivice makes it out to be, here is the original. (Sadly, it might not play in the browser you are using. If so, try another.


And as we are on to Van Morrison, here’s is a song which I love and which gets right to the very core of me. If I’m quite candid, it sometimes makes me cry (and that is actually true, this and the opening of Beethoven’s fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, the Ode To Joy. I’m a bit of a softee at heart, but for fuck’s sake don't tell anyone!)  Oh, and it is not a love song to a woman, man, dog or cat, but, I’m told has rather more to do with Morrison’s spiritual feelings. Mine, too, it has to be said.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

PS I’ve just been on Spotify to listen to other versions of this song, and without exception they utterly crucify it. I’m a liberal at heart, but even I am astounded that there are so many stone-hearted fuckwits out there with recording contracts.

Amazingly there is no worst offender. All cover versions, from Jim Reeves to Elvis Presley, to Michael ‘Fucking’ Buble to Bing Crosby and the rest of the sorry bunch, so fucking execrable you wouldn’t think they are trying to sing the same song. If you want a laugh, go on Spotify and listen for yourselves. But if you want to enjoy the rest of your week in peace and equanimity for God’s sake don’t do anything of the kind. Stick to Morrison’s version and . . .

PS There’s an old joke about Van Morrison that the world is split into two: those who like Van Morrison and those who have met him. Well, simply going by this song, the man can’t be all bad.


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  2. Nice copy, Patrick. Do you think that your antagonist in Florida is intellectually a close relative of Captain "Aarfy" Aardvaark -- a fictional character in the novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller? Aarfy is the plump navigator in Yossarian's B-25, noted for being oblivious to incoming flak, getting lost on missions, and his omnipresent pipe. Wikipedia adds more.