ENCHANTÉ – The Journalist


John at 18 -2

When I was eighteen, fresh from boarding school, I wanted to be a journalist. I had run the School Paper and loved to write stories I had uncovered in the catacombs of a Jesuit Valhalla. Of course, within limits: we were heavily “censored” by the powers that were.

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Nonetheless, my ambition stood firm. I had interviewed with editors of the local papers to find out if this was my calling. I returned ever so convinced, although they told me that it would be a life of poverty and shame: I would always be “criticized” for whatever I wrote.

When I visited a distant Aunt, with whose son I had played in my earlier years during World War II, she said – in a somewhat denigrating manner – “You would be the first journalist in the family.”

But first I had to do my “military service.”

 

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During my army experience, I knew I was not made of general’s material, despite some illustrious uncles and forefathers. Proceeding on my dreams of becoming a journalist, I elected to study political science. I soon discovered that there was no “science” in that faculty and added economics, ending up with two degrees. Economics is said not to be a “science” either because it cannot be “exact” like chemistry (too much “on the one hand and the other”). But at least you learn to count that one plus one is two and not three. At that stage, light shone on my young head, and it became clear I could never be a journalist, living on a dime and having to defer to a newspaper’s “political views.” Apparently, the journalists’ bosses wanted you to follow their “train of thought,” which was not necessarily “objective reporting.”

Overworked, depressed and exhausted businessman at his desk with a pile of work or concept for frustration, stress and writers block

So I started at the Ministry of Economic Affairs on a miserable salary and discovered that ministers deal with parliamentarians (like members of Congress in the US), who often if not mostly had no clue of economics. Here’s where my political science came in: “politics.” Most voters have no clue what economics is either, except where it concerns their pocket book. And politicians want to be re-elected by giving out handouts to voters, to be paid from tax revenues, collected under stress and put away into invisible accounts, held at the “Rekenkamer” (something similar to the US Budget Office). I found out how easy it was to distribute money from secret accounts which seemed bottomless pits, never drying up.

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Meanwhile, I kept in touch with my journalist friends who had elected to follow my original dream. It was amazing how their views differed depending on the papers they worked for. Objectivity had become a virtue embedded in the eye of the beholder. I made a speech somewhere, and the next day each paper wrote a different account of what they had heard. There was “De Volkskrant” (People’s Paper) which was “labor-working class,” “De Tijd” (The Times) which catered to the Christian center, “De Telegraaf” (The Telegraph) which my mother read because it had good gossip stories, and none of them really reported what I had said.

Surprising News headlines torn or ripped from newspapers reporting shocking gossip or developments from important events or items

So I went back to my friends, having a beer in an Amsterdam cellar, and asked them why they could not report “The Truth.”

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To my utter surprise, each one said that they had done just that. When I argued the contrary, what did they say? Their editors had changed it in line with the newspaper’s point of view. Period. Some of them were told that if they did not write to the newspaper’s “conclusion” they might as well go fishing in the Amsterdam canals.

And so, at a very young age at the beginning of a career shaped in student idealism of bettering the world, I learned never to trust whatever a newspaper reported. Except the “headlines,” there was nothing to learn anything “true” from what followed. Even headlines were skewed. So how do papers make money that way? Because of advertising. Thanks to that flow of regular money, “journalists” can write whatever they chose, as long as they write what they are told to write if they want their paycheck to continue. Only when newspapers overdo it and lose too many readers, they stop operating or get swallowed up in a merger. But that does not make them any better. Throughout my international career, I noticed that this journalist mantra of having to report from the left existed everywhere in the Western world.

 

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I often wondered where these journalists came from and why so many newspapers represent the “political left.” Left and right have existed as long as people learned to write. “Athens and Spartacus,” the Roman Empire, the opposition to Galilei, the French Revolution, the Civil War, all had their protagonists on both sides. But why are the major US newspapers so blatantly proffering the leftist political view? Even if they continue to lose readership, like The NY Times? Since a long time, I don’t read newspapers anymore. And when I did, I used them mainly for starting my fireplace or find some sales. The same question goes for the “mainstream” media on TV. Why do they so overtly support “the left?”  What’s so “mainstream” about that?

My theory is that journalists usually come from elite households and love to write, but have little inclination to start a business or make real money which in my estimation requires more guts. They often emerge from good universities and are considered “highly intelligent.” Universities in the US seem overwhelmingly “liberal.” Perhaps because the “intelligent” Academia caters to the “young” who are mostly rebellious and anti-Mom and Dad. Well, intelligent they may be, but are they “smart?” A person who starts a business, and is able to become wealthy is to me a lot “smarter” than a journalist who makes it on television and gets paid ridiculous salaries for proffering the leftist views thanks to the advertising industry which has no “color.”

 

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I have come to the conclusion that objective reporting, the essence of journalism, has gone out of the window, except for a few rare newspapers. Most commentators on TV report “from their point of view” directed by their bosses. Writers also write from a “point of view.” But they “make it up.” So to see, the “journalist’s point of view” is not any different. It is tendentious and pursuing a case, often misreporting as a result. The recent US elections are a clear case in point, amplified by what the “mainstream media” keeps spitting  out afterwards. That’s why I don’t read or listen to them anymore. I rather read or write a book. I like to “make it up” the real way.

Closeup of an old typewriter with a sheet of paper and wet camera effect. Once upon a time written on papper.

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