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Raffique Shah


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Edifying evening with an icon in journalism

October 23, 2005
By Raffique Shah

AFTER focussing for three Sundays on how important it is for us, more so those in power and those who wield influence, to understand the imperatives of looking at renewable and alternative sources of energy, I have all but run out of energy to continue on this subject. I guess, too, this being the weekend of the now-controversial "Death March", readers may expect me to turn the spotlight again on crime (on which subject I have written a hundred or more columns!).

Except to say that Manning made a big "boo boo" by introducing the mysterious "Mr Big" to us via parliamentary privilege, what more can I add to the crime debate that has not been said or written?

The Prime Minister was of course pandering to a restless population after the fourth random bombing in Port of Spain, and he probably thought it best to say something, anything, rather than remain silent. He in fact created more mischief than soothe people by referring to "Mr Big". The issue was compounded when, almost at the same time, Abu Bakr also made a public pronouncement on the "bomber", virtually pointing fingers (by innuendo) at the opposition UNC.

My view is that the "dustbin bomber", much like the "uni-bomber" who stalked parts of the USA a few years ago, is either a "loner" or belongs to some obscure group, not any of the above.

I can't see the Muslimeen resorting to such petty terrorist activities when its frontline men and women live in relative luxury, thanks to Allah (and a few generous-if-unwilling mortals). Wish I had Him on my side but then I'm an infidel, so I guess it's hell-fire, not wealth, for me.

Panday and the UNC seeking to make the PNM appear more incompetent than they really are? That will take much creative energy. Panday is too busy working out an "exit schedule" for all those who crossed him during the recent internal party elections, so he has no time for such pettiness.

In any event, unless and until the police arrest and charge and successfully prosecute some person or persons for the bombings, the PM should zip his mouth. Because if I were "Mr Big" and I knew you suspected me, I'd cover my tracks well before you can get close to me. Problem with the Prime Minister is he had no "boy days".

One does not need to be trained at Sandhurst or West Point to know that you do telegraph your punches. Except for the ritual Friday "heaves!" at school that were pre-arranged, once someone wronged you, you just pounced on him when he least expected it. That way, even if he was bigger than you, or "badder", you could still get him.

Let me not bog myself down with a hydra-headed monster that we as a society have created, and which we find ourselves now incapable of controlling. Of those who will have marched yesterday with their most pious facial expressions, I wonder how many were active criminals (they bought most of the Express anti-crime wrist-bands!), and how many more criminals-by-omission? I mean those who fail to pay taxes, who underpay their employees (thus creating criminals of another, more violent type), who hire "enforcers" to collect debts owed by mainly poor people? These latter do not consider themselves criminals, but the fact is they are.

Now I am left with a few paragraphs to write about a major event that took place rather quietly last weekend. Atlantic LNG hosted its first "Editors' Dinner", the guest speaker being one of the most famous journalists of the 20th Century, Carl Bernstein. Carl, now 62, with his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward, literally "busted" then US president Richard Nixon in 1974. They wrote a series of articles detailing grave political misconduct on the part of the Republicans, forcing Nixon to resign on the eve of impeachment proceedings.

Speaking to journalists and top business managers, as well as US Ambassador Roy Austin, Bernstein showed he had lost none of his spunk. He swung his oral axe in every which direction, at bullying America, at the controllers of news, at lazy journalists, at radio talk-show hosts, at the (lack of) quality of television news.

It was refreshing, really, to hear an icon of my day who has remained faithful to the values he believed in then, and committed to them 30-odd years later.

Space does not permit, but I'll leave readers with a Carl-gem or two. The failures of the press (to maintain high standards) have contributed immensely to the emergence of a talk-show nation, in which public discourse is reduced to ranting and raving and posturing. And this: Our reporters should be going after the best obtainable truth, not the sensational on-the-surface truth. Instead, we look through the lens of how much it will cost and of those who would not like us to tell the truth. Well put, Bernstein. And thanks for an edifying evening.