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How we lost Roy

By Terry Joseph
May 07, 2004

US Ambassador Dr Roy Austin found himself at the receiving end of a fusillade of unflattering press this week, roundly pilloried after his comments at a media event rattled the scribes.

Speaking at last Sunday's Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) launch of an exhibition mounted at UWI's Learning Resource Centre in St Augustine, Roy waded into his hosts, carping against what he saw as a deliberately collective anti-American stance, shoring up that lonely perception by attempting to sell US President George W Bush as a do-gooder.

Reports indicate some members of the audience sought to interrupt his presentation with mordant applause, others resorted to open heckling, shouting "rubbish", "nonsense", "foolishness". One among them went the whole nine yards (as Americans would say), booing the envoy "frank'omment"-as we would say.

Now, it is not known whether Roy left his Flagstaff Hill residence intent on causing an uproar at the gathering but hearing another speaker, UWI vice chancellor Prof Rex Nettleford, describe US President George W Bush as "a weapon of mass distraction", was something Roy clearly couldn't leave unattended; for such is the nature of his job.

Frankly, I find it difficult to reconcile taciturn endorsement of Prof Nettleford's comment while castigating Roy, given the occasion and the fact that the US Ambassador was invited in a revered capacity. If we're into calling a spade a spade, then it should be said that a derisive statement about the US President in that scenario was at least inhospitable and may have helped trigger Roy's rabid response.

No diplomat anywhere is likely to turn the other cheek if his president is held up to ridicule in a public forum. Roy clearly felt the need to respond immediately and in precise terms, probably remembering advice once given by Britain's wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill: "If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use the pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time; a tremendous whack."

On the evidence, Roy had also been nursing a grievance over refusal of four newspapers to print in full a speech in which he labelled us all as bashers of his native land and its leader. Given the conspiracy of circumstances, the Ambassador went for the media's jugular.

Which is precisely where we lost Roy (as calypsonian Chalkdust would say).

What his press attaché failed to tell him is that newspapers (even in his own country) would hardly print a speech in full except it was a matter of grave national import. Indeed, like everything else it would compete for the editor's assent with other material sent by people equally certain that what they had written was deserving of the public's ear, or eye to be more accurate.

Still, to call an apple pie an apple pie, anti-American sentiment running high globally, it is entirely possible that many of my professional colleagues harbour uncomplimentary private thoughts about the US and George Bush but to suggest there was some kind of sinister plot to routinely discredit Roy's seniors, is at least one rung short of reason and resembled the very indiscretion of which he accused the media.

Interestingly, Roy's contention was supported Wednesday by no lesser person than Media Complaints Council chairman Michael Williams, to whom he had written a protest. Speaking under the same aegis that hosted the US Ambassador Sunday, Williams said: "They (the media) are anti-American to the extent that people are anti-American because of the behaviour of America. That's a fact."

Indeed, anti-Bush sentiment must be an irritant to that country's diplomats worldwide. Even in the US, moves are often made to suppress such feelings.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division (which it can legally do) from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticises President Bush. The film, Fahrenheit 911, links Bush and prominent Saudis-including the family of Osama bin Laden-and criticises Mr Bush's actions before and after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Like Disney, Roy has his turf to defend. He joins a fairly long list of local politicians who have taken swipes at the media when its reportage is deemed unfriendly. His predecessors, most notably Sally Cowal and Charles Gargano, were not without their moments of media bashing and, I suspect, if the US administration changes next November, whoever follows Roy might fall prey to the same predicament.

Now, I have come to know Roy on a different level, as a fellow-regular at the Mas Camp Pub, frequenter of panyards and in general, supporter of indigenous arts and culture, as evidenced as recently as Saturday last when he won the door prize at the Chefs Royal cookout at QRC.

Perhaps out of these experiences, he will develop a better understanding of calypso and use that medium to make his point on delicate issues, as Chalkdust has so often done with songs like "Nixon's Mistake", "My Way of Protest", "Uncle Sam Own We", "Bush Yard", "Uncle Sam's Policy", "CNN Society" and, of course, "Ah Lost Roy".

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