[Truth to Power] Gary Younge started writing for The Guardian in London in 1994 and is now the liberal tabloid's U.S. correspondent, based in New York City. He's also a frequent contributor here in the U.S. to The Nation.
Younge stopped at the University of Utah today at an event sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. He also promoted his latest book: Stranger in a Strange Land: Encounters in the Disunited States. Before that he wrote No Place Like Home: A Black Briton's Journey Through the Deep South.
Because he's been steeped in the beauty of alternative reporting and writing, Younge told the audience he long ago gave up on any notion of true objectivity. Bingo. Beyond that, he said, a journalist's main responsibility is to be fair, thorough and professional. You make the calls, you run the traps. You bring your own truth and experiences to the story and write it.
I was sort of entranced. I took notes. That's because I consider myself a thorough and fair journalist, right out of Younge's blueprint. But as I sat down to write this post, I suddenly could not find my notebook. Seriously. I think I left it behind, sitting on an auditorium chair.
Hope Younge won't mind then, that I paraphrase what struck me as a memorable riff of his discussion. He said he often runs into critics of the U.S. press who say reporters are too bent on "gotcha stories" that embarrass public officials for no good reason (uh, I think those critics must watch Fox News exclusively). It isn't that Younge endorses all gotcha stories, either. Far from it. Reporters, he said, shouldn't go about constantly trying to find ways to "get" people they cover -- though the practice has its place and keeps those whose salaries we pay on their toes.
However, he said, it might have been nice if more American reporters had practiced a little gotcha journalism in the run-up to the god-awful war we're now entrenched in. What we might have learned had the national press pushed harder for the truth on weapons of mass destruction and needled and nagged harder for the Bush Administration to actually find Osama bin Laden before he sent soldiers off to dig Saddam out of a spider hole.
We had the chance to do our jobs, and we fell flat. (Holly Mullen)