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Unfriendly fire

16 Feb

THE Leek Man is sitting at his desk reading The Journalist, the NUJ’s quarterly magazine. He suddenly kicks back his chair, and with a hissing intake of breath stomps out of the newsroom. I glance at the Misfit and she glances back. I raise my eyebrows and she raises hers. Then I go to the drinks machine for a coffee.

I climb cold stairs, walk through a series of echoing corridors, open a small door and step out onto the roof. The sky is dark and overcast, clouds glowing in the glare of town centre lights. I see the Leek Man sitting on the parapet between two redundant air-conditioning units. He turns his head, acknowledges me, then gazes out across the roofs.

“You okay?” I venture.

“Yeh. Fine me,” he answers. Then he adds: “Well, no actually. I’m bloody angry. I’ve just read this John Pilger piece in The Journalist and it’s made me feel so bloody inadequate that I just want to fuck off and do something worthwhile like dig my allotment and not bother with this sodding place any more.”

I sit next to him and we gaze out across the townscape. The glass dome of the shopping mall is particularly bright and attractive when viewed from the parapet of the Nitherley Observer and Bugle offices.

“What’s he said, Pilger?”

The Leek Man unravels his magazine and squints at the pages through pop-bottle glasses. “Here we are,” he says. “Pilger’s banging on about how journalists fail in their duty to question governments and get to the truth. He cites the build-up to the Iraq War as an example of how the British press swallowed Blair’s words hook, line and sinker. Listen to this:

Dan Rather, America’s most famous news television anchor, told me that he and others now believed that had journalists done their job and challenged and exposed the lies of Bush and Blair instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq might not have happened. When will we as journalists consider this is our responsibility too?

“Do you know?” he continues, “Do you fucking know, that during the build-up to the Iraq invasion I questioned everything that came down the PA wire from the British government and everyone in the newsroom took the fucking piss out of me? Remember all those grainy satellite pictures of mobile chemical warfare installations that were issued by the Ministry of Defence as proof of WMD? I said ‘No, they’re just lorries parked in the desert’. And they all fucking laughed – har-fucking-har.

“Those claims that Saddam’s palaces were stuffed with weapons – I said ‘Show us your evidence’, and all the pillocks did was guffaw and call me a fucking leftie. And remember those pictures of Iraqi military installations set up near ancient monuments, which our Government said had been positioned there to deter us from attacking them or to blame us if their antiquities got bombed? When I said, er, pardon me, but don’t we have a rather important tank training area on Salisbury Plain right next to fucking Stonehenge, they looked at me like I was Trotsky with his ice-pick still sticking in his fucking brain box.

“But the best one, or the worst one, depending on how you want to look at it, was the general assumption that WMD was absolute fact. Time after time I’d be proof-reading pages and insert the word ‘alleged’ before weapons of mass destruction. And it always engendered the same response. The ignorant, gullible twats always laughed. They looked at their proofs and they said ‘Wa-hey, the Leek Man’s had his red pen out again’. The ignorant, small-minded, totally un-fucking-professional pack of bastards. And they were all wrong. And sometimes I felt like ignoring the references to WMD and just leaving things as they were – but I kept on as a matter of principle. And I kept on because I am a fucking journalist, a professional journalist. And I was right. I was fucking well right.”

I look up at the glare of the lights on the clouds, and I say: “I came up here last month in the hope I might see the northern lights. And someone said: northern lights, don’t you have to go to Lapland to see the northern lights? But I came up anyway, though I didn’t see anything. And I felt like a bit of a nerd. Then three nights later it was reported that the northern lights had been seen across northern England. I was right after all.”

The Leek Man sighs and says: “Is that supposed to mean something?”

I say: “Not really. But at least we know we’re sane.”

And we sit there like a pair of duffers, on the roof of a building in the middle of a February night, with our feet dangling over the parapet.