New Generation of “Wenlock Jakes” Superstars

Today’s Spectator has a story about the Frontline Club in London. It was founded in 2003 with the idealistic goal of providing a friendly and neutral refuge for freelance international correspondents while they spent time in London recovering from the stress of reporting foreign conflicts. But according to the Spectator’s reporter, James Kirchick, it seems to have gone astray about the time it hosted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange prior to his retreat into the Ecuadorean Embassy:

Jonathan Foreman, who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, accounts for the narrow range of views expressed at the Frontline in this way: ‘Foreign correspondents like to think of themselves as mavericks but in practice they tend to be herd animals, hanging out in the same hotels and bars and forming a group consensus about the rights and wrongs of any conflict.’…

Anyone who’s spent time in the game knows that some famous war correspondents don’t just stretch the truth about their own heroics but also about the news they report, rather in the manner of Wenlock Jakes, Evelyn Waugh’s fictional superstar reporter in Scoop. Among the Frontline’s star members and most frequent speakers are a journalist who infamously wrote at length about a West Bank ‘massacre’ that never happened, another who won a prize for an ‘interview’ with a Taliban executioner who did not in fact exist (she later claimed he was a ‘composite’), and a third, legendary on Fleet Street for his inventiveness, who used to file dispatches datelined Beirut from a flat in Belfast.

As noted in a recent post, Waugh’s fictional American correspondent Wenlock Jakes (based on John Gunther of the Chicago Daily News) made his name when he slept through his station on a train to cover a conflict in the Balkans. When he awoke and got out in a different but peaceful country at a station down the line, he filed invented stories about a nonexistent conflict in the region where he had arrived. These stories were so realistic that they soon ignited another conflict with Jakes on the scene to report it.

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