Scoop and “Fake News”

There have been several references to Waugh’s Scoop in the wake of the new concern with “fake news” arising from present US political turmoil. As anyone familiar with Waugh’s novel will know, this is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps the most poignant of the recent references is that from a New York Times article by Lawrence Osborne. This is not about journalists reporting from a war zone but about a novel (Dark at the Crossing) by Elliot Ackerman that takes place in one–the current conflict in Syria. Osborne opens his review with this:

“The age of the war correspondent as hero,” Phillip Knightley famously wrote in his book “The First Casualty,” “appears to be over.” According to Knightley, Vietnam was the high-water mark for the self-mythologizing and self-aggrandizing descendants of the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mowed down by the Japanese on the island of Ie Shima in 1945. Since then, he argued, governments at war have learned to tame their roving journalists; to exaggerate only by a certain degree, many correspondents have become variants of the press eunuchs laconically described by Evelyn Waugh in Abyssinia sitting at the hotel bar writing up the destruction of a hospital in Adowa by Italian bombers. During that war in 1936, indeed, Waugh himself received an actual cable from his editors in London concerning the “heroic nurses” supposedly killed at Adowa. It read, “Require earliest name life story photograph American nurse upblown Adowa.” To which he immortally replied, “Nurse unupblown.” The journalistic stenography of war had already begun.

In another response to the interest in Scoop, a college teacher of journalism and former foreign correspondent (Ronald E Yates) has reposted his summary of the novel in view of its importance to his students. Here is an excerpt:

The sub-title of Scoop is, “A Novel About Journalists.” However, it is more than that. Much more. The novel strips away the mystique of the foreign correspondent and reveals many as self-serving egotists who would just as soon start a war as cover one and who believe that the most important thing about any story is the fact they have arrived to cover it. Not a very flattering picture. I say this as somebody who has covered war and mayhem in almost every continent of the planet.

After reciting the much-quoted passage about Wenlock Jakes’ “false news” report and the telegraphic traffic from “The Daily Beast” in which similar material is demanded from William Boot, Yates concludes:

Another correspondent eventually explains to a disillusioned and confused Boot why they are all in Ishmaelia: “News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it.” That crisp line pretty sums up journalism as Waugh saw it.

Finally, the Daily Mail interviews UK radio and TV presenter Bill Turnbull on the occasion of his move to a country cottage that he has recently remodeled. The interview concludes with this:

I’m a big fan of all Evelyn Waugh’s novels, and I particularly treasure this copy of Scoop – about a fictional foreign correspondent in the 1930s – because it was given to me for my 50th birthday by a very good friend.  A lot has changed since the book’s hero William Boot’s day, but when I travelled abroad with a TV crew in the 1980s we still had to take around 20 cases for all the equipment. I remember in Panama once a wheel came off the taxi we were in, and we had to flag down a passing truck.



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