Waugh and the Friedman Unit

On a blog specializing in stories about the Iraq War, blogger Alexander Harrowell describes what is known to those write about such things as the “Friedman Unit”:

Those of us who blogged through the Iraq War will of course remember the Friedman unit, a measurement of time defined as how long it will take until things are OK in Iraq, conventionally equal to six months, named for Thomas “Airmiles” Friedman of the New York Times. But I didn’t realise the unit has a prior history. Not until I read Waugh in Abyssinia, that is.

What follows is an interesting analysis which divides Waugh’s book into three distinct parts. It is in the third part that the predecessor of the Friedman Unit appears:

He goes to see the Italian governor, who has installed himself in the emperor’s palace, surrounded by the few sticks of dictator chic the looters didn’t steal or torch. Six months, they agree. He bashes “liberals” some more. Guerrillas break into the city centre in company size, exactly as the guy he was shitposting says, and he gets shot at. Six months, he says, and everything will be OK. Not just the unit size, or the security situation, but the characteristic architecture and interior design of the Friedman unit has been defined. He has another dig at a British MP for believing that the Ethiopian resistance government still exists. They’ll be put in the bag, in six months. Rather as the Americans never did get Saddam’s appointed deputy, the Italians never did catch it.

The essay contains several well-written, original and amusing insights into Waugh’s book, which must be among his least read. This even includes a unique analysis of the book’s “racism”. It is posted on The Yorkshire Rant and is available at this link.

In another article about Waugh’s Abyssinian War writings, Ian Burrell in iNews reviews a book soon to be published which he describes as an update of Waugh’s depiction of the London press corps in the new business environment created by the internet. This is the novel Splash! by Steven Glover who writes for the Daily Mail:

Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Scoop’ is widely-regarded as the classic novel about the peculiarities of the British press. The adventures of its protagonist William Boot remind us of the long existence of fake news, and how overbearing press barons and inbuilt prejudices can have a corrupting influence on journalism. But the Brideshead Revisited author was writing in 1938 about an all-powerful industry, and Scoop’s contemporary relevance is fading as the media landscape evolves at dizzying speed. ‘Splash!’ is … set in the modern era, where a declining national press is struggling with the financial challenges of online news, while having its reporting methods scrutinised by a Leveson-style inquiry.

After summarising Glover’s novel, Burrell returns to its relationship to Scoop:

Unlike Scoop, which satirised Fleet Street, Splash! is ultimately positive about the press. It shows papers as feared scrutineers, rather than acolytes, of the elite.

The full book review can be viewed here.

UPDATE (8 June 2017): The Daily Mail has also posted a short review of the new novel Splash! Here’s an excerpt:

With a title that’s an obvious nod to Evelyn Waugh’s celebrated 1938 Fleet Street satire Scoop, the new novel from Daily Mail columnist and former editor Stephen Glover offers a modern take on the tabloid Press…This is both a terrific romp through the indiscretions, dodgy deals and Establishment stitch-ups of our times, and an invaluable reminder of just how vital the Press is in holding power to account.

UPDATE (30 June 2017): Stephen Glover was interviewed by Press Gazette about his novel and in this excerpt which appeared as a podcast on the internet explains in greater detail his debt to Waugh:

Asked whether he was consciously inspired by Waugh, Glover says: “Scoop’s always been one of my favourite novels but I’d not read it for a long time until recently, after this was finished. One difference is I was amazed re-reading Scoop last week how relentlessly Waugh satirised all journalists, upmarket or tabloid. The foreign editor Salter can’t even find Reykjavík on a map. The foreign correspondents are all untrustworthy or unpleasant. There isn’t really a decent journalist in the whole of Scoop and that doesn’t stop journalists loving Scoop. The whole process of journalism in Waugh’s view appears to be worthless. I don’t think he really liked journalism or thought that it was anything worth defending. I guess I take a different view.”



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