Once upon a time, I was an ambitious young foreign correspondent for the New York Times. Disillusioned by the paper’s support for starting wars, I resigned to start a Balkan Summer of Love. Needless to say, this didn’t go as planned. A tragi-comic caper ensued, as this memoir records. It probably didn’t help making business deals with gangsters, but it seemed to make sense at the time. The experience taught me how not to change the world, and why getting high was not the same as being enlightened.
What Barack Obama might have said to deserve the Nobel Prize: we're closing all overseas bases, ending the world's biggest arms trade, and spending the savings on weaning America off fossil fuels. As this censored speech explained: "No longer will we need foreign outposts to protect resources, or the shipping lanes and pipelines that ferry them. We can leave that work to regional powers, and resume our rightful place in our own backyard." If Obama really channeled Martin Luther King, he might have wound up getting shot.
According to the philosopher John Gray: "The project of promoting maximal economic growth is, perhaps, the most vulgar ideal ever put before suffering humankind." It's also suicidal. Because of the way we live, more growth means consuming more oil, coal and gas, and clogging the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which remains for a century, heating it up. As the Financial Times screams: "Drive for growth 'will ruin planet'." Yet this scary prediction was news-in-brief, and duly vanished down the memory hole, despite it stemming from officials, whose views most often frame the headlines.
Inspired by The Yes Men, I printed a fake Financial Times. Its satire had serious messages. Working for Reuters and the New York Times, I saw how governments and big business skew the news. Journalistic objectivity is a myth. Unless reporters set agendas themselves, they serve someone else’s. It’s “objective” to take dictation from officials, but disputing what they say is seen as “biased”. This limits how we think about alternatives. If they're framed as they look to those who run the world, not much changes.
Many journalists love reading Scoop, a biting satire on their business. Yet they thrive on what its author lampooned as "the luscious, detailed inventions that composed contemporary history". Loosened by booze, some might voice doubts about their trade. But they don't explain how the media misinform us. That's left to critics on the Internet, who hardly ever find new facts. Most just repackage what they read. Some kind of hybrid is required. "Journalists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your illusions."
The Chagos Islanders lost their homeland to the retreating British Empire, which gave it to Washington for an American military base. For decades, these dispossessed exiles have demanded the right to return to their islands in the Indian Ocean, but to no avail. Most remain where they were dumped: in the shantytowns of Mauritius and the Seychelles. Appeals for assistance have gone unheeded, and been thrown out by courts despite multiple rulings in favour of the islanders. Some have given up on their dream of going home and moved to Britain, creating tensions with their kin.
It would be difficult to find a more divisive figure in Serbia than Svetlana Raznatovic and her come-hither cleavage. But it isn't the cut of her revealing outfits that irks her detractors, nor the fact that her murdered husband, Zeljko, better known as Arkan, was the most notorious warlord in the Balkans. Rather, it is the sound of her music. Love or hate her, few Serbs are indifferent. The songs of Ceca, as Ms. Raznatovic styles herself, were the soundtrack to a decade of destruction that reduced their country to a pariah state.
A report that inspired me to copy my interviewees: "To most young people, the idea of inviting both their favorite DJs and government ministers to the same party would sound distinctly uncool. But Bojan Boskovic and Dusan Kovacevic, two 24-year-old Serbs brimming with the can-do confidence they acquired as leaders of student protests, look at it differently. The first time they organized a music festival, it lasted almost 100 days, mutating into one of the mass political protests in 2000 that led to the downfall of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic."