February 26, 2013
There’s at least one in every newsroom and he doesn’t feel shy to air his opinion at the drop of a hat. Of course, he knows more than you; has more contacts than you do, has done more stories than you and most certainly much better and important ones. He knows all the right people and places and how to get to them. The newsroom bullshitter is unavoidable. He’s larger than life and there’s nothing you can do about it except grind your teeth and bear up.
I’ve come across plenty in my two decades as a journalist and I can say with absolute conviction that except for the gift of the gab, these guys have nothing else going for them.
The sad thing is that even the most hardened newsroom veterans fall victim to their wiles and lies. Sometimes they can be that convincing.
A couple of years back I visited a friend who was starting up a newspaper in Islamabad. He was really excited. “I have a lot of good young people,” he enthused, “Lot of promise.”
Hmmm… I asked to meet a few of these shining stars of the future and he was quick to oblige.
There was girl who’d studied in the UK, brimmed with ideas and generally thought she was onto something big, there was another who was smug in the knowledge that she’d got her education at the Presentation Convent and also somewhere in the good ol’ US of A, a tubby, sloppily dressed young guy who fidgeted uncomfortably and declared he’d been referred by a well-known anchor and preferred to do political stories, there was a guy dressed in an oversized camouflage jacket and multi-pocketed khakis who adjusted his red and white kafiyah and informed me he was a ‘Taliban expert’ and finally there was this guy in a natty suit and college tie who said he would be writing about legal matters.
Ho hum… quite a bunch!!
“So what do you think?” my budding editor friend asked.
“Be prepared to be disappointed,” I said.
He stubbed out his cigarette and complained, “You always put a damper on everything.”
“It’s called being pragmatic,” I said, adding: “The girl from the UK will leave disillusioned, bitter and disappointed. She wants to work yet will never be allowed the leverage to do so. You will keep saying ‘no’ to every suggestion she has to make.”
“The other girl might have plenty of ideas too, but most of them are more suited to a website and she will write a couple of times. No staying power or real motivation. This is just a passing fad. The guy with the suit is here to make an impression. He will come in and out as and when it suits him. The guy in the battle gear is a mirage… he’s not real. Get rid of him. He’s not going to give you a single story, leave alone an exclusive on the Taliban…”
“What have you left me with,” my editor friend asked, tugging at his few strands of hair.
“Chubby with the bad clothes and practiced expertise in melting into the background when faced with work; he’s your newsroom bullshitter. Enjoy his antics until you have no option but to send him on his way.”
“But he’s been referred to me by my brother-in-law.”
And so it was.
A year on my friend the editor and I met up in London. “What happened to your paper?”
“And that bunch of promising young stars…?”
“You were right about each and every one of them.”
“I’m only interested in the bullshitter,” I said.
“Well, he never gave me a story I could use. One day, after much prompting he gave me a so-called report that was just four paragraphs long, did not make sense and was not credible. He spent his time talking up the girls, reciting poetry, dodging the news editor and city editor, hiding in reporter’s room and generally shooting his mouth.”
I did my best not to say, “I told you so.” Instead, I said: “Do you remember the guy that was supposed to be a big shot reporter when we started out?”
“The guy who wrote about the chicken neck turn…?” he asked.
“That’s the guy. Do you know he’s a big shot at PTV?”
“He was a bull shitter, but one who knew how to profit from his bull,” my editor friend said.
I nodded. “When I worked in Oman there was this guy, a Lebanese chap who spent all his time trying to impress the female staff and hiding in the library, the cafeteria or recording rooms. One day he found himself in the uncomfortable position of doing the news bulletin. The guy nearly died. The next day he had to go to the hospital with heart palpitations.”
And now, just in case you’re wondering what brought this all on; I bumped into an old colleague turned estranged in that spanking new shopping mall in Islamabad. Large as life and loud as ever, he immediately informed me that he was working for a dozen different foreign news services.
“Great,” I said. This guy had been instrumental in causing misunderstandings and bad blood between me and my boss back in 2000 and some. His sense of insecurity, lies and constant manipulations had finally led to me being asked to quit. Ironically, the same thing happened to him.
Just when I was figuring out a way to get rid of this 300lbs, red faced buffoon, he said: “I’m also writing a book.”
“Wonderful,” I said.
“It’s about the Taliban,” he said.
Now, where have I heard that before?
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