22 Dec 2014

An Adoring Profile of a Western Journalist

The room lights up as soon as he walks in. He’s dressed in one of those khaki trousers that have many pockets. They’re brimming with biscuits that he gently distributes to little brown kids when he’s on one of his expeditions. You don’t get to be an accomplished Western journalist without understanding the way to the hearts of the natives after all.

What makes a Western journalist so special? It’s more than just a passport and a fortunate place of birth. The Western journalist embodies the voice of authority like no other kind of journalist can ever do. The Western journalist is compassionate, sensitive, knowledgeable and, above all, Western. The Western journalist is a sabre of truth shining light onto the dark places we don’t understand.

And yet, there have been very few adoring profiles of the Western journalist and the role s/he plays in quenching our thirst for compassionate journalism and the fuzzy glow of enlightened inquiry. Particularly of the daring Western journalist who’s not afraid or reluctant to make him or herself the centre of attention in whatever they are reporting on. Stories only acquire meaning when they are reflected to the prism of the complex personality of the Western journalist.

The one we chose to profile specialises in the Middle East, like many of the great ones do. We agree to meet at a café, so we can fawn over him in public. He is dashing without being sexually threatening, handsome without being cute, and knowledgeable without coming across as pretentious. He is understated in a glamorous way, walks around with the air of a man who knows what he wants and knows which fixer can help him get it.

He greets us in broken Arabic but it is endearing. After he exhausts the four basic words he knows which are more than sufficient for him to understand the region, we switch to English. Tell us, tell us all, we plead. Why are you so great? What could we do to become more like you? How can we acquire that completely non-irritating combination of compassion and authority? Where do you buy your clothes from?

His large expensive Swiss watch is a clue to the meticulous and punctual obsessions of the typical great Western journalist. We look at our own cheap Chinese watches with disgust. His notebook which he throws casually on the table looks like it was hand-made by elves for a king, all leather-bound and important looking. We’re taking notes on cheap school notebooks with Bic pens. No wonder nobody takes us seriously us non-Western journalists.

But it’s about more than just watches and expensive pens. The shoes have ‘important Western journalist’ written all over them. Not literally you see, that would be daft, but they possess the combination of functionality, style and comfort that sums what being a Western journalist is all about. And the air of self-importance masked with just the right level of false modesty. This is gripping stuff.

Our protagonist is rugged in a way that suggests the perfect balance of authority and experience. Yet his silk scarf says compassion, sensitivity and humanitarian concern. Gone are the days when the job of the Western journalist was to report facts and events, today he or she has to be an embodiment of the humanitarian sense of purpose that characterises contemporary Western culture. We lag so far behind.

And we could go on and on and on, but to be fair that’s what end of year Western journalist award parties are for and we don’t want to eclipse their self-congratulatory carnivals of own-back patting. The fact is the Western journalist is the best. The Western journalist is special. All others should stop trying. Like not literally, we need you for those missions that are too dangerous to send in an actual Western journalist, but just know your place. And get better pens already.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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