American Pie 08.01.04

In all my years covering revolutions, wars and other disturbances, I never met or knew a journalist who carried a gun. Perhaps because we feared it might jeopardise any claim to be non-combative newsmen. The nearest I came to it was when, after the Kennedy assassination, I proved how easy it was to purchase a gun in Texas when I bought one in a pawnbroker’s shop in Dallas. But things have changed. Now there is a debate about whether journalists in Iraq should be allowed to carry guns. Some organisations, worried about their correspondents’ safety, are quietly allowing them to put guns on expenses, or at least hire armed security guards. There have been reports of bodyguards, even journalists, returning fire. Being embedded with the troops also encouraged some journalists to take up arms. In fact, some embedded reporters have spoken of being handed rifles or grenades when their units have come under attack. Some newsmen and women, especially in the Mid West, are used to the idea of carrying guns. One former reporter in Gary, Indiana, recalled that, in the Seventies, no reporter would leave the office without a gun. There were so many shootings then “it was only slightly less dangerous than Baghdad”, he said.

Many top TV executives are disturbed by the proposal of the White House to establish a new television feed from Iraq which would provide news coverage from the area to US stations without their own correspondents in Baghdad.

The idea is to give a more positive spin to the news. It would carry live press conferences, interviews with the troops and even footage from the field – and hopefully counteract the downbeat news of troop casualties that dominates many broadcasts. But TV stations are not enthusiastic. “I think the Government has no business being in the news business,” said the head of one Boston station. “It’s very troubling.” For now, the new feed is just being used to send material from Iraq to the Pentagon for use at news briefings.

Latest publishing trend: a religious publication for teenagers called Resolve and aimed at girls aged 13 to 16. Although it looks like a regular glossy, with coverlines such as “Beauty Secrets You’ve Never Heard Before”, it’s actually the complete New Testament sprinkled with photos of freshfaced teens and sidebars about make-up and kissing. Since it hit the bookstores and news-stands it has sold 150,000 copies. A boys’ version is due out in the spring. Although not aimed at the lads’ mag market, it will, it is said, be explicit about sex and relationships. Amen.

The Washington Post has awarded the prize for the wackiest story of the year to Weekly World News, the Florida tabloid. It reported the discovery of a 48-page glossy magazine published 12,000 years ago on the lost continent of Atlantis. Called the Atlantean StarSun, it featured an anti-baldness drug that also worked as a “morning after” abortion pill and a cure for eczema. It also carried a warning about the dangers of the Atlantean Government’s new “citizen transport tubes”. “They have a tendency to rip off children’s heads” the spoof story warned. My vote, however, would go to Glamour for a story called “A day in the life of his penis?”, a first-person narrative that whined: “What about me? My needs? My hopes and dreams?”

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