May 21, 2004

Black foam

I've found it exeedingly difficult to get a clear idea of what's going on in Iraq of late. Here's the lede of a Wednesday story in the Washington Post:

BAGHDAD, May 17 -- With stunning brazenness, pinpoint timing and devastating force, the suicide car bomber who killed the head of Iraq's Governing Council on Monday gave shape to a feeling among Iraqi and U.S. officials and common citizens that the country is almost unmanageable.

The following day, on the same paper's front page, I read, in the second paragraph of of a story, that

The assassination of Izzedin Salim in a suicide car bombing Monday appeared to have crystallized months of frustration with the U.S.-led occupation across the Iraqi political spectrum. In interviews after Salim's funeral, his colleagues on the council said the violence had imperiled efforts to form an interim government and, by extension, the future stability of Iraq with just six weeks before the nominal end of the occupation.

Clear as these two paragraphs are, I can't help wondering, in the journalistic canon of "who, what, where, when, why, how," whether "[giving] shape to a feeling" or "[appearing] to have crystallized" are precise enough terms.

I'm reminded of something the French poet Jean Cocteau wrote in Opium: Diary of a Cure:

I suppose that many journalists do not want to lie but lie they do, in the effort to obtain style, by using the mechanism of poetry and history, which gradually distorts. This distortion, applied directly, has the effect of a lie. Now I do not know if this lie, to which facts eventually owe their prominence, is useful without perspective. I believe that facts, faithfully reported when they are still fresh the following morning, would have a thousand times more force.

I don't mean to suggest that the Post's fine reporters are lying, but I do think they are attempting to use the mechanisms of poetry and perhaps also history in their reporting, and it makes it all the more difficult, as a reader, to get a sense of what is going on. I trust very few poets (Cocteau is one), and can think of no journalist I've known whose poetry I would read.

Posted by Ideofact at May 21, 2004 12:01 AM

"...can think of no journalist I've known whose poetry I would read."

I'm not clear whether you mean "known personally" or "known of" or how you mean "known (contemporary?)," but what of Walt Whitman? Don Marquis?

I'm fairly sure there are some other names lurking in the back of my brain I can't quite tickle forth at the moment.

Posted by: Gary Farber at May 21, 2004 02:28 AM

You're right -- for the record, I mean known personally, and I've known a fair number.

Posted by: Bill at May 21, 2004 11:24 AM