Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 15th 2014 Contents CONTINUED FROM PAGE B8
But to many, it simply opened the
way for a lot of babble on radio and
garbage on television. It had in no
way added to the integrity and
importance of print journalism.
There was, of course, a lot about
America in books, newspapers, mag-
azines and on the Internet that could
provide evidence of Homo sapiens
americanus after the Flood---but
would any, or all of it, reveal the
divinity in the breast of Sally Ride,
or the devil in the heart of Bernard
Madoff when we examined their
images in the press?
It seemed that we had Hobson s
choice. We could use public
records---but it meant we would be
putting our trust in the Associated
Press, in Reuters, in Agence France
Presse, in US television networks,
in Yahoo! News and in Wikipedia
to complete our search for America s
Was this the way we should go?
Is journalism just gossip?
And there was also the uneasiness
of an old newspaperman. How much
do the media reveal the soul of a
country? Or is it just a mirror of
activities and opinions?
Is journalism what Truman
Capote said of literature---just gossip?
How much, for example, does the
work of Bob Woodward, associate
editor of the Washington Post, influ-
ence Americans choices for a pres-
ident, from Nixon to Obama? Or are
his books, like many newspapers,
only a written record?
This is not to deny that journalism
has a role to play in the development
of societies by shining a light where
there is darkness.
But how much of the character
of a people does it reveal---apart from
the fact that in a democracy, people
can say and write whatever they like?
How does news, on examination,
bare a nation s soul? And how
important is it to keep in mind the
uneasiness of a president that the
"amplifications of conflict" by the
media contribute to an atmosphere
of suspicion and unreality?
Any other route seemed pointless
to consider if we were to find answers
to the question before the November
6, 2012 election. The interviews we
had planned would be insufficient,
in the four weeks we had, to provide
us with the answers to our inquiries
about what it is to be an American
in these times of acute financial
worry and growing international dis-
trust of Washington s ability to safe-
guard the nation and the world.
It was easy to think that we had
bitten off more than we could chew.
Perhaps the thing to do was to enjoy
the visits to eight of America s fas-
cinating cities as tourists.
A path through the mountains
But then the Chinese idiom Yu
gong yi shan came to mind. It is the
story of a Foolish Old Man whose
house faced two mountains that
obstructed his way. One day he called
his family together and said, "Let s
work together, remove the mountains
and open a road."
His wife protested. "You can hard-
ly level a small mound," she said.
But the Foolish Old Man was not
discouraged, and the following day
the family began to dig to achieve
That is why we did not give up.
Revelations of the Soul of America
in this book come as much from
written records as from our own
observations and from friends. We
scoured the Internet for news and
information that would enhance our
comprehension of America and
Americans and we would like to
acknowledge the news sources: The
list includes the New York Times,
the Washington Post, The Chicago
Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the
Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.
It is not our intention to suggest
anywhere in these pages that all the
reporting is original.
We knew, however, that we had
to be vigilant. Gore Vidal had warned
in Dreaming War that US newspa-
pers often played the game of "follow
the leader"---so we couldn t afford
to be gullible. Vidal shared another
concern: Americans were "dumbed
down," he was told, and one should
write only about what readers already
knew. We knew we would have to
claw our way through tensions, fears
and prejudices to get to the soul of
the country; and we had to do so
without compromising our integri-
On using foreign sources
What I could be accused of is an
excess of liberty in quoting from
these sources, but I had no intention
to pass off all the reporting as my
own. There are some long passages
that I have reproduced because I
didn t want to change the work of
the journalists and academics---the
reason was they were on the ground,
and were better able to present the
material that described the situation.
I was thousands of miles away. Thus
readers might find fault with the
selection of material, but not with
the transparency of my motive.
Is this revelation something that
would raise doubts about the integri-
ty of the work and would inhibit its
publication? In fact, in November
2012, it did just that. Did I have writ-
ten consent, CreateSpace asked, to
use reports from the Internet? Well,
I didn t, and I felt I had to spend
time in rewriting some of the news
material to make them feel more
comfortable with the contents of the
Chasing the boatman
It took me longer than I had
hoped, because when I started the
work, I didn t count on illness and
surgery---to remove a wretched gall-
bladder---to shut me down for
"For some time," Rhona wrote a
troubled Xiuling, "I didn t think he
would make it, but his doctors and
the nurses at the WestShore Medical
were magnificent and he pulled
through all right, celebrating his 80th
birthday with all kinds of tubes
attached to him and with countless
visits from nurses to stick needles
For several nights I had told her
that as I lay helpless in bed, I had
chased away the boatman on the
River Styx. I wasn t finished with
my work, I explained: and he went
in search of less troublesome pas-
We hope that both Democrats and
Republicans will judge this work
kindly for our efforts to present an
understanding of the risks and hopes
that enhance Americans love of
country and the creativity that sus-
tains the unbroken American spir-
it. One final word: Vidal passed away
on July 31, 2012. He was 86. We
know that America has lost one of
its noblest minds and an outstanding
man of letters.
June 15, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Conversations with Americans...
Baptiste 'chased away the boatman at the River Stynx'
Owen Baptiste and his wife Rhona meet with Trinidad-born Davan Maharaj,
then managing editor of the Los Angeles Times (2011).
Owen Baptiste under
the Marilyn Munroe
statue in Chicago.
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