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The Cynicism of Objectivity

The Wizard of Oz, St Laurent St, Montreal / photo: Errol ImagesMedia, flickr

The Wizard of Oz, St Laurent St, Montreal / photo: Errol ImagesMedia, flickr

In the metamorphosing world of journalism, whether a reporter is objective or subjective is no longer the main question. Today, with news agencies and media outlets of all sorts simply regurgitating each others’ work, readers no longer need concern themselves with whether something they are reading is objective or not: that is decided for them by pre-fabricated news that is passed off as reporting and analysis, sold in bulk and distributed by lazy journalists who can hardly be called reporters around the world.

So, having dismissed today’s journalism with a disappointed shrug of the shoulders, here is something completely different: A column by Paul Rogers of openDemocracy that pretends to be reports from a previously unknown consulting firm called the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (SWISH), based in tribal Pakistan, where they ostensibly hunker down in tents with full IT communications and have access to representatives of al-Qaida, Washington and London – all at the same time. (I regret to admit that I fell for this – and am aware that others have as well). Despite the hilarity of the idea, whose cynicism even this great cynic found shocking, this experiment by the ever-creative Paul Rogers was believable for a number of reasons:

First of all, the analysis provided allegedly to al-Qaida on how to deal with Washington and why to root for the Republicans in the elections was spot on. The advice given to Bush and Blair (and more recently, Obama) was also, one can only imagine, better than anything Washington gets from its regular circus of advisors.

Secondly, in what seems to be an increasingly farcical type of foreign policy, it was not all that far-fetched to imagine both sides in this war on terror game seeking out the same advisors (especially when the advice is so good).

Were the SWISH consultancy real, and in actual fact providing risk assessments simultaneously to al-Qaida, Washington and London, we would have all decried the deplorable lack of morals of this institute, despite the fact that a consulting firm is not constrained by ethics and is free to choose whatever clients it wishes. That one academic has created the SWISH myth and penned the reports is really no matter. The only difference is that al-Qaida, Washington and London did not pay him to do so, and may or may not have read them. (Though surely they would have all benefited from doing so, and hopefully Washington will hire Paul Rogers to replace their existing advisors.) Real or not, the reports represent a glaring cynicism, which I can only greatly appreciate. Perhaps Mr Rogers did not intend this to be an exercise in cynicsm and rather sought simply to create a platform from which one could probe a little deeper, from which one could skip the rhetoric and get right to the reality. Realism is, after all, often branded as cynicism, which cannot be helped, often having the same characteristics.

As far as journalism goes, creating a mythical consulting firm and publishing such reports is probably breaking some kind of rule or another, but who cares? Nothing is more objective that the SWISH experiment, and for that readers should be grateful. If it’s too cynical for some, well, perhaps ultimate objectivity is the same thing as cynicsm. For easy-to-digest subjectivity, stick to the mainstream media.