Sunday, June 22, 2008

Unreliable Witnesses

Through the deepening twilight and on far into the night the fierce struggle continued...

This new weekly column will be a rummage in the great toy chest that is the Times Archive.

I'm not sure if our Dave has a new gig at the Times or if he's just the first writer to survey the Times archive. Why Times reports in 1863 were a shade unreliable/In The Times archive: the Gettysburg battles were not quite the Confederate success our correspondent imagined. There's nothing that he says that's wrong exactly.

Technically it was possible to suggest a bloody draw; strategically, however, it was a terrible reverse for the South. This perspective was, for whatever reason, denied to OSC [Our Special Correspondent: the Times reporter was anonymous].

If anyone wishes to infer bias or impute to stupidity to the Times Correspondent, you would be advised to read John Keegan, especially The Face of Battle which repeatedly insists that battles are understood with hindsight; during them no one knows what the hell is going on.

I actually read DA in the hard copy of the Times. This was a mistake: he doesn't quote much from the correspondent he criticizes, which gives the impression of a hatchet job. But the whole thing, as Glenn Reynolds would say, is available in the Times archive (not recommended if you value your eyes).

I'm sure the prospect of DA commenting on journalists who got the outcome of a war wrong will excite many of our regular readers. And one who backed the wrong side at that. So, have at it.

DA was around a lot in the Times yesterday. He reviewed Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives by Carolyn Steel. As I haven't read the book, I can't comment, but this seems like DA at his best - fair-minded and cool.

The final shock comes when we learn that David Aaronovitch [is] getting fit for the London triathlon in August. Again this is something DA does well as he did in his book Paddling to Jerusalem: game, fat bloke attempts the impossible. He still has a felicitous way with simile.

Of course, I'm an idiot. There are just over two months to go to the grand Mazda London Triathlon, to be held in the Docklands on August 9 and 10, and things are not looking brilliant. Well, how could they be? Why had I chosen to forget that the last time I rode a bike ended with me rolling across two lanes of Islington traffic, my front wheel bent over like a pipe cleaner and my confidence even more buckled than that? Or that the only way I knew how to swim was by a dogged breaststroke, head out of the water like a labrador? So this first part of my journey concerns what a complex and challenging thing a triathlon really is, and why I should - this time - have listened to my wife.

He doesn't seem to be doing this one for charity. But if it turns out that he is, we will of course, let you know.


Blogger ejh said...

battles are understood with hindsight; during them no one knows what the hell is going on.

An observation he may owe to Tolstoy?

6/22/2008 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh, quite possibly. I nearly mentioned Tolstoy, but thought that if I did, I'd never stop.

6/22/2008 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well Tolstoy never did. Har har har.

6/22/2008 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger donpaskini said...

o/t, have you seen the Facebook group that Nick has set up called 'Bring Back Blair'?

Its description is 'he's tanned, he's rested, he's ready' (that's Tony, not Nick) and it has 81 members.

6/22/2008 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also off topic, but can't resist it. Letter in this weeks Times Higher from Jonathan Bate, Warwick Uni academic and author of 'Standpoint' piece Nick C based his Obs column on a few weeks ago. Bate protests that Times Higher had 'cite[d] a grossly distorted paraphrase by The Observer columnist Nick Cohen.' This from a Standpoint contributor - ouch!

6/23/2008 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again off topic, but delicious.

Nick Cohen to sue New Statesman over changes to pay and conditions

Posted by Dominic Ponsford on 24 June 2008 at 16:23
Tags: Journalism, Magazines

New Statesman contributors are reportedly outraged over changes to their terms and conditions which have led to their pay packets being “seriously reduced”, according to the Evening Standard.

Nick Cohen says he is suing them and told the Standard: “For a socialist magazine they are behaving far worse than a capitalist daily.” Cohen tells the Standard his pay has been cut by two thirds and says others are now getting “next to nothing at all”.

6/25/2008 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reliably poor Ratbiter column in private eye this week has all the marks of N Cohen, too...

6/25/2008 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Cohen tells the Standard his pay has been cut by two thirds "

When was the last time he actually had anything in the magazine?

rioja kid

6/25/2008 11:19:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Has our Nick been fired from the Observer? He's not been in it recently, has he? And yet he's still churning the standard column out. Yesterday he declared that if Nelson Mandela didn't speat out against Mugabe he would be a 'moral coward'.

6/26/2008 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Matt, he's missed two weeks - in summer, so could easily be a holiday. But then, the Facebook group seems pretty new. I'll have to check again - I considered suggesting that someone might join 'Bring Back Blair' and try to post the cover of 'Cruel Britannia' for a laugh.

I am a little surprised that after Jonathan Bate's letter to the THES which mentions "a grossly distorted paraphrase by The Observer columnist Nick Cohen" (thanks to Jonathan above), the Observer hasn't put some sort of correction at the top of Nick's higher education piece. ("Officially, our universities are now world leaders in the study of French literature but awful at studying English literature." My emphasis - to highlight Bate's claim that "Cohen writes about it as if it were a more recent phenomenon.")

I did think he'd left the Statesman; though I assumed this was due to political differences. Anyway, I thought pay on the Statesman was supposed to be crap - I really believed that Nick wrote for it for political reasons, and the Standard and the Observer paid the mortgage etc. I find his claim “For a socialist magazine they are behaving far worse than a capitalist daily.” (from the wire) odd. Left-wing magazines have always been crappy to their journalists, haven't they? And I can't see many hearts bleeding over a pay cut for a guy with two other regular jobs and a book deal.

6/26/2008 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Socialist magazines usually pay buttons, because (a) socialist magazines aren't usually well off and (b) socialist magazines can usually rely on contributors' willingness to be hyper-exploited. Mind you, shafting the staff in any shape or form isn't exactly socialism in the workplace, so perhaps he has half a point.

But who thought the Statesman was a socialist magazine in any sense? I wouldn't have called it that since the merger with New Society at the very latest.

6/26/2008 07:18:00 PM  

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