I was introduced, through film, to Harold Evans during this year’s Hot Doc film festival here in Toronto in the fantastic documentary Attacking The Devil: Harold Evans and the Last Nazi War Crime. I was stunned to learn about this journalist and editor, not to mention all the stories he’d been involved in over the course of his lifetime, and the fact that I’d never heard of him!!
No sooner was the screening done than I hit one of the local book stores and walked out with a copy of his memoirs.
I dug in happily, as Evans recounted his life experiences, his schooling, his family, and his life’s work.
It was at that point in the book, where he talks about covering stories, deciding what to print, verifying facts, that my interest really flared up, I like to imagine that perhaps, with better training, and a little refinement in the way I write, I could have been a newspaperman, but one cut from Evans’ cloth, not swayed by the corporations or advertisers who either own or market through the newsprint, and are the ones these days dictating what is news, and what should be covered. Instead, I long(ed) to be an objective reporter, revealing the true facts, keeping them in context of larger events, and making for an informed public, not one that needs to be pandered to, but one that is constantly seeking to learn and improve on itself.
I followed him happily through investigations into pollution, racism, the execution of an innocent man, loving his punchy prose style as he brought to life the newspapers of yesteryear, when type needed to be set by hand, hot metal formed into words that would then combine to create fascinating stories that spread across the county, country and globe.
He takes the reader through the coverage, by his Sunday Times, of the thalidomide case, showing the way the British law operated at the time, that a case before the courts could not be commented on by the media, and if they did so, they could be put in contempt of court, but the moral side of the case, as well as the Freedom of Speech and health of the people, in the end, proved to outweigh the law. This part of his life is the centerpiece of the aforementioned documentary.
There is his paper’s coverage of the Troubles in Ireland, the warning signs that were missed and the errors and atrocities committed by both sides. I think that is one of the things I liked most about his book, and the concept of journalism, far less in practice now than it used to be, the objective reporting, not interpreting the facts for whatever political party you have allegiance to, but a presentation of the facts (without personal inflection) in an understandable narrative.
In this day and age when corporations, governments and media tyrants own so many papers and are spoon-feeding us their propaganda, Evans memoir should be a challenge for us all to continue the concept of the fair and unbiased press, be it television, ink or blog. Truth shouldn’t be a matter of manipulation or muzzling of stories to fit agendas, it should always be a clear, concise representation of the facts presented in context.
Loved this book!