Gay pianist’s lesson to local journalists

In 1956 Liberace successfully sued the Daily Mirror for calling him “queer”: What was abundantly obvious was not verifiable by the media.

In 1956 Liberace successfully sued the Daily Mirror for calling him “queer”: What was abundantly obvious was not verifiable by the media.

Seemingly a century ago, not long after I had abandoned California and returned home with my equally excited girlfriend to establish this newspaper, I discovered myself marked for eradication by the country’s most resourceful demolition man.

I had committed no crime, certainly not according to the Saint Lucia Constitution that guaranteed free expression and association, among other cherished liberties.

But that had not deterred the day’s prime minister from declaring before an auspicious local gathering of like-minded OECS Heads of Government that the STAR newspaper and its publisher represented “a cancer to be cut out of the body politic”—a corny cliché reminiscent of the once-upon-a-time ferocious tiger George Odlum (by the time of my arrival in 1987, he was already well on his way to losing a lot more than his teeth!)—which now brings to mind another HOG’s more recent personal assessment of an election opponent as “a most frightening prospect.”

The promised cancer-excising procedure had begun with the prime minister falsely announcing at a special House sitting that he was in possession of “incontrovertible evidence” my then fiancée and business partner, a non-national, and I were involved in a child-pornography ring with branches in six different countries. Consequently, he informed his unquestioning fellow MPs, there would no longer be room for her at the inns of our famously Christian community.

Two days later, my partner received official notification that her work permit had been revoked. Also, that she had just three days during which to wind up her personal affairs and get the hell out of Dodge.

Obviously, the prime minister did not have his calculated way, thanks in great part to the late governor general Sir Stanislaus James who had first come to my rescue when I was only fourteen years old and he was still a long way from Government House  . . . but that’s for another show!

Before Sir Stan’s altogether unsolicited secret intervention, I had in desperation turned to an influential friend who had often expressed to me his appreciation of the STAR’s no-nonsense forthrightness. I knew he had all the right connections. I imagined he might whisper in some fellow-powerhouse’s ear that I was being victimized. More importantly, that when one citizen’s rights are denied him the whole nation is in consequence also victimized.

My friend had listened with a face reflective of a pulverized soul. I had felt so certain he would place at my service his hardly limited political clout. And now I’m smiling at the particular notion. How could I have been so naïve? Oh, but then those were very early days for the STAR; we were still virgins, so to speak. But I pride myself on being a fast learner: I quickly discovered that in a “dog-eat-dog” society ‘tis folly to be a Chihuahua!

My friend heard me out without interruption. Then he said, sounding ever so full of compassion: “Boy, what can I say? In life, you have to be so careful, especially in this place. These politicians have destroyed so many lives. They care only for themselves.”

I say it again: thank goodness for Sir Stan!

Over the last two weeks or so, fellow Saint Lucians have been asking why I’ve been standing up for Timothy Poleon in his own hour of need. My response: what I’ve been writing or talking about in relation to his situation has little to do with Timothy himself. I have merely been doing my duty as a citizen; defending our nation’s Constitution and the rights it guarantees us.

In any event, let’s not let our imaginations run wild. Over the years Tim and I have had our own several disagreements, some on-air, some not. Certainly I’ve said a few things to him that I later regretted, if only privately. He tends to lay blame on media-house owners for the evident incompetence and laziness and cowardice that for some time now have defined our so-called “media workers.”

I don’t.

Indeed, if Alva Baptiste and I see eye-to-eye on anything, it is his recent dismissal of our journalists as largely untalented and unread. Like the free-press advocate we all know him to be, the Laborie MP had generously advised the local press to read some literature, to engage in research, to take pride in what they place before the public—as doubtless he does, especially at constituency gatherings.

The foreign minister may have employed other words, but his message was as clear as it was unassailable. Tim does not agree. As for our media workers, who knows how they feel about anything? To read their columns or to hear what they say about everyday life in Saint Lucia, you’d think they were stationed on Mars.

As I’ve said so many times before, too many of our media workers seem to exist only to read out, without the smallest analysis, every egregiously written statement issued by the PR departments of the government, the political parties, the police and so on. Talk shows have become little more than avenues for the uninterrupted venting of anonymous spleen.

Have the media been at times irresponsible? Is the pope Catholic? The press has certainly been irresponsible—but not so much for what one or two members may have said or written about puffed-up politicians who imagine themselves above the law.

The press has been irresponsible when, because of its obvious shortcomings, it allows the public to be duped; when it permits prevaricating politicians to mislead the nation without the smallest challenge; when it deliberately refrains from asking questions of national interest; when it showers undeserved praise on our soi-disant leaders, especially at election time.

The press is irresponsible when it lets untruths masquerade as truth. Time after time I’ve heard talk-show hosts demanding from callers evidence supportive of their assertions. Meanwhile politicians and their surrogates are allowed to spew the wildest whoppers without interruption. That, to my mind, is particularly irresponsible on the part of the so-called people’s watchdogs.

But back to Timothy Poleon. With friends like the Media Association, he certainly has no need of enemies. The assaults from every which way that the broadcaster has suffered these past two weeks or so provided the self-styled media experts the opportunity yet again to hold forth on the subject that feeds them and about which they demonstrably know precious little.

Over and over I heard the media pontificators spouting general advice to their colleagues, avoiding all mention of the day’s particular target: reporters have to be careful, reporters must do this, must not do that. Not a word about the situation at hand.

Then there was that highly publicized “courtesy call” on RCI, about which, the least said here the better.

I’ve already expressed my own views on Timothy’s reading of an article that even now is on the internet daily laying more rotten eggs. I need only add that when citizens, whether or not politicians, think they have been defamed, they have every right to defend their reputations.

On the other hand, someone has to stand up for the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. And if nobody else will, then count on one who has always been a target of our more arrogant politicians and their parasitic surrogates, for no other reason than that they were embarrassed by my telling of certain inconvenient truths. I remain convinced, nevertheless, that a people too cowardly to stand up for their constitutional rights are a people destined to lose them.

Finally, a warning to fellow journalists convinced that truth per se is the failsafe defense against charges of libel. It is not. Especially when the charges have been brought by incumbent politicians. The truth that journalists depend on to set them free must always be immediately verifiable.

Here now, a short story worth remembering, presented back-to-front: Quite recently Michael Douglas and Matt Damon starred as lovers in an HBO made-for-TV movie called “Behind the Candlelabra.” The biopic focuses on the relationship between a young man named Scott Thorson and the much older flamboyant pianist Liberace, who passed away in Vegas 1987 at age 67—but not before he had directed his doctor to announce to grieving fans worldwide that he died of “heart failure due to anemia, caused by a watermelon diet.”

In truth, Liberace had succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia.

Some 30 years earlier, the widely-adored pianist had sued London’s Daily Mirror for libel. The paper had suggested he was a gender-bending, “fruit-flavored, ice-covered heap of mother love.” A clear suggestion that the pianist was “a queer.”

Of course, Liberace swore he was straight. There was nothing the Mirror’s lawyers could say to prove otherwise. What was in 1987 undeniable was equally true in 1956—but unverifiable. Liberace won his case and was awarded a king’s ransom in damages.

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