Over the weekend, with wild rumors crashing into macabre assumptions about what had landed a young and healthy Rehani Isidore in hospital, I took an overseas call from a curious friend who wished to know what I might’ve written had the reporter at the center of the latest Looshan preoccupation been a member of my editorial department.
A great question. I tossed it around in my head for several seconds before responding. “If all we’re hearing is true,” I said pointedly, “it’s unlikely the gentleman would be on my team of reporters in the first place.” Even as the coated words fell out of my mouth a small voice in my head was hissing: “Cop-out! Cop-out! Give the man a straight answer.”
The truth is that while I’ve always acknowledged his potential, the gentleman has never been a friend of mine. A week or so before he was reportedly delivered unconscious to a Victoria Hospital emergency ward, he’d produced a non-story about me that I considered as badly composed as it was unmerited, and of course I had retaliated in my usual fashion: I let verifiable proof speak for me. We had earlier been involved in a couple of minor collisions (with good reason I hesitate to describe them as journalistic exchanges) that I choose not to resurrect at this particular time, never having been one to kick a man when he’s down—whether or not by his own hand.
My inquisitive (mischievous?) overseas friend persisted: “But say he was a STAR reporter anyway. Say you didn’t know when you took him on board that there was more to the guy than an ability to write a so-so sentence or two. What would you do, faced with all this stuff pouring out of the woodwork? Would you report all you knew about the story? Would you fire him?”
“Well,” I said, “if we’re going strictly by what’s before us, same minutiae, save for the reporter’s name, I’d wait until he was out of his coma and able to explain what had befallen him. In the meantime I would be pressuring the police for their side of the shocking incident. If they stubbornly refused to confirm widespread rumors that the now comatose reporter had earlier been assisting them with certain touchy inquiries; if they insisted on keeping their lips zipped as to why my reporter had to be rushed to Victoria Hospital soon after they arrested him, then I’d write accordingly. I certainly would not leave my readers with the impression that it was no business of theirs what may have happened to a reporter with Rehani Isidore’s professional history. At the very least, I’d have confirmed or denied rumors that a short time after the police had escorted my reporter from his office he was reported to be at Victoria Hospital’s intensive care unit “fighting for his life.”
As I write it occurs to me that if there is any truth to what has been bruited, that the patient had attempted to take his own life by ingesting a deadly poison while at the police station, it would make no sense to report he was now “fighting for his life.” Better to say Victoria Hospital doctors were doing their utmost to save him!
I assured my overseas friend that depending on his circumstances I would stand by my reporter though the heavens fall. In all events I would afford him the same fair treatment I dished out to individuals not associated with the STAR—as indeed my work record easily proves.
I need add that it’s not easy being a reporter, especially in countries as small as ours, where the expectation is that fellow professionals, whether doctors, lawyers or priests, will protect one another from embarrassing public scrutiny no matter what. In my book It’ll Be Alright In the Morning, I wrote several paragraphs that are anything but self-promoting. I chose not to spare myself possible negative reader reaction, on the basis that if the proclivities of my subjects (mainly politicians) demanded detailed public analysis, then why not those of the author? Several years ago when a now deceased prime minister convened a House meeting for the sole purpose of leveling criminal accusations at me (contrary to House rules) I reported on the matter as I might’ve had it been another citizen on the receiving end of the prime minister’s false accusations. In due course I would also prove the prime minister’s declarations amounted to vice paying homage to virtue.
On the other hand, when a close friend of the STAR was accused of criminal behavior and taken into police custody we reported the incident as we knew it, at the same time gently reminding our readers not to rush to judgment. We did not pretend the allegations against him had never been made, or that they were unfounded, or the police uninvolved. We could’ve neglected to mention the incident altogether on the premise that the accused was “one of ours,” therefore deserved our special protection from possible public embarrassment. As I say, errant reporters are people too and deserve to be treated as we treat others in similar straits. Some might say reporters, “the fourth estate,” are expected collectively to be the people’s watchdog, a role generally considered “important to a functioning democracy.” The fourth estate cannot in the best interests of society be permitted to function as some kind of mafia with its own self-serving rules.
Which is not to say tell it like it is reporters are always appreciated or encouraged. Some of my straight from the shoulder publications have resulted in damaged personal relationships, if only for a short time, I am happy to report. Unforgettable is the time I wrote in reaction to a public statement by my long-time friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. In consequence, he stopped talking to me for three months, maybe more. When finally we decided it was time to resume regular communication Arnold unforgettably let me know how badly my published piece had disappointed him. When I reminded him that what I’d written was my honest reaction to something US magazine had quoted him as saying, something I considered egregious, he said: “There’s not much I can do about what magazines write about me. They do what they have to do. But you, Rick, you are my friend. I expect friends to watch out for each other’s backs!”
As he spoke he looked at me with the eyes of a whimpering puppy whose mother had just been run over by a Mack truck. Yes, try to imagine the Terminator with puppy-dog eyes. The way he spoke the word “friend” hit me so hard my knees almost buckled. There were other incidents at Weider Publications involving Arnold, for which I was not to blame, not directly. Still he held me responsible for not looking out for my friend. We finally agreed that before I wrote critically of him again I would permit him the opportunity to tell me his side of the given situation. That we remain friends to this day is proof Arnold finally understood my credibility meant as much to me as did his public image to him.
Then there was the singular Derek Walcott, for me the closest thing to a god. He once read three lines of a feature I’d written, angrily flung the paper aside, then phoned to let me know he had not only cancelled a planned dinner but would also “never, ever, ever again read the STAR.” He hung up on me, but not before he had dropped several f-bombs on my vulnerable ego. Suffice it to say, all was well again just two days later. I did not expect an apology and Derek offered none. After all, did Minerva ever apologize? Did Zeus? But he sheepishly admitted he’d lost his cool after reading only the first few lines of my full-page article about a private function held in his honor. Later he called to say he’d read the piece again, this time in its entirety—and loved it. I should remind mortal readers this was the same Walcott who authored “The Mongoose,” wherein he declared V.S. Naipaul a hater of black men who “loves black cunt.” I’ll refrain from recalling my contretemps with my friend and lawyer the former House Speaker, Peter Foster Q.C. (I wouldn’t put it past him to serve me a libel suit if I should do otherwise.) Like the Terminator, when required Peter can summon up pleading pussycat eyes capable of turning the hardest hard into soppy spaghetti. Trust me!
On Monday I was inundated with calls and Whatsapp texts falsely (callously?) informing me that Rehani Isidore had passed. My attention was also directed to an online item featuring his former HTS colleague and current media association president Miguel Fevrier. Nothing in the haunting piece suggested why the public was being invited to offer prayers for “one of our own,” never mind widespread speculation that the police had discovered good reason to take Isidore in for questioning and that while in their custody the reporter had served himself a killer potion. As for the cops, they waited until Monday to say what already was common knowledge. For once it seemed the police and media were performing in harmony!
Another reminder of the price some reporters pay for writing unflatteringly about their friends. The writer in this case was Truman Capote, legendary author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. For years he had been the darling of New York’s high society—until he published Answered Prayers, a roman à clef about their lives away from the bright lights.
The fall-out was swift. One by one the fragile Capote’s “swans” took flight, leaving the writer grounded and all alone. He took refuge at the California home of his close friend Joanne Carson, ex-wife of the late night TV god Johnny Carson, where he died a few days after arrival. Just before he passed he spoke to the former Mrs Carson about the friends who had deserted him en masse.
“What did they expect?” he asked. “I’m a writer, and I use everything. Did those people think I was there just to entertain them?” Some say the writer finally succumbed to the effects of too much booze and too many drugs. Others closer to him insist that what killed Truman Capote was a broken heart!