There is no question that journalist Veronica Guerin loved her byline and enjoyed the certain celebrity that came with the hit stories that she sometimes wrote. Maybe she even liked getting her face on the news, as a friend of mine recently said after re-watching the film. He recently qualified the comment and said, It was the film that glorified her more than perhaps real life and maybe he’s right. I didn’t know her in real life. But I do know that the contention of many, that Guerin loved the fame more than the issues themselves, in particular, the drug problem in Ireland and that getting the scoop mattered more to Guerin than her own family because by writing such stories, it was almost inevitable that some Irish drug lords and Irish mafia would eventually come after her and her family. That she “irresponsibly” (not my word) put her family’s life in danger.
This raises many thorny issues. We proceed cautiously.
First, I have to ask myself, as any writer or journalist, is there anything inherently wrong in wanting a byline, The scoop, The good story, or to even be on the news as an accredited and successful journalist?
To some extent, it is what we strive for. It may not be why we all write. It certainly is not why I went to journalism school in the first place or why I wrote since a child, because then, back in those days, I was idealistic and thought that my writing could change the world in some small way. I didn’t even know about bylines or credit or my picture in the paper or what a resume was or publication credits or tenure. None of it mattered. All that mattered to me where the issues. I was young and idealistic and put the Issues, capital I above even myself at times. Hell, I was even a wrier at The Daily Worker for years. Imagine that! (oh, stop calling me names and rolling your eyes ~ I said I was young and my politics now, I’m sure, would shock even you).
So while we most of us started writing for other, more idealistic reasons, at the end of the day, most of us do like to see our names in print. It may not be the force behind the writing, and in most cases I’d say it is in fact not the force behind the work . But to say it is not an enjoyable and satisfying part of the deal is just stupid and disingenuous.
Does a curator put on a show without any expectation of credit or her name appearing in the programme and the museum director giving a small speech at the opening cocktail hour about how grand at great the show is? Of course not. Does a CPA work for free or expect no raise, no promotion? An actor? A singer? How about artists, photographers, and others. How about bond traders? Do they do it for just the money or do they get all of their fancy degrees that they then frame and put on the wall because like the rest of us, they like to see their name and the thing that they have worked so hard for to be right there for all the world to see every day or for themselves to see anyway. And why not. Why shouldn’t they. What is wrong, or when did it become wrong to be proud of what you have done or are doing, to relish the spotlight a little or a lot because god knows, kids, there are enough people who will hold you back and put you down in this world that you’d better be your own best advocate. That much I know is true. I am fortunate to have run across others ~ kinder, gentler and those who offered true help, but how rare.
I’d argue that anyone who says otherwise about wanting credit should just publish anonymously because if you will not or do not, then you have no valid argument and your point, therefore, is also invalid. And I do mean no name, no handle, just “anon.” You either agree that to some extent, we do write partially for credit, or if you are so lacking in vanity then you are a humble, admirable thing, so then publish anonymously and take no accolades while the rest of us write for the love of it and yes, enjoy soaking it up too. No , we do not all need a spotlight shone on us for “fame” but a little credit is undeniably nice and a publication credit, as any writer or most will admit, is a good thing for one’s CV/resume.
Other arguments, before you offer them up. Yes, there are those who donate money anonymously (including this writer) and etc and I value that, but my feeling, is that this is done for other reasons. One, because we do not wish to necessarily disclose the amount donated, and two, because links with certain charities may reveal more about our private selves than we wish to reveal. That much makes sense but has no bearing here and I mention it only because it seemed inevitable that someone would make the analogy so I address it now.
But writing ~ journalism is a different beast. It is a day job and more, it is one of the so-called “estates” of the country and is protected as such. As journalists, we are not so different from a sort of order, or ministry and are bound by certain ethical standards that most of us learned or should have learned and been listening in journalism school. And if you didn’t take a class now or read a book and learn your profession, if indeed it is. Want a bad example: Look at Stephen Glass and The New Republic scandal of the late 90s and you’ll see what I mean. See this piece I recently wrote for BBC.
Veronica Guerin, yes, did in some ways become a martyr and when she died, the streets of Ireland were lined with mourners who felt the great loss of her. But note that after her death, that drug use decreased by fifteen percent and that the government amended its laws such that the property of suspected dealers and kingpins and their assets could be frozen until and if they were proven innocent, thus preventing them from transferring, hiding, squandering, etc etc. any profit or hiding the evidence or using it in their own defense. Veronic Guerin’s death, while it pained her family greatly, was not in vain.
Was it wrong, one thinks, or unfair, to jeopardize not only her own life, but that of her family because of a big story? It’s a good question and one I can only attempt to answer but this does not mean that I am right; merely that I am trying hard to tackle what even for me as a journalist who has dealt with the porn industry for years, a tough issue.
I’m not Veronica Guerin. Yet the articles I have penned about pornography that are strictly anti-porn, specifically teen porn, “teens for cash” sites (that site in particular”, vengified, “fuck spy” to name a few and other sites that have used real minors and not those who look young, have been “my” subject since grad school. I have published numerous papers on porn, book reviews, etc etc. and have come to the awful conclusion that we cannot, unless it is truly illegal and infringing on someone else’s rights ~ rape, child-porn, non-consensual voyeurism, for example ~ then it is impossible to outlaw because once you do, once you begin on the slippery slope of censorship, you begin to stomp on the rights of other’ and their First Ammendment right to free speech.
We have a free press, thus, as part of that “press”, we have a free Internet. The internet has become in many ways, the press of the Now and of the future. It is the forward-moving movement that terrifies book publishers and book buyers everywhere and it should. It worries me as a former book pubisher myself, though I believe there will always be a demand for hard copies of books so that they will not become obsolete and it worries me less. The point however, is that yes, as a writer of such matter, I have been threatened, stalked on the Internet, attacked on the Internet, followed about, had my home broken into, had one voyeur who tried and succeeded to some extent to take photos of me in my own house through the window and post them to a Web site and another guy who took perfectly normal, but yes, I admit, my god, sensual (read: not naked, nude or otherwise, but pleasing to the eye) photographs that he posted to his site, not gone, “realgirlsineroticsituations.com”. I got him banned right away and had his site shut down too. He ran off with has tail trailing and I’ll tell you, if I find him or images used of me again, he will be sorry for the day he was born (and yes, read that as a threat) because I will pursue not only as a journalist, but as a civilian and my legal rights and the infringement thereof of anyone who feels the desperate need, because they have no life, to “out” me in some sick way, to take perfectly innocent and well meaning images and turn them into something seedy and worse of all, to infringe on the rights of not only me, but my family by staking out and breaking into my home such that we had to get not only the police involved but a private detective to watch the watchers and get photo evidence (and he did). And that is just me.
No doubt, porn has a cross-over with drugs, gunrunning etc as well. Christ, there is a proven history that is age old that those involved in one are likely involved in at least one other crime area. I can’t say why, only that this often appears to be the case as those who fund and found such ventures seem to like their porn and their drugs. More, their porn is a drug and they have to keep upping the ante to get a hard-on. These days, it is incest that is all the rage because that’s how far we’ve come. It’s no longer Playboy and Penthouse which were innocuous enough, though I felt like Katherine McKinnon back in the day, though not now. But now… we’re not talking about air-brushed nudes. We’re talking about “real fathers fucking their real blood daughters” according to one site. Or “sons fucking their mothers” according to another. More? “extreme rape” “gang rape” “violent gang rape” “lesbian gang rape” “ravished bride” (my personal favorite ~ a bride is raped and “ravished” on her wedding day while in her gown etc etc and the footage is made to look real or is real, who knows anymore…
What I do know is that the FBI is on the case and that their sex crimes and Internet Crimes division have become closely aligned if not combined and that at least one agent I spoke with there was working at one of the sites I mention here and finding all sorts of illegal things that can only be found deep within the site. The surface levels may look “innocent” (if such a word can be used) enough, but dig deeper and go in fifteen pages to the private chatrooms where requests are made for pictures of the real and while most often, the pictures are obviously staged, even I saw several that were obviously not.
What is then my responsibility? Who will come after me now, as they did last time, when I wrote about this? Who will tell you whatever the fuck they want and you’ll believe it perhaps because maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not but what is the bearing ask yourself that? Who will come after my family this time? Will someone break in and “ravish” me, gang rape me because “I’m the kinda bitch that deserves it” because of the “bullocks” that I write?
Is that the place we’ve come to, like Veronica Guerin, who no, didn’t “deserve” to die, I’ve heard people say, but she “should have pulled back at a certain point and let the authorities deal with it and helped behind the scenes.” Yes, maybe there were other ways. Maybe. I can’t say. It seemed to me that a lot of the police and other authorities didn’t give a shite until Guerin came along and made a fuss. After all, whose fur was up about little kids shooting up and getting the first hit “for free” to get them hooked if not Guerin? Hardly anyone, if anyone.
She was doing her job. Yes, she had been shot at. Yes, they shot a warning shot into her window and “over the bow” so to speak to warn her. Guerin had ample warning from sources to back off and she did not. She did not and at the final meeting with the source who set her up, she brought along the police and a photographer for protection and perhaps that was her mistake right there. She was told, “Pen anything about this guy and you’ll be dead…” and by god, she went about her job anyway.
And she died for it. She died before she could even get the story full in.
If someone said to you, you may die on your way to work tomorrow from a terrorist attack on the subway system would you go to work? You would. You would because that is what you do. You do your job and you do not give in to the demands and threats of terrorism. You do not give up your way of living, your way of being, and if that means that even you know that the transit system is a target ~ and trust me, live in a big city like I do, perhaps you too or my home of England, then you know what I mean ~ I will never forget calling my family on July 7th. Never. But will they ride the train again? You bet. And my mother? She flies troops home from Iraq who are injured, but not so severely that they can’t fly out on a commercial airliner.
Do I like that her day job sometimes involves dodging surface to air missiles or that her husband is a pilot who does this with her and that I may lose them both? Christ no. It terrifies me and I’ve begged her to stop. The odds of her dying seem greater to me than if she lived a more “normal” life, but then, she has asked me often why I write about pornography and why don’t I just “settle down and write a nice romance novel” she says with an ironic twist and the glass clinking with ice over the phone. I can see her smile.
She does her job. I do mine. I doubt I’ll die from my job ~ I doubt anyone will kill me because of what I write, though you never know. It seems to me just as likely if not more that I could go by riding the Tube or the Metro or the MBTA.
Everything in life is a risk. I remember when my sister was twelve and I was a mother to her because I was so much older. We were walking by the old graveyard by Cooper’s Hill and she was on the pavement, the sidewalk, a few feet a head of me and just walking along, her one sock down, her funny sneakers. A regular twelve year old girl and I shouted “Be careful!!” and Ian laughed and said, “Sade… she’s just walking along the sidewalk.”
SC: Tan The Man