If you enjoyed it then get Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs
edited by John Pilger
Absolutely mindblowing and a very broad range of topics covered.
626pp, Cape, £20
The phrase "investigative journalism" is, in a sense, tautologous because all journalism should involve some kind of investigation that results in
the revelation of a hidden truth. Then again, there is no single form of journalism so the separate description is understandable. But let's be
honest: there is a qualitative difference between investigative journalism and all the other editorial matter that appears in newspapers.
It is the highest form of journalism, pure journalism, real journalism, the reason journalists exist. At their best, investigative journalists serve
the public interest by revealing secrets, exposing lies (and liars), uncovering uncomfortable facts, evading censorship and, sometimes, risking their
lives to act as eyewitnesses to events. Its greatest exponents are muckrakers with a conscience working to that age-old dictum: "News is something
someone somewhere doesn't want published - all the rest is advertising".
By its nature, investigative journalism usually involves writing against the grain, confronting the prevailing political orthodoxy and often
subverting it. Inevitably, investigative reporters are treated with suspicion, sometimes hostility. They tend to be lone wolves who suffer
marginalisation, branded at best eccentrics, accused at worst of being traitors, in order to demean and degrade what they write and broadcast.
John Pilger, who has chosen this first-rate selection of investigative articles from some of the world's best reporters, is a classic example of the
marginalisation process. For years he has been subjected to persistent abuse, in Britain and his native Australia, aimed at undermining his work.
He is undoubtedly a prickly character. As an editor once remarked, only a little unfairly, he is a hero until you know him. But to appreciate Pilger
one has to put aside one's petty, personal views and consider his substantial body of reportage over 35 years, in Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor,
Burma and Palestine. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Even if one disagrees with his political viewpoint, which tends to attribute all the globe's evils to the hegemonic power of the United States, the
suffering he has highlighted and the corruption he has exposed demand not only compassion but a commitment to act. I am happy to praise him, despite
his forthright criticism of my greatest journalistic mistake - the false accusation against Arthur Scargill that he misused miners' strike funds when
I was editor of the Daily Mirror - which he repeats in this book.
That aside, there is so much rich material to appreciate in this anthology of 30 writers that it is impossible to mention it all. It includes the work
of Martha Gellhorn, Jessica Mitford, James Cameron, Edward Said, Seymour Hersh and the inimitable Gunter Wallraff. Among many gems from the past, few
shine as brightly as Ed Murrow's CBS broadcasts attacking McCarthyism in a period when many American liberal journalists ran for cover.
Similarly, Wilfred Burchett's path-breaking report from Hiroshima, which revealed to the world the truth about post-nuclear radiation sickness,
stands out. He defied the American military authorities to visit the city and proved that the official US line - that the sickness was "Japanese
propaganda" - was a lie. We should note that Burchett's article was published in the Daily Express, a paper more reactionary now than it was under
Pilger has chosen a stunning piece by Linda Melvern, from her disturbing book about the Rwandan genocide, and an equally heart-breaking section from
Anna Politkovskaya's book about Russia's war on Chechnya. Politkovskaya is a fearless investigative reporter who continues to show immense bravery,
having survived two attempts on her life.
Another brave woman is Amira Hass, the Israeli correspondent who went in 1993 to live among the Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Strip. Here is a
reporter despised by many, probably most, people in her own country, but who believes she cannot stand by while the Israeli state persecutes a
The book is dedicated to Paul Foot, who deserves to be regarded as the doyen of British investigative journalists, and who died in July. It brings
together his various articles, in the Daily Mirror and Private Eye, about the scandal surrounding the Lockerbie bombing, a whitewash engineered by the
British and US authorities.
Pilger has devoted the final section to the war on Iraq and features the work of the Guardian's Richard Norton-Taylor, the Independent's Robert Fisk
and the freelance, Felicity Arbuthnot, who has been a regular visitor to Iraq since the 1991 Gulf war.
Another eyewitness to the horrors within Baghdad who deserves a special mention is Jo Wilding. Her description of life inside Falluja is immediate,
painful and so full of detail it demands to be read and believed. What is so interesting is that she is not an accredited journalist but what Pilger
calls "one of a new breed of 'citizen reporters". He argues that she represents a new "unofficial" media, on the web as well as in small
circulation independent papers and radio stations. The bloggers could well be the mainstay of investigative reporting in future, telling it like it is
simply by being there.
They will certainly help us to know more but there will always be a need for the diggers, the professionals who know how to rake the muck. his book
will surely spur a new generation of investigative journalists to do just that.