Trinity Makes a Killing, Journalists Make a Name
XAVIER HETHERINGTON questions the motivations of the Tab journalists behind exposing Trinity’s investments.
There isn’t really anything which qualifies me to write this. I don’t know how the stock market works or the ins-and-outs of Anglo-American ethical records, or the nuances of Cambridge’s obligations to its students and the wider world. I just want to expound a suspicion.
The clearly extensive research behind the Tab’s recent Trinity Making a Killing article was very admirable and it is plain that months of work have gone and will go into the investigation of dodgy college investments. After an argument with the author of the article about his motivations for writing it, he invited me to comment on it publicly. Whilst I cannot fault the research he and others put into the piece and whilst I cannot defend the various mentioned companies from the damning revelations of their crimes, I can perhaps place these investigations and the subsequent writings in some sort of context.
Nowadays, transparency seems to be the virtue held most highly by society; whistle-blowers have become something equivalent to modern martyrs and we feel a great debt to the journalists who expose the corrupt secrets of society and strive to make the powerful accountable.
We should feel indebted; greed and corruption are slow growers in broad daylight. Whilst it must be noted that the Leveson inquiry showed the world of journalism occasionally to be the greatest perpetrator of the sins it loves to expose, on the whole we feel the media is on the side of ‘the common man’. Indeed the moral media temperament is firmly geared towards a sense of socialist justice. We – ‘the public’ or ‘the taxpayer’ (though I doubt many reading this will be claiming that title just yet) are venerated in the media and portrayed as wildly indignant almost all of the time, be it about the MPs’ expenses scandal or the fact that Starbucks wasn’t paying any tax or about the “bloody bankers!” Phrases such as ‘costing thousands of pounds of tax-payers money’ or ‘the fury of the paying public’ are well worn. Maybe things will change when I get a job and begin to pay tax, but as things stand now, I have never been anywhere near as personally affronted as the media suggests I and everyone else should be at any of these scandals.
The fury is directed downwards as well as up and has fostered a disturbing public resentment for anyone on benefits, in turn giving rise to television shows such as We Pay Your Benefits – watch it, it’s so nasty it gives Jeremy Kyle a run for his money. There is something feverish about the reporting of scandals which doesn’t quite match what we observe in the feelings of individuals. It is a torch and pitchfork sentiment which taps into the contemporary thirst for controversial revelation. Trinity Making a Killing, the investigation and the articles surrounding it had just a hint of this unpleasant sensationalism.
Quite apart from the more obvious objections to the article – that it bit the Cantabrigian hand that feeds, and paid no attention to the fact that you would be hard pressed to find anyone unsullied by the dirty web of capitalism – it can be confidently said that the article had a propensity to moral bludgeoning. It told us the number of people who died from drone strikes in the past nine years. Of course it did. Despite the fact that evidence for the inaccuracy of drone strikes (the criticism most loudly levelled at them) is inconclusive at best, they are used as a symbol of imperialist and despotic violence associated with American violation of foreign sovereignty. What pertinent symbolism for the thrust of the article.
A separate number for child fatalities was provided. This had a strong resemblance to the US Secretary of State’s special mention of the 426 child deaths in the Syrian gas attacks last August, when he spoke of military action in Syria. In both instances, the separate mention of child mortalities thrown in for shock was gratuitous and ugly. This wasn’t a one-off however, The Republic of Congo was qualified in the article by the epithet – ‘where more have died than in any other post-WWII conflict’. This, firstly and rather weirdly, made the Congo sound like a conflict rather than a country, and secondly was included seemingly in the hope that some of the cause of the Congo’s nightmarish death rates might rub off onto Trinity by proxy. General Katanga (a rebel leader in the Congo and bribe by an Anglo American subsidiary) was in turn vividly described as a man responsible for ‘ involvement in killings,use of child-soldiers and sexual enslavement.’ The trivialisation of these atrocities for the sake of strengthening the point was appalling to read and part cause for the misgivings I had about the writer’s motivations.
Although it would be nice to believe that journalists pen such articles entirely in a bid to further justice and improve the lives of people around the world, rhetorical devices like these within the context of a media-wide scandal-fetish make one wonder whether they aren’t just looking for some ‘explosive revelations’.