By: DEBRA GERSH HERNANDEZ
WHILE CRITICS OF the press would readily agree that news and fiction writing have a lot in common, author Salman Rushdie means it as a compliment.
The “ultimate goal,” he said, “of both factual and fictional writing is the truth, attitude, spin. We read not for raw data . . . but to get a ‘take’ on the news that we like.
“Now that the broadcasting media fulfill the function of being first with the news, newspapers, like novels, have entered the realm of the imagination. They both provide versions of the world,” Rushdie told those gathered for the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Washington.
“It is for the novelist to create, communicate and sustain over time a personal and coherent vision of the world that entertains, interests, stimulates, provokes and nourishes its readers,” Rushdie continued.
“It is for the newspaper editor to do very much the same thing with the pages at his disposal. In that specialized sense ? and let me emphasize that I mean this as a compliment ? we are all in the fiction business now,” he said, adding that, “Sometimes, of course, the news in newspapers seems fictive in a less complimentary sense.”
The British royal family, for example, “have had their characters invented for them by the British press,” Rushdie said.
“And such is the power of the fiction that the flesh-and-blood royals have become more and more like their print personae, unable to escape the fiction of their imaginary lives.”
Rushdie was critical of what he called the aptly named profile reporting, which he said, like one’s profile, is “flat and two dimensional.”
“Yet the images created in these curious texts ? often with their subjects’ collusion ? are extraordinarily potent,” he explained. “It can be next to impossible for the actual person to alter, through his own words and deeds, the impressions they create. And, thanks to the mighty clippings file, they are also self-perpetuating.”
Speaking from his own experience, Rushdie said being profiled “is perhaps closest to what it must feel like to be used as a writer’s raw material, what it must feel like to be turned into a fictional character, to have one’s feelings and actions, one’s relationships and vicissitudes, transformed by writing into something subtly, or unsubtly, different ? to see ourselves mutated into someone we do not recognize.”
Pointing to privacy laws in Britain and France, Rushdie said he continues “to be against laws that curtail the investigative freedoms of the press.”
“But, speaking as someone who has had the uncommon experience of becoming, for a time, a hot news story . . . it would be dishonest to deny that when my family and I have been the target of press intrusions and distortions, those principles have been sorely strained,” he said.
However, Rushdie’s “overwhelming feelings about the press are ones of gratitude,” he said, praising the “generous response” to his work, as well as the fair and civil profiles of him, in America and around the world.
“In the long unfolding of the so-called Rushdie affair, American newspapers have been of great importance in keeping the issues alive, in making sure that readers have kept sight of the essential points of principle involved, even in pressuring America’s leaders to speak out and act,” he said, thanking the editors for that, but noting, “there is more than that to thank you for.”
Rushdie noted that, “In any vision of a free society, the value of free speech must rank the highest, for that is the freedom without which all the other freedoms would fail.
“Journalists do more than most of us to protect those values; for the exercise of freedom is freedom’s best defense, and that is something you all do every day,” he said.
“It seems to me, however, that we live in an increasingly censorious age,” Rushdie said, noting that “the broad, indeed international, acceptance of Author says news and fiction writing have a lot in common ? and that’s a compliment First Amendment principles is steadily being eroded.”
One of the weapons used by those seeking to curtail free speech is the notion of respect, used by both religious extremists and minority groups, who tend to view any questioning or disagreement with their positions as a lack of respect, he explained.
“I want to suggest to you that citizens of free societies, democracies, do not preserve their freedom by pussyfooting around their fellow citizens’ opinions, even their most cherished beliefs,” he said.
“In free societies, you must have the free play of ideas. There must be argument, and it must be impassioned and untrammeled,” Rushdie commented. “A free society is not a calm and eventless place ? that is the kind of static, dead society dictators try to create.
“Free societies are dynamic, noisy,
turbulent, and full of radical disagreements. Skepticism and freedom are indissolubly linked,” he said. “And it is the skepticism of journalists, their show-me, prove-it willingness to be impressed, that is perhaps their most important contribution to the freedom of the free world.
“It is the disrespect of journalists ? for power, for orthodoxies, for party lines, for ideologies, for vanity, for arrogance, for folly, for pretension, for corruption, for stupidity ? that I would like to celebrate this morning, and that I urge you all, in freedom’s name, to preserve,” Rushdie concluded.
? (“In that specialized sense- and let me emphasize that I mean this as a compliment-we are all in the fiction business now. Sometimes, of course, the news in newspapers seems fictive in a less complimentary sense.”) [Caption]
?(-Author Salman Rushdie) [Photo & Caption]