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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 11. 22 July 1970

Getting a fair go in New Zealand — or: — The Editor of Salient is a Miserable Young Prick

Getting a fair go in New Zealand


The Editor of Salient is a Miserable Young Prick

Fresh from correcting Tom Stacey's errors of fact in Salient 8, law lecturer Gerald Bowden sails into our American supplement. "Would it be presumptuous," he asks, "to suppose that this litany of America's apostasy and degeneration is the manifestation of some sort of Napoleonic inferiority complex?" We don't know. However we're grateful to Mr Bowden for his article and also for his suggested headline (which we've used despite some reservations about its suitability for a newspaper such as Salient.)

A retired grade B movie actor once considered a line from the film King's Row to be so expressive that he chose it as the title for his autobiography. The scene was a hospital operating recovery room. Staring down at his amputated legs (he protagonist uttered with all the melodramatic anguish he could muster, "Where is the rest me?" An American's reaction to the anthology "Salient looks at America: dying or merely insane?" can only be "where is the rest of it? Where is the other America?"

That there is another America there Can be no doubt. Salient's dogged refusal to acknowledge the existence of this 'other America', on the other hand, raises considerable doubt. The doubt concerns Salient's motives in choosing to portray America in such deprecatory and pejorative terms.

Visitors to New Zealand are constantly struck by the sense of fair play and sportsmanship which seems to infuse its people. It is perhaps for this reason that displays of unfairness stand out as starkly uncharacteristic. The Salient view of America is a graphic example of the sort of propagandistic unfairness which Americans normally expect to find in less egalitarian countries.

In New Zealand one expects more. Perhaps Robert MacIver had the kindest explanation of this when he said "the only things we know as immutable truths are the things we do not understand." No one has the right to expect saintly objectivity, but everyone has the right to at least a token presentation of both sides of the issue. America's warts and moles are visible enough. It has never been one to hide its own blemishes. But is it useful to dwell at such length on her haemorrhoids? One wonders: what of the America which reversed the cop killing conviction of Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton on "procedural grounds." What of the America which more than tripled the Russian contribution for Rumanian flood relief? What of the American Peace Corps? Indeed what of the America which tolerates the sort of dissent described in the Salient view of America? Has dope addiction been made a prerequisite for U.S. citizenship? Are people like Kingman Brewster and Senator Fulbright not Americans too? What of the other America? This was an America conspicuous only by its absence.

One cannot but wonder why this 'other America' was so carefully ignored. The temptation is strong to read this to be as much a commentary on New Zealand society as a critique of America. One is tempted to explain this evident need to demean in psychoanalytic terms. Would it be presumptuous to suppose that this litany of America's apostacy and degeneration is the manifestation of some sort of Napoleonic inferiority complex? Perhaps that would be unfair. But is it rendered wholly implausible by Salient's dogmatic and preconceived thesis? Salient tipped its hand, after all, when it condensed its message into the pellucid headline: "America, dying or merely insane?" There are apparently no alternatives.

However, if epistemology will permit only these two explanations of the American phenomenon, we are less constrained when it comes to Salient. Indeed, the permutations on good old fashioned xenophobia, chauvinism and unabashed ethnocentrism are truly cosmic. But surely such an analysis, superficially tempting as it may be, is as one-sided as the Salient view of America itself. It is unfair not so much for what it says as for what it leaves unsaid. It leaves unexamined the entire cultural matrix in which both Salient and its readers exist.

Swimming cartoon

"Looks like we can't expect to find much in that direction."

When viewed in this broader context, one notes a series of paradoxes. The contradictions are as numerous as they are revealing. For starters, we note that the same issue of Salient which gave the world Uncle Sam disguised as Simon Legree, also gave us a slice of New Zealand. While Salient was content to play the reportorial scrivener when dealing with New Zealand, it felt an irresistible itch to import copious bits of trenchant criticism when dealing with America.

The front pages were given over to detailed accounts of events surrounding the All Black tour demonstrations. It could have been noted that had the events chronicled in those pages taken place in America, the result would have been quite different. In America, for example, the rights of assembly and protest are significantly broader than those in New Zealand. Once arrested, American defendants have numerous other rights not available to their New Zealand counterparts. Perhaps the explanation for Salient's failure to draw these obvious parallels can best be explained in terms of Salient's peculiar insistence that this 'other America' does not exist.

It may, on the other hand, reflect nothing more than a reluctance to indulge in social introspection. This understandable reluctance, however, did not inhibit Salient's eagerness to reprint selectively culled samples of American self-criticism totally unadorned by balance, context, qualification, or by any elaboration of its own. Bob Scheer's words were given to us from on high-rather like the Mosaic Tablets sand stone. That may not have bothered the Editor of Salient, but for those of us who know Bob Scheer this is a bit much.

Why mince words. Lopsided reporting is irresponsible regardless of the subject. This, to use an American idiom, is nothing less than yellow journalism. You can deliver, and your readers deserve, better.