Beating Old Donkeys

There is a really wonderful story my father used to tell me and my sisters when we were little. It’s a story his own mother used to tell him, about a mongoose prince. It’s a long, meandering story that used to be a great way to pass the time during the extensive power cuts of my childhood in Pakistan, and it’s one of the joys of my own journey as a parent when I listen to my father tell the story to my own sons.

I won’t go through the entire story, but the rough premise is this: a prince is born to one of a king’s  nine wives, who is half mongoose, half boy. In order to see which of his nine sons will inherit his throne, the king sends the sons on a quest. Whoever returns with the most riches will be the next king.

Long story short, the mongoose prince returns to the kingdom with an old donkey and tricks his brothers into thinking that this donkey craps money when you beat it with a stick. In exchange for possession of the mystical donkey, he asks for all their treasures from their quests combined. This they do, and thus take possession of the dud donkey.

The other brothers beat and beat and beat the old donkey, but nothing comes out except piles of manure, and finally, one coin, a khotta paisa, which is difficult to translate except to say it was unusable money. Sort of like the donkey pooping out a drachma coin right at the end.

I was thinking of this story again these past two days.

As I said in my last post about my accidental and might I add very much unwanted notoriety, I got an email from a journalist at Ethnos newspaper on Thursday. The email was polite, saying the paper was writing a story on the impressions that foreign journalists had of Greece’s new finance minister to run in today’s Ethnos.

I politely declined. I wrote back a long email explaining my position, that while the coverage of my tweet to the minister had been fun and games for the tabloids, for me it had badly impacted my image as a serious journalist. If they wanted to talk to other foreign journalists in Athens for their story, I offered to put them in touch. Journalist to journalist, I thought this would get through.

To his credit, the journalist replied giving me fair warning that the chief editors were going to put me in the story any way, that they had read my blog and would be using that in their piece. I wonder why they even asked me in the first place if they’d be putting me in the story any way. I can only thank my lucky stars that I hadn’t been stupid enough to answer the questions in the email.

This was bad enough. But when I saw the context of the piece that Ethnos ran today, going something like “The journalists of the Varoufanclub chasing him for an interview!” I saw red. I was furious. I’d say this is a good approximation of my feelings when I saw the headline.

To be fair, the online version doesn’t give the whole article, so I marched to the nearest news agents and slammed a copy of Ethnos on the counter.

“EUR 4.25.”

How much? Okay, I didn’t want to find out what the article said that badly.

I thought about writing this article, because now I don’t know who is reading my blog, what they might take from it and what they might twist, but I’m not a fan of self-censoring. As it is, whether I have an opinion or not about the new finance minister, I can’t say anything in case it gets misconstrued.

I now avoid tweeting about him, or retweeting anything from him and that’s mightily difficult in a period where the main news out of Greece is economic. But I can’t sit here with people thinking I voluntarily wanted to be a part of that article when I specifically asked not to be, and was told tough luck, you’ll be in it anyway.

What business does a puff piece about the new finance minister’s “international fanclub of female admirers queuing up to talk to him” have on the front page when there is so much real news going on? It doesn’t take much digging to reveal that Ethnos has a very thinly veiled anti-Syriza stance, so they seem quite happy to go around mud-slinging and if it comes at the expense of further erroding my professional credibility, that’s all collateral damage as far as they’re concerned.

But parading non-news as news, especially more than a week after the event, only serves to make them look unprofessional.

The media likes to take a story and beat it and beat it, trying to get it to yield more, when the fact is that beyond a short window, most auxiliary news decays and is not newsworthy any more after 24 – 48 hours. For example, on Wednesday I wanted to start working on a story about where the tie that Matteo Renzi gave Alexi Tsipras came from. It’s an Italian made tie, and I could just picture some little old artisan making gorgeous hand-made ties in a backstreet of Rome. But when I woke up on Thursday to the what the ECB had done late on Wednesday night, this was no longer a story.

Do you see what I mean? You’ve had your fun, now back off. Stop beating up the donkey, there’s only manure in there.


  1. So basically, you were expecting a Greek newspaper like Ethnos to show professionalism and good taste? You do know that there are no decent newspaper in this country?

    • I’m not sure what I was expecting. But I wasn’t expecting being lied to straight to my face about the context of an article which was sold to me as a serious one, when in fact it was a load of b*llocks about the international Varoufaki fan club, featuring me when I asked to have no part in this. Cheap shots, poor journalism, they’ve turned me into tabloid fodder. Their excuse is that it’s already in the public sphere so I’m fair game. I waited to see if they’d actually do it before I wrote this post, I was worried that if I did it preemptively they’d write even stupider things. And I think you can tell, I am trying really, really hard not to let rip at them (when they deserve that, and so much and more).

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