Tuesday, July 17, 2018

We drove out, past the couple of local cops, having no idea what the hell we’d done, and wondering if we were in trouble.

An entertaining story from Dave Freer, illustrating the fragile veracity of "news". From Unreliable witnesses.
“It’s all a question of point of view.”

Back in the dark ages – 1980’s in South Africa the BBC Radio News reported on a labor dispute/picket protest led by the ANC aligned organizers in a fishing town up the West Coast of the Cape. The picket line had been savagely broken up by the police with dogs (the BBC reporter of the time was a passionate promoter of the anti-apartheid cause, and as his media was not within the country could report whatever he liked without any form of censorship.) The local Afrikaans press reported on the incident too. There wasn’t a lot to report on from one horse towns on the West Coast, and the Cape Town Riot squad dispersing a protest with dogs was news, if not big news. The one set of media carried it from their point of view as a bad thing, and the other as a good thing.

Now, as it happens I was – quite inadvertently – there, along with my pregnant wife. I wasn’t protesting, or with the police. I was just at the tail end of a long sampling trip, collecting shark vertebrae and gut contents –as well as measurements of said sharks – at various fish processing plants up the west coast. I was a very broke research scientist, and paying dog-sitters or putting our two hounds (a sloppy bull-terrier x keeshond cross and a dim-witted but loveable Old English Sheepdog) in kennels was just an expense that couldn’t be met. So they traveled with us, sleeping in the back of the truck. They loved the trips. My wife used to record for me – as it was a bloody, slimy, smelly dirty job, making writing difficult while you were doing it. Now, typically – as we were taking nothing of value, fish processors were quite obliging about us sampling the catch – as long as we didn’t get in the way. In this particular fishing town, that meant starting really early on the previous night’s landings, before work started. The track to the shark plant was a narrow alley next to and around the corner from the main only large employer in the town – they dealt with pilchards and anchovies.

We got there in the dark and had worked hard for several hours, and, tired, smelly, bloody and laden with sample buckets of vertebrae sections, (for age and grown studies) were glad to be heading for a coffee and giving the dogs a run before heading home. The dogs of course knew the pattern and were hyper with ‘walk-delight’, as always.

So: Barbara driving we headed around the corner and into the midst of a whole bunch of people. My dogs – confined to the back canopy — were barking. They were already excited for their walk and liked to tell the world… My wife, being herself, hooted and drove slowly towards the protestors –all we wanted was out of there… And, to be honest, we couldn’t actually turn around – and the sea was behind us.

Now, whether the protestors got freaked the idea that cops were somehow behind them, or just the noise of the two dogs was enough – people scattered in all directions running and screaming. We drove out, past the couple of local cops, having no idea what the hell we’d done, and wondering if we were in trouble.

A friend later told me the Cape Town Riot squad (we were about 2 hours away from the city) showed up about an hour and half after this, and were somewhat peeved at being called out for nothing.

The news media reported the event from their point of view. The essential facts were in a way true. A protest had been broken up by dogs. The riot squad had come up from Cape Town. The rest was the story that they wanted to tell their audience. They, or their sources, may have actually believed their version of events. Who knows? But I gave up on believing their reportage was overly accurate after that.

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