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You're A Journalist, What Would You Do? by Clancy Sigal | ODS

Among reporters there’s an age old problem: are you a passive neutral observer or are there times 
when you should intervene in a story you’re covering?
The obvious jump off is Trump’s incitement of his followers to beat the crap out of protestors.   
He’s quite open about being turned on by the meeting hall punchups.
“Isn't a Trump rally much more exciting than these other ones?” Trump said last week 
as police escorted a protester from a rally in Massachusetts. “That kind of stuff only 
adds to the excitement.”
He smiles conspiratorially when he says this stuff.   Audiences (except for protestors) 
love it.  He’s a master of collusion between himself and his followers.  He knows 
where they live, and they admire him for knowing where they live.  Or, in their cliché,
“telling it like it is.”
But what do you do and how do you behave if you are a reporter on the Trump beat?
Firstly, you have a bullseye on your back because Trump delights in trashing the “liberal” 
(that is, all) media close to inciting the crowd to slug reporters.  It’s already happened that 
a Trump official assaulted a female journalist, ironically from a rightwing publication, 
Breitbart.  More to come.
But, leaving aside the question of are protestors feeding Trump’s flames or fulfilling a 
citizen’s obligation to help strangle a fascist movement in its cradle, if you as a journalist
are seeing someone get manhandled in front of you do you just sit and take notes and 
keep the camera going – or intervene on humanitarian grounds?
When I taught journalism strict neutrality was almost a religious principle.
Enoch Powell was once Britain’s leading “respectable” racist.  A classical Latin scholar and 
cabinet minister in a Conservative government, he put the cat among the pigeons by lashing 
out at immigrant black Britons who, he asserted in a notorious speech, by sheer numbers 
and refusal to integrate would soon overwhelm white culture.  His catch line was 
an allusion to a line in Virgil’s Aeneid. 
"As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 
'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.'"
Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech was a sensation and helped rally white 
(especially working class) racists across the nation.   It didn’t matter that his 
encouragement of race riots got him fired from the government; he became 
a folk hero for “telling it like it is”.
One night I was covering an Enoch Powell speech in the white commuter suburb of Sevenoaks 
in Kent.  The hall was packed with his supporters and the merely curious.  A fight broke out 
between an anti-racist heckler and a couple of Powellites.  Powell himself, the very last word 
in urbane sophistication, wouldn’t lower himself to openly urge on the thugs.  Not his style.  
He merely looked on with the smallest of stoic Roman smiles. 
We reporters kept scribbling while the heckler was bounced around like a soccer ball, blood flowing.  
At this point journalism was damned and humanity regained when Anthony Lewis, a New York Times 
reporter, shouldered his way from the back of the hall to physically intervene and stop the beating. 
More than that he bellowed to Powell up on the stage: “What are you doing?  You should be ashamed of yourself!”
This being England the fuss died down, the heckler retreated to clean up, the Powellites 
resumed their seats, and the speech went on.
Game called, nil nil. 
Afterwards I went up to Lewis to shake his hand.  He just looked at me.  He didn’t say it but 
his eyes did and were eloquent: “And where were you, Sigal?”