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Review: Tell Me No Lies

Posted on October 16, 2005 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

If you've not picked it up yet, rush off to Amazon to buy the paperback version of John Pilger's Tell Me No Lies, a collection of the best of investigative journalism from the last century. Pilger has rooted around to find articles that exposed terrible injustices and secrets that are now common knowledge, thanks to the efforts of hard-working journalists. Equally importantly, they are pieces that have stood up to the unforgiving power of hindsight, which can so often reveal something that once had power as being naïve and shallow in the context of history.

It's hard to single out any one piece as being the highlight, when there's Martha Gellhorn's eye-witness accounts of Dachau, Edward R Murrow's indictment of McCarthyism (re-enacted in the forthcoming George Clooney movie Good Night and Good Luck), and Seymour Hersh's famous exposé of the massacre at My Lai. But it's at least a fitting tribute to Paul Foot that his investigation into the Lockerbie cover-up should be included in the volume.

Strangely, Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate coverage, the most famous piece of investigative journalism ever, doesn't make it into the volume because it was “detective work” and didn't “bear witness and investigate ideas”. This seems a poor excuse, although the piecemeal nature of the Watergate investigation meant that it wasn't prone to long analysis or good writing – it was just solid, outstanding news reporting.

If you don't like Pilger, this is still worth a read, since there's only one article of his in the book: Year Zero, one of his many exposures of the iniquities of Cambodian life during the 1970s. And even his greatest detractors wouldn't object to that particular piece of altruism.

Read it: it'll remind you why journalism is still important. If it stops, as Pilger's prologue hopes, anyone becoming a journalist so they can be the next 3am girl and instead points them on the same career path as Robert Fisk, et al, then all the better.

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