The truth is...

The truth is...

Whisky book worm Jefferson Chase looks at a different side of journalism.

Whisky & Culture | 11 Sep 2009 | Issue 82 | By Jefferson Chase

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When I'm not being a journalist for this publication, I'm a journalist for an international television station. Which means I work in the medium responsible for informing/dumbing down the majority of the population.

So I thoroughly enjoyed Michael Collins' 2000 novel The Keepers of Truth, a book that makes no secret of why our trade is sometimes referred to as the world's second oldest profession.

Narrator Bill works at a dying newspaper in a crumbling post-industrial town in the Midwestern United States. Forget any images of newsroom, burn-the-candle-at-both-end-in pursuit- of-a-story romanticism you might know from movies. Bill's job is merely rewriting second-hand info to take up space.

I'm stuck at my desk waiting for the AP wire to feed some lifeline into a paper that must now be filled each day. We don't have a war so it makes my job hard. I kind of wish we had a war. We have lots of good kids here who could die beautiful, patriotic deaths... But things are more insidious now. It's not hard to find casualties, what's hard is to get people to admit they are casualties.

Woodward and Bernstein this is not. But Bill does get a break when a local ruffian called Ronny Lawton is accused of murdering his father, then dicing and hiding the body. Our hero writes up the story. His bourbon-swilling editor is pleased.

He poured me a drink. He pawed at me in the way drunks touch other men. 'That's goddamn journalism, Chief.' That's when I first realised I had hardly written one single original word for the front page, it was all culled transcripts and pictures...rap sheets and phone conversations from Ronny Lawton to the cops.

Bill's in luck. It's a slow news summer, the story goes national, and he could be about to escape the doldrums. But only if the subject of his investigations doesn't kill him first.

Meanwhile he has to battle against depression caused in part by memories of a domineering rich grandfather, who was an icebox magnate and who drove Bill's father to kill himself.

I am now remaining fugitive to this great empire of ice. I've staved off his memory for these past few years, but there is no real escaping the stigma of a suicide. It betrays a weakness in the family's genetic heritage, a chink in our psychic armour. There is a selfdestruct button deep within us that we can get to if we want.

Collins was born in Limerick but has resided for years in the US. And if the name rings a bell, you'll be interested in knowing that he is indeed related to the Irish revolutionary whose name he shares. He's also an extreme marathon runner and a former stabbing victim.

With that colourful background, it's no wonder that The Keepers of Truth is such a vivid, uncompromising, occasionally funny look at social and personal decline.

You can almost smell the bourbon in the fictional newsroom he describes- the scent of an old journalistic tradition that, like so many other American traditions in today's mediacracy, is on the verge of becoming extinct.
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