moments defined Atlantic LNG’s inaugural Editors dinner held at Hilton
Trinidad last week. Both chilling. Two bristling shocks in a wide, bright
mirror reflecting the terror under which we live.
catalyst was Atlantic LNG’s keynote speaker, Carl Bernstein, one of the
most famous reporters in the last century, half of the Pulitzer
prize-winning duo of investigative journalists who cracked the Watergate
scandal in 1972 leading to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in
first moment was particularly menacing because it came at a timeless
universal ritual of grace. A softly lit room, the hum of conversation,
laughter, lips stained with wine, the assembling and dismantling of little
when Atlantic LNG’s Government and Public Affairs manager Esther Le
Gendre took the podium, we looked expectant, waiting for the introduction
to a journalist who has shaped American history, brought down a president.
in our evening dresses and suits, the light catching on a woman’s
earrings, a wineglass tipped to the waiter, in that moment of grace before
dinner, we got safety instructions in the event of an emergency.
Ms Le Gendre spoke at length of the position of the exits, the alarm
systems, our faces changed from bemusement (were we on an aircraft?) to
discomfort, panic. Terror found its way into that room.
the exact way that terror a bomb struck St James last Friday near a pub,
in a district that represents with its mosque, church, doubles and roti
vendors and rumshops, its mix of African, Indian, Chinese, Syrian,
European inhabitants, the core of Trinidad.
bright, lively place where anyone from lawyers to workmen stopped off to
chill out, to absorb the mix of music shooting from boxes on either side
of the road. That’s where terror struck. When it was least expected.
victims were ordinary people still innocent enough to venture out in the
evening believing that they were not kidnap or robbery material. They were
wrong. We were reminded once again that terror is mindless, without cause
were drawn out of our uneasy state back into the present by our keynote
speaker, a large veteran American journalist conveying the right mix of
irreverence and passion. Mr Bernstein reminded us journalists that ours
was a vocation rather than a job, warned us to stay clear of the “idiot
media culture” of celebrity and sensationalism.
hammered home our duty. We are not merely mouthpieces for council meetings
and sod-turnings. We are “the institution of the last resort, the
keepers of the public good.”
is a duty and a vocation. “Follow the money,” Bernstein said. “Rape
of the public good has to do with money. Always assume public officials
are not telling the truth and dig and dig until you get the best version
of the truth.”
should know. In 1972 Bernstein and his colleague Robert Woodward
discovered a link between the break-in at the Democratic National
Committees headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington and the
duo knocked on 300 doors night and day until they got at the truth.
burglary was orchestrated by high-ranking officials of the Nixon
administration to re-elect the President. The bag of political dirty
tricks of the White House was revealed, including wiretapping, burglary,
and disruption of Democratic Party activities.
brings me to the second moment of horror. “Any questions?” asked
Bernstein. Silence. That initial ten-second silence was deafening.
Bernstein broke it by observing he had never encountered such a silent
group of journalists.
asked questions eventually, but tentatively, I’m ashamed to say.
a film in fast-forward frames of hundreds of images ran through my head.
Of brutal assassinations, of hit men, of headless bodies, of ghost gangs,
of corrupt ministers, of kidnappings, extremist Islamic groups, police
corruption, state racism. No room for merit in this state of lawless
criminal and political patronage.
is not a physical muzzle but the worst kind: self-censorship. No one wants
to be cut out by the State, by lawless forces, by big business owners.
Follow the money and you’re dead in Trinidad, Mr Bernstein.