As an antidote to the continuing Trump-manufactured imbroglio in the United States over ‘fake news’, word arrives that an investigative journalist in Malta, one Daphne Caruana Galizia, a gadfly of that island’s political class, has been assassinated, blown up by a car bomb.
She is by no means the first of her profession to suffer a sudden violent death while chasing a story. It is as certain as dawn breaking tomorrow that she will not be the last.
The circumstances of her death remain unclear but her accusations against corrupt politicians and their underworld friends were perfectly lucid and almost certainly true. The rotten state of affairs which she deplored and was intent on exposing was expressed in language both unequivocal and heart-wrenchingly pithy: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate”.
Apart from specific cases of corruption, she was aghast at what she called a ‘culture of impunity’, which in Malta allows villains to flourish without fear of prosecution because the island’s legal establishment is controlled by the government and so beholden to it. The State, recently separated from the Church, has married the Mob on the rebound.
I have no idea just how desperate things are in Malta, but I’m more prepared to believe Galizia’s view of events than the one peddled by the dodgy politicians and their allies – the shadowy Russians, Mafia money launderers and drug traffickers with which that tiny island is, according to her and other accounts, now infested.
The President of the United States has no connection to scandals in Malta, as far as is known, and Donald Trump has been – appropriately for once – silent on the matter. But if Galizia had been writing her copy from New York City rather than Valletta I have no doubt that his press secretary would by now have dismissed the charges in the same scornful tones with which she has dished other media attempts to get to the truth; in his case, contacts with Russians by his campaign managers, if not by Trump himself, and since then all other criticism of his general conduct while in office.
From this White House emanates a metronomic drumbeat of charges related to the absurdly impractical proposition that there exists ‘out there in media land’ a sinister movement of dishonest, biased or plain incompetent journalists, prejudiced news presenters and antagonistic press proprietors intent on bringing down his presidency by fair means or foul.
Similar language is now predictably being deployed from the office of Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, including a denial of the specific charge that a Panama-based company beneficially owned by his wife received one million dollars from a shady outfit in Azerbaijan. Denials of similar but unrelated charges have been issued by the office of the opposition leader, Adrian Delia.
It is, to me, a constant mystery why voters anywhere who profess to hate corrupt politicians and resent a lazy and self-serving Establishment seem even less well disposed to a media that has always seen its role as exposing both. There was once a union of sorts between press and voters, admittedly an imperfect one and not without its ups and downs. But Trump hopes to triumph by driving a permanent wedge between those former partners. He has not yet succeeded in “draining the swamp”, as he calls this reforming exercise, but he has made significant progress. And who is to say that he won’t, given enough time and sufficient leeway, achieve his objective?
All I can say is that if the people now running Washington are in charge of draining the swamp, there is a strong argument for retaining it, if only on environmental grounds.
Inevitably, in discussing matters of press freedom, one reverts to quoting Joseph Goebbels, who in an earlier century represented another administration that did not take kindly to criticism. “A lie told once remains a lie,” he asserted, “but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”
And he and his master did not have access to social media.
The lie that the American media is collectively and in intimate collaboration peddling fake news designed to bring down an administration may not have been issued a thousand times, but it has been issued often enough to persuade many across the Republic that it is the truth.
In Malta, only people like Daphne Caruana Galizia stand between democratic authority and mob rule. As sad as her death must be for her family, it is a salutary one for the rest of us, under whatever fragile democracy we may reside.