by Robin Montano
When I first qualified as a lawyer I was taught a great trick in cross examination: put a question to a witness in such a way that no matter how he answered he would effectively admit whatever it was that you were trying to get out of him. A classic example of this type of questioning is: ‘are you still beating your wife?’ If the witness answers “yes” then, of course, you have him. But if he answers “no” then there is a clear inference that he used to beat her, just that he doesn’t do so any more. In other words you will catch him no matter what he answers!
Veteran Express reporter Camini Marajh sent a list containing some 40 questions to Mr. Jack Warner, the Minister of National Security, last week Wednesday. Both the tenor as well as the content of all of the questions lead the reader in absolutely no doubt that the reporter is in possession of certain information that is potentially extremely damaging to the erstwhile National Security Minister. But some of the questions are also “are you still beating your wife” questions. Take, for example, question no. 13:
“Much has been said about your (Warner’s) role in facilitating the May 2011 cash-for-vote
affair. Two investigatory hearings, FIFA Ethics Committee and CAS, found “credible
evidence” that directly connects you to the cash. In fact, the undisputed evidence places the
cash in your government office on the afternoon of May 10.. Can you please tell me about
the circumstances leading to the presence of a suitcase full of cash in your old Minister of
Works office in London Street in Port of Spain? Comment also on the view that your
conduct in this matter was an abuse of the public’s trust.”
Now, just taking this one question as an example, what impression do you get from it? The impression that I get is : (a) That it is an absolute fact that a suitcase full of cash was found in Mr. Warner’s office;
(b) That this is not only an absolute fact but it is also undisputed, which means (inter alia) that
Mr. Warner admits this;
(c) That there is a public perception that this was an abuse of the public’s trust; and
(d) That the reporter believes that Mr. Warner is a crook of the highest order, just that
she isn’t saying this so bluntly.
I am not aware, for example, that Mr. Warner has ever admitted that a bundle of cash was found in his office! Indeed, a question immediately arises as to who found it and what did he do about it? And if he did nothing, then why not? Why didn’t he do something? Is this “undisputed fact” really a fact? Next, why should Mr. Warner talk to the reporter if she clearly believes that he is a crook? Is there anything that he can do or say to change her mind which appears to be already made up? The same, or similar comments can be made about the other 39 questions. And I am not here going to deal with the Express pretending that Mr. Warner had not replied to Ms. Marajh. That in itself is yet another example of not being entirely honest or straight forward. At best, it’s claim that Mr. Warner did not reply was a half truth … and half truths are often more dangerous than lies.
Mr. Warner’s rather elegant reply to the reporter was in essence: I don’t trust you to report accurately or honestly on anything that I might say and as a result I ain’t talkin’ to you or your newspaper. You all are not honest in your reporting and in any case I don’t have to tell you diddleysquat!
Well, in this Mr. Warner is absolutely correct. The Express has been less than honest or straight forward in its reporting on the activities (or non-activities) of various Government Ministers (the “big” news about the non ownership of a Rolls Royce motor car comes to mind) and honestly, if Mr. Warner were my client (and he is NOT) I would have advised him not to answer anything that the Express were to ask for precisely that reason, i.e., that their reporting and commentary is biased and that they will obviously use anything he says to them to hang him.
But, (and it is a big “BUT”) the public interest is clearly not being served here at all. The accusations and rumors swirling around Mr. Warner’s head are very serious and cannot and ought not to be ignored or pushed aside. We, the public, deserve to have answers to the many, many questions that are swirling around. We need to know whether or not there really is a fire or just some very good smoke making machines. And here is where a free and honest press comes in. It does not help when an accusation is made by someone who is clearly biased. (There are very few divorced men or women, for example, whose ex wives or ex husbands will say that they are great guys or girls, as the case may be. But, the truth is that some of them are! Some of them aren’t!). The obvious bias that pervades the pages of both the newspapers, especially the Express, against the government makes any person within the government understandably gun shy of talking to reporters. They never know how their words are going to be twisted. The government is not guilty of trying to muzzle the press or to interfere with its freedom. In any case, the press is free to twist things any way it likes within the boundaries of libel, and to report or not report on anything that it likes. But when it acts in a patently biased manner and consistently twists its reporting in a manner that is essentially dishonest (e.g. the Rolls Royce story) then certainly the victims of the biased reporting are not only within their rights not to speak to the offending media, but would be well advised not to do so.
The obvious war that the media (and the Express in particular) has declared on the government ought to be brought to an early end. From my viewpoint, this war is not doing the country any good at all.
Please do not interpret what I have said here as in any way being a defence of either Jack Warner or the government. It is not meant to be. It is simply an effort to bring things back to the centre. Every government … every political party … needs the press to get its message out. Every newspaper needs the politicians in order to get stories to put in its pages in order to sell its papers. The relationship doesn’t have to be cordial. In fact, it probably works best when there is a certain slight hostility or distrust. But there does have to be a certain honesty and respect from both sides. And therein lies the problem: the press clearly doesn’t respect the government nor has it been honest in its reporting about the government. As a start, perhaps the press could “set the re-set button” and go back to honest reporting. Either that, or come out honestly and admit that it has in fact declared war on the present administration and intends to do all in its power to bring the government down. But we really can’t continue like this. It can only lead to trouble … and we have enough problems on our plate already!