Point of order

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‘THIS is the story, and the other bits come afterwards!’

During 39 years in journalism our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry, was always told to seize on the point of a story, and order the facts correctly, but these iron rules appear to be missing in impenetrable reports about the fumbled election of a Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in America, when this is, in fact, a highly significant event. 

Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, the importance of experience in the job, and made clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

“In clear and simple terms, it was said….”

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.

 

Mrs Jones in Rhyl should be able to understand the story

It was always hammered into me, that the views of Mrs Jones in Rhyl must be respected.

SHE represents your audience, I was told, and will realise in looking at the story the importance of not using a big word when a small one will do, avoiding sub-clauses as well as gobbledygook, or irrelevant names.

Most important of all Mrs Jones will grasp the centrality of SEEING THE POINT!

SHE should be able to understand it.

Reading the reports should be child’s play, but isn’t!

However these key principles appear to be sadly lacking in reports today about an event, which is, actually, extremely significant – the extraordinary and long drawn-out election as speaker in the US House of Representatives of Republican Kevin McCarthy.

He finally got his job after succeeding in the 15th vote following chaotic scenes in Congress (winning fewer than half the House members) only because five in his own party withheld their ballots, and didn’t support Mr McCarthy as leader, but didn’t back another contender either.

Kevin McCarthy engaged in tense exchanges

After the 14th round, a tense exchange ensued, with Mr McCarthy being seen walking to the back of the chamber and confronting another Representative, who did not vote for him.

A hostile back and forth took place after Mr McCarthy approached him, while a number of Republican lawmakers began to crowd round them.

‘Stay civil…’

Another, who DID back Mr McCarthy in the vote, appeared to lunge in the direction of where a further Republican hold-out was sitting, but was held back by other members.

“Stay civil”, someone was heard shouting.

Chaotic scenes erupted in the US legislature

A different supporter of Mr McCarthy, was also seen grabbing an opponent around the mouth, but it was unclear what the argument was about.

Not since 1860 in the build-up to the American civil war has the lower chamber of Congress voted this many times to pick a speaker. Then it took 44 rounds of ballots.

However, despite what has been an INCREDIBLE story, descriptions about it seem to belong more to an A-level examination on the political constitution of America, and are totally baffling.

Mrs Jones would be left scratching her head, when the information is meant to be so easy that even a child should be able to read it!

What’s this all about?!

This, for example, is one of the earlier BBC stories: “Political observers in Washington have begun spinning out various theories about how this all could end. Their predictions to the BBC ranged from the feasible (Mr McCarthy holds out and wins, but walks away seriously weakened) to the entirely possible (he bows out and backs his second in command, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana). One suggestion verged on fantasy (five Republicans decide to vote for Mr Jeffries, a Democrat, and deliver him control of the House)”.

Reports could have been written here!

Here’s another one, from a different corporation reporter: “Don Bacon, a centrist Republican from Nebraska, has previously expressed an openness to working with Democrats to elect a compromise speaker if Mr McCarthy fails. Fred Upton, a former Republican congressman from Michigan with moderate credentials, has expressed an openness to presenting himself as a coalition pick (there is no requirement that a speaker has to be a current member of Congress)”.

What’s going on?!

This was The Guardian’s take during last week’s extraordinary saga:  “Another one of McCarthy’s detractors, congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado, nominated congressman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma for the ninth ballot. Hern, the chair of the Republican study committee, received the support of several members in the final three rounds of voting, even as he himself stayed in McCarthy’s corner. Gaetz flipped from supporting Trump to Hern for the ninth and 10th votes”.

Get your tongue around this!

Then, when Mr McCarthy actually assumed his role, it was: “Following an unsuccessful 12th and 13th ballot on Friday, Republicans voted to adjourn until later that evening, with only six Republicans still opposed to McCarthy’s candidacy. McCarthy used that time to ​lobby the ​half-dozen remaining​ holdouts​, eventually finding a way to break the impasse. Without votes to spare, the delay also allowed two McCarthy’s allies, Ken Buck of Colorado and Wesley Hunt of Texas, time to return Washington to cast ballots for him”.

‘Have you heard what happened in America?!’

Would Mrs Jones take on board these arcane facts, or CARE about the people involved?!

Even the most complex story should be made relevant and simple, so everyone can understand it – that is a journalist’s job.

The reality is that this is extremely notable, and it affects us all.

Under House of Representative rules, no business can be done, no business considered or committees assembled, until a speaker has been elected.

No business could be done – the world’s most powerful country was in gridlock…

The office holder does not just lead half of the legislative branch of the American government; he or she is next in line to the presidency after the Vice-President.

Despots who do not have proper democracy (like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping), might be emboldened, and must be rubbing their hands in glee at this failure of the democratic process in the world’s most powerful country.

It shows, too, that the Republican Party is still in thrall to Donald Trump (despite him writing disingenuously on social media at one point: “VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,”), and the nonsense he stands for, so it is prepared to tear itself apart as a result, rather than enter mainstream politics.

However, in some pieces Mr Trump WASN’T EVEN MENTIONED!

Power to my people!

These things, though, matter because they represent a crisis of modern conservatism, and they are bad for EVERYONE.

Forget all the stuff about it being the first time a speaker hasn’t been elected on the first ballot in 100 years, or that Mr McCarthy positively THIRSTED for the job, so he tried to cajole his poisonous rivals over to his side with concessions, but they are even more right-wing than HE is!

None of this should be at the forefront of people’s minds.

The reporters should sit down and have a cup of tea with the audience

Mrs Jones knows a thing or two, and the reporters who covered what went on could do with having a cup of tea with her!

 

Phil’s memories of his remarkable decades-long award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book (including reports which were simplified with Mrs Jones in mind) ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!

Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.

Tomorrow – why a major political party accusing Wales’ biggest airport of being “a black hole of taxpayers money”, highlights how it was bought by the Welsh Government (WG) for £52 million, when a Scottish equivalent was purchased for just £1.