20 February 2009

Niehaus: journos twist the knife -- and the facts

When journos get the knife in, they really twist it (and the facts), and stab again and again.

Consider this report about the former ANC spokesman

News - South Africa: Niehaus has no degree: report:
Former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus does not have a doctor's degree in theology as claimed, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to Beeld newspaper, Niehaus did not get a doctor's degree in theology from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, as he had claimed. This was during his stint as South Africa's ambassador in Den Haag.

Note that the body of the story says that he didn't have a doctors degree from Utrecht, but the headline suggests that that he has no degree at all, which seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead.

Now perhaps that is because there's a general election coming up, and the media believe that all's fair in love, war and politics. If your political opponent is down, kick, kick and kick again. If he's done one thing wrong, make it look as though he's done everything wrong, and nothing right.

Max du Preez, a well-known journalist, goes even further, and is more specific: "He lied about having a degree and a doctorate... he apparently only has a matric certificate behind his name" (Pretoria News, 19 Feb 2009).

Now when Carl Niehaus was released from prison he visited the Missiology Department at Unisa (on 26 March 1991) and all the department staff gathered in David Bosch's office to meet him. He was a student in the department, and was one of the very few to have been allowed to study for a Masters degree in prison. Willem Saayman, his supervisor, described the hoops he had to jump through to deal with all the red tape in order to visit him in prison to discuss his studies. I don't know if Carl Niehaus was ever awarded the Masters degree, summa cum laude or not, but he would certainly not have been allowed to register for such a degree at all if he had "no degree" as the media are now claiming.

On the Emerging Africa blog there is a discussion on whether the important questions today are about authority, identity, morality or something else. And I would say that at this point in our history, with a general election coming up, and all sorts of stories circulating about corruption among politicians, that morality probably tops the list. I'm as disturbed as some journalists that people in the ANC seem not only to support people who have been involved in corruption, but also to approve of their behaviour (the demonstrations in support of Tony Yengeni are a case in point). Going to jail for fighting for truth and justice is one thing, going to jail for fraud and corruption is another.

But morality is also an issue for journalists. Carl Niehaus may have lied about some of his past achievements, but some journalists have also apparently lied about Carl Niehaus.

Greed, which used to be regarded as one of the seven deadly sins, is now regarded as a virtue by many of our political leaders, and that makes morality a hot issue.

And for those of us who are neither politicians nor the journalists who write about them, St Paul's advice applies, "let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (I Cor 10:12). In ten days Great Lent begins, and we pray the prayer of St Ephraim:

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages.


Rock in the Grass (Pete Grassow) said...

I suspect that our fascination with the sins of another person is fuelled by the resonance it finds deep within our own souls. We too have lied/cheated/ whaever and are relieved to have the spotlight pointing away from us.

Steve Hayes said...


Yes, I'm sure you are right. But I think it goes beyond that. When politicians who have have fallen from grace into public disgrace repent, the media tend to mock their repentance. Think of what happened to Vlok and Profumo.

Marlene Affeld said...

Thank you for your insightful and informative post. I enjoy following your blog - always thought provoking.


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