Everyone should really wonder what it takes today to become a reporter, and what a person really does, once he or she is hired. While the profession always speaks so highly of what it takes to become one, and so glowingly of what individual ones like Paul Foot, Duncan Campbell, and Peter Taylor have achieved, their followers still seem to be totally unprepared for what they are supposed to do, and unwilling to do little more than crank out the most superficial stories when called upon - achieving much less than the proverbial hacks of the golden age of journalism a century ago.
Of course, there are all kinds of parochial limitations on any reporter, as I learned when I last worked as one. You would have thought being a sport editor of a small weekly would have been a most unrestricted job where one was free to report events as one saw fit, but you would be wrong.
When I questioned how the football coaches were managing the players of the local high school team, I was told to just be a cheerleader. And when I continued to question their performance, the editor arranged for some else to cover the games. When I became interested in what a nationally-known sports writer nearby was saying about a continuing basketball scandal at North Carolina State, I was told that he lived over the town line where the publishing company had another paper, and to forget about it. Then there was a similar conclusion to a damage suit that the lacrosse coach of a neighboring town brought against the one who coached the local team after a game resulted in a melee in which he had a tooth knocked out.
When I finally quit in frustration, and left the States, I was informed of what a former British visitor to the town for a year wrote for The Independent after she returned to Britain. She has most concerned about how the local high school was run overall, and stated so in no uncertain terms. I thought that the editor would be interested in the assessment, and would at least say something about it in the hope of improving conditions, only to be told, after I persisted in the matter, the old refrain from the Vietnam War: "Love it or leave it!"
This all comes to mind when reading stories about the assassination of Jim Gray, the
former brigadier of the East Belfast company of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who was shot five times a few days ago by two masked gunmen when he returned to his father's house in the Knockwood Park area of the city. The most colorful Gray had been removed from his post for drug-dealing, it seems, in the spring, and was out on bail while awaiting trial for alleged money-laundering - what many suspected he would escape from by telling tales on the criminal activities of his former friends.
The picture in the press was universally of an aged godfather, falling foul with his former criminal associates, as this sample of reporting shows:
"There is a long tradition within the UDA, especially in East Belfast, of internecine warfare." - The Boston Globe.
"One source close to the UDA said there had been allegations circulating that Gray had been passing information to the security forces." - The Belfast Telegraph.
"There has been some talk about a big push against the UDA leadership by the security forces." - The Belfast Telegraph.
"During his terror reign, he amassed plenty of enemies, and police probing his financial affairs, former loyalist allies were desperate to silence him." - Irish Examiner.
"Jim Gray was the UDA's flamboyant east Belfast brigadier known for his 'bling' jewelry and colourful dress sense - before his terror empire came crumbling down around him." - The Belfast Telegraph.
"He pushed drugs not just in his pubs but to children. He stashed away large amounts of money." - The Independent.
"It was only a matter of time for Gray. Many believed he was prepared to tout for a lighter sentence." - News Letter.
Nowhere in the accounts was mention made of the four independent inquiries that former Canadian judge Peter Cory had recommended in which British authorities - the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Ireland Office, the Army and the security services - were suspected of having colluded with republican and loyalist paramilitaries in notorious murders. They concerned the killings of Belfast solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, the Loyalist Volunteer Force's Billy 'King Rat' Wright in the Maze Prison, and Catholic Robert Hamill in Portadown.
Regarding the horrific bombing which claimed Nelson's life at her home in Lurgan, County Armagh on March 15, 1999, the "Joint NGO Statement for an Independent Inquiry into the Killing of Human Rights Defender, Rosemary Nelson" reported: "Loyalist paramilitaries claimed responsibility for her murder." About who she was, Peter Harclerode wrote in Secret Soldiers: Special Forces in the War Against Terrorism: "A prominent figure, her support for the nationalist cause had led to her visiting Downing Street for a discussion with Prime Minister Tony Blair, and her abilities as a lawyer were such that she was respected within her profession as well as throughout the nationalist community." (p. 184)
Given Nelson's reputation, London was obliged to agree to an inquiry into her assassination when no one was even charged with the crime, much less convicted of it, especially in light of her complaints, and its failure to implement the recommendations of the UN's Special Rapporteur for protecting lawyers facing intimidation. Nelson complained before her murder that she was receiving death threats which the Royal Ulster Constabulary refused to investigate, much less take seriously, preferring instead to harass and intimidate her itself. And the Northern Ireland Office neither worked to insure her safety nor to implement the Special Rapporteur's recommendations.
Last November, Secretary of State Paul Murphy established an independent inquiry to investigate her murder despite the limitations the new legislation imposed upon it, and agreed to the expansion of its mandate to include not only collusion by the RUC and NIO but also the British Army and the security services. The panel is chaired by Sir Anthony Morland, the judge who presided over the trial of the two youths who murdered the Bulger boy, assisted by Sir Anthony Burden and Dame Valerie Strachan. For the past six months, it has been investigating Nelson's murder, and is scheduled to hold public hearings shortly.
Gray's assassination has blown a great big hole in what was being attemped, as he obviously knew the most about what happened to Nelson, if he and his men did not actually carry it out themselves. Gray was the most important UDA brigadier still on the loose at the time, and was deeply committed to getting the Republicans who had assassinated Wright two years before in prison. Nelson had represented many of them, especially Padraig Wilson, before they were themselves imprisoned, and so she was clearly the best target available.
Moreover, Gray knew what happened to brigadiers who did not take getting PIRA Council members seriously enough. Back in 1988 when Wilson and others were still on the loose, East Belfast brigadier Jim Pratt Craig was suspected, along with the UDA's intelligence chief and Force Research Unit mole Brian Nelson, of not doing enough to get them. Nelson was subjected to violent interrogation by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) for answers, and while he passed, Craig did not when his turn came. The UDA, convinced that he had worked with Wilson through intermediary Tommy McCreery to kill various loyalists, especially the infamous Lennie Murphy, shot him dead on October 15, 1988.
Now there will be no tales from Gray, thanks to the Police Service of Northern Ireland not providing him any protection, and their predecessors in the RUC and the occupants of Downing Street, past and present, can breathe a bit better. And the press can continue its cub reporter work.