Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I am a Reporter not a Prophet Says Alistair Cooke

A big part of Alistair Cooke’s skill and popularity as a writer was because he had a clear idea of who he was and what was his job.

When Cooke was asked about his task he would give a variation of this reply:

“I am a reporter of the facts and the feelings that go into the American life I happen to observe. I mention ‘the feelings’ if only to stress a belief that there is no such thing as an objective reporter. But the way to be as fair as possible is to notice that no fact of human life comes to you uncoloured by what people feel it means.”

Acknowledging the limits of objectivity, committing himself to put aside preconceived notions and an aversion to rush to a premature judgment were important convictions that shaped Cooke’s practice and literary style.

Believing that he was ‘a reporter’ gave to Cooke a certain freedom from the expectations of people as evidenced in this statement:

“I was urged to deliver some missionary message. But missions are for bishops. I am a reporter. And I can’t say where America is going. I am a hopeless prophet. One book I will never write is: Whither America?”

Source: Alistair Cooke, Reporting America: The Life of the Nation 1946-2004 (London: Allen Lane, Penguin, 2008).

This book is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Alistair Cooke.