Synopsis: A case of mistaken identity results in the pastoralist nature writer for the London tabloid, The Daily Beast, being sent as a foreign correspondent to cover a brewing Communist insurrection in the fictional African state of Ishmaelia. Satire that makes ‘Frontline’ look like a loving homage to the media.
My Take: Bitchiness like this can only come from personal experience and unsurprisingly this novel is apparently based on Waugh’s own experience as a foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail in the lead up to the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. Similarly, the arrogant, abrasive and ignorant owner of the Daily Beast is allegedly (and plausibly) an amalgam of the infamous Lord Beaverbrook (the first of the media barons) and Lord Northcliffe (a contemporary rival).
Far be it from me to make comment on the media, but the jaded political hack in me enjoyed the satirical skewering of the fourth estate in ‘Scoop’. It’s worth remembering too that this withering account was penned in the 1930s – a period that would be viewed as something of a golden era of the press, especially when seen from today’s climate of plummeting newspaper audiences, even faster fallings revenues and resulting cost cutting. Unfortunately, a Scoop for the modern era would be more tragedy than farce.
I read the newspapers with lively interest. It is seldom that they are absolutely, point-blank wrong. That is the popular belief, but those who are in the know can usually discern an embryo of truth, a little grit of fact, like the core of a pearl, round which have been deposited the delicate layers of ornament.
They are all negros. And the Fascists won’t be called black because of their racial pride, so they are called White after the White Russians. And the Bolsheviks want to be called Black because of their racial pride. So when you say black you mean red, and when you mean red you say white and when the party who call themselves blacks say traitors they mean what we call blacks, but what we mean when we say traitors I really couldn’t tell you. But from your point of view it will be quite simple. Lord Copper only wants patriot victories and both sides call themselves patriots, and of course both sides will claim all the victories. But, of course, it’s really a war between Russia and Germany and Italy and Japan who are all against one another on the patriotic side. I hope I make myself plain?