Thursday 11th July
By Tony Morrison – our US Correspondent.
The lights were burning down low at the British Embassy as Sir Kim Darroch finished the last task of his three year ambassadorship to the US.
He reviewed the letter he had trembled to write:
Dear Prime Minister
Orange Man Bad. He no like me just cos I said it. I’ll have to go.
Your Humble Servant,
His Excellency, Sir Nigel Kim Darroch KCMG, British Ambassador to the United States
“Hmm, this will need a little work,” thought Sir Kim. It had been twenty years since he had a real job and had to do anything except go to dinner with random strangers and be pleasant. Writing was a skill that had long vanished from his meager portfolio. But his mind started wandering back a couple of years to times when he actually had written a few reports and briefings report in decent prose.
It was only two and a half years ago that he had received the fax from the PM asking for regular no-holds barred reports of the new President, Donald Trump. “Of course she had to send me a fax,” he thought savagely, “she’s stuck in the past with her fashion sense and ABBA albums. You can take the lady out of Dora Road, Wimbledon, but you can’t take Dora Road out of the lady.” He buzzed for his assistant, Appleby, who slid quietly in to his office.
Sir Kim: “Disaster, Appleby, I have to write reports and briefings and things on Trump.”
Appleby: “And why is that a problem, sir?”
Sir Kim: “Because I haven’t written anything since 1989 when I first got a job representing the UK to the EU.”
Appleby: “Quite so, sir. And of course you haven’t needed to use your brain much since then as well.”
Sir Kim: “Are you trying to be funny?”
Appleby: “Oh no, sir, just pointing out that the EU is structured so as to ignore all UK concerns and just take their money. So, no thinking was ever really required.”
Sir Kim: “Well, true, but I was National Security Advisor for several years.”
Appleby: “Yes, sir, a post that only requires the holder to call up the USA Secretary Of State every so often and ask ‘are you still our ally?’”
Sir Kim: “Well, that’s no matter now. Look at this fax. How am I going to write briefings on someone I don’t know? I only met him once when he was going down a line of the ambassadors and he said ‘Oh, here’s another beauty, I bet he’s going to be a TV star’ when I was introduced to him.”
Appleby: (gesturing to a small side table) “This is no problem at all sir. Here is your solution.”
Sir Kim: “A computer?”
Appleby: “Online access to all the right-thinking media, sir, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and of course streaming CNN.”
Sir Kim: “What the devil do you mean?”
Appleby: “The PM wants regular briefings and so we will give her one taken from the right-thinking media outlets. After all, sir, are not the tried and trusted sources used by these journalists better than the ones based on anecdotes from Washington dinner parties?”
Sir Kim: (brings up WaPo on screen)“How so? Look at this story here on the front page from: ‘The State Department’s Entire Senior Administration Team Just Resigned!’ There are no sources in the story at all beyond the numerous unnamed sources. It’s as if they pulled this reporting out of their arse.”
Appleby: “Of course, sir. A well-stocked fundament is an essential part of the modern journalist’s toolkit.”
Sir Kim: “Then how can we pretend a report based on this is correct?”
Appleby: “Because it is, sir. Across the world all right-thinking politicians, media types, heads of industry, celebrities, even Bono, are united in their views that what they think is correct as otherwise they would not be in the position they are in. Journalists do not need to interview anyone or read documents anymore as what they automatically think will be correct, because they are hard-wired to the global right-thinking zeitgeist.”
Sir Kim: “How so?”
Appleby: (online searches NYT website for “Bad Trump”) ”Well take this story, for example, ‘Trump ordered Mueller Fired!’ from earlier this year. It details how Trump’s administration is in disarray and he’s acting like a corrupt dictator.”
Sir Kim: “But that story was not true.”
Appleby: “It was true, sir, it was reported on the BBC.”
Sir Kim: ”But all these stories are ridiculous. Here’s another from an AP search. ‘President Threatens To Invade Mexico!’ Are we to believe Trump is an idiot who calls up President Neito and threatens to invade his country to stop what AP terms the ‘bad hombre’ problem?”
Appleby: “Yes, sir. If I may, Ambassador, you seem to be mixing up truth with the perception of truth by all right-thinking people. Two very different things. We only care about the perception of truth. If we didn’t the whole foundation of our way of thinking would be destroyed. What if you wrote back to London that Trump was just another President trying to carry out the platform he ran on? The right-thinking folks have decided that he is a maniac, who is only President due to Russian election interference and is both simultaneously cunning enough to turn the US back to more racist times and stupid enough to cause a war every time he talks with a foreign leader on the phone. And so who are you to question the consensus? You would not last long in this Embassy with that, pardon me, Ambassador, very naïve view.”
Sir Kim: Yes, I see. But maybe I can be the one to change the zeitgeist?”
Appleby: “ I would suggest rather sir, that you start copying out some of the more compelling stories in front of us and re-wording. Anything with words like ‘inept,’ ‘insecure, ‘incompetent’ in the title would be a good start. You see, sir, the zeitgest changes in mysterious ways that we can’t even begin to understand. We just all know it when it happens and act accordingly, as in ‘they used to pay me for my poppy, now they pay me for my rhymes.’”
Sir Kim: “Oh, that’s good, Appleby. One of yours?”
Appleby: “No, sir, the poet Stormzy.”
The operation had proven remarkably successful for Sir Kim. Re-writing a few articles a week took 30 mins at most and so he was free to continue to swan about Washington a-dining and a-partying. There were times he had severe doubts as to the wisdom of what he was doing. The New York Times and the Washington Post had jointly received a Pulitzer prize in 2018 for their work on the Trump Presidential campaign and Russian Collusion. Reporting that had of course been shown as false in 2019 with the publication of the Mueller Report. But as always Appleby kept him onside with his take on what actually is true. “ If the Pulitzer Prize Committee see no need to reclaim their prize, then why should we be concerned, sir?”
The highlight was the cable he had sent just a couple of months back laying out that Trump’s State visit to the UK was a triumph due to the advice he had given everyone. Actually, Appleby had written that last bit. Even Sir Kim could not bring himself to lie so boldly about the fact that Trump was perfectly capable of conducting himself as the American President.
And then the Mail On Sunday had published all the re-writes. Although he had not been called in for plagiarism yet by the assorted media outlets, the past was no help to Sir Kim in the present. It was hard to see how he could copy a resignation letter from the New York Times. And so he reluctantly resolved to have Appleby re-write the letter and maybe just send it to the Foreign Office.
He buzzed for Appleby, and then in despair turned around to look out over the Potomac for the last time muttering “The lamps are going out all over America, they ……”
“...will be lit again tomorrow, Ambassador. This is, after all, America, which is great again,” said Appleby, as he entered with a picture of Boris Johnson, suitable for framing, under his arm.