By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
I really didn’t want to comment on Femi Fani-Kayode’s viral communicative primitivism toward Daily Trust’s Calabar correspondent because of my knowledge of the state of Fani-Kayode’s mental health, but I’ve read senior Nigerian journalists on social media rail against the Daily Trust reporter for asking a “rude question,” and feel an obligation to intervene.
Rude question? Well, there’s no such thing as a “rude question” in journalism. A Chicago journalist and humorist by the name of Finley Peter Dunne once said, more than a century ago, that, “the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In other words, journalists have no obligation to comfort the comfortable. Their duty is to afflict the comfortable or, if you like, to be “rude” to the comfortable.
Asking questions that get a politician’s dander up, that inflame a politician’s passions, is a prized skill in journalism. Here’s why: Politicians reveal the most headline-worthy information when reporters cause them to lose control of their emotions. Loss of emotional control forces them to depart from their scripted, predictable, choreographed, and often mendacious and boring performances.
It’s precisely because the Daily Trust reporter asked a “rude question” (which is a charlatan’s term for a great question) that an otherwise unremarkable news conference is now grist for social media and editorial mills.
Journalists who think the Daily Trust reporter’s question to Fani-Kayode was “rude” and worthy of censure should go look for another job. They’d do well as publicists.
Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “News is anything anybody wants to suppress; everything else is public relations.” Many Nigerian “journalists” are actually public relations practitioners polluting a noble craft.
That’s why some of them apologized to an emotionally disturbed mental midget for asking him a legitimate, probing question. One of them even said to the Daily Trust reporter, “You see your life?”
I, like every journalism teacher worth the name, teach my journalism students the skill to ask politicians trenchant questions that have the capacity to cause the politicians to throw tantrums because politicians, in a state of meltdown, such as we saw in Fani-Kayode’s news conference histrionics, let their guards down and involuntarily divulge the truth.
Smart politicians know this. Instead of allowing themselves to be immobilized by impotent anger, they respond to high-pressure, “embarrassing” questions with poise, and disarm adversarial reporters with humility, grace, and gentleness.