Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the cleverest journo of them all?

Jeremy Gordin raises two objections to Peter Bruce's Thick Edge of the Wedge column of this week

I'm pretty fond of Peter Bruce, the publisher of everything, the editor of everything, Knight of the Garter, etc. I think he's a pleasant old duffer.

"Old duffer" is not a term of opprobrium. On most days I think of myself as an old duffer; and I quite like myself, well certainly more than I did when I was, say, 40.

Not everyone likes Bruce as much as I do. A very senior journalist said to me the other day: "Bruce's the only guy who can perform fellatio on himself without having had three ribs removed and without the benefit of having done advanced yoga." Anyway ...

But, yussus, sometimes Bruce can write the most awful codswallop. In his latest Monday column, The Thick End of the Wedge, which is more like The Thin End of the Old Duffer's Intellect, he wrote: ... "nothing, absolutely nothing, was as much fun as being able, last week, to appoint my colleagues and friends Tim Cohen and Ron Derby as editor and deputy editor ... of the Financial Mail."

"Wanky, wanky," as a Chinese masseuse once famously remarked to another editor of my acquaintance.

Nothing was as much fun? C'mon, Peter, you old swordsman you, I don't want to embarrass you, but you're offending a lot of people in the journalistic fraternity, or do I mean sorority, when you say that Nothing was as much fun as appointing those two okes to a job on a dying magazine.

Nothing was as much fun? As I say, I don't want to embarrass you and I don't want to go into detail on a family site such as this ... but really! C'mon, boychik, you're among friends.

It gets better. Bruce then tells us that Tim Cohen is "easily the cleverest journalist in the country". (Oy. Turn me over here, guys, I'm really cooked.) As it happens, I like Cohen a lot; he's jovial, he's fun, he's gentle, he has a really smart wife ... but the "cleverest journalist in the country"? Sorry, there's some kind of disconnect here.

Maybe the cleverest journalist in Prince Albert, the chi-chi town to which Tim and wifie decamped to grow beets or whatever - but not in the whole country, surely?

I have a comrade, with whom I occasionally take some luncheon (as Nigel, the other Bruce, would have said), a comrade who used to lecture in the social sciences and among whose students was once one T Cohen. Some of Cohen's Business Day columns are so fey, so painfully soft and pink and Keynesian - "I had an epiphany and got over Marxism," is one of Cohen's more plaintive lines - that my comrade, having read a Cohen column in the morning, cries like a girl into his beer and eats his plate without any food on it.

"It would appear that Bruce has not met too many clever journalists," my comrade friend said to me dryly, having read The Thin End of the Old Duffer's Intellect on Monday and then thrown up all his sushi, along with his heart medication.

Poor Muldoon (Stephen Mulholland), who edited the FM with aplomb in its heyday (and I think, though I never paid much attention to such stuff, even had gays on the staff - he certainly hired some hot chicks), lord knows what poor Muldoon's thinking.

So now you want to know whom I think is "clever" if I think that Cohen isn't the cleverest. What does Kent say in King Lear (II.2)? "Sir, ‘tis my occupation to be plain. / I have seen better faces in my time / Than stands on any shoulder that I see/ Before me at this instant." In other words, it's not so easy these days, I agree, to think of any clever journalists. It's bloody tough in fact.

I'm not even sure that I know what "clever" means. According to the Internet, it means "skillful or adroit in using the hands or body" or "mentally quick and resourceful". Or "marked by wit or ingenuity". And the OED concurs. I guess it's mainly the second definition we want.

I suppose also, when it comes to journalism, that there're different sorts of cleverness. But let me not beat about the bush. Off the top of my head, folks ....: M&G editor Nic Dawes is clever; he might not be deeply humorous or whimsical and he's painfully politically correct, but he's clever. Jim Jones, who must still be blundering around Joey's somewhere, was (is) a clever financial journalist (whatever his other sins might be). Daily Sun founder, the late Deon du Plessis, whatever his other foibles (and they were many), was a clever journalist: he knew what he wanted to do, he knew what he had to do, and he did it well and worked bloody hard.

John Kane-Berman, who must still be knocking around the Institute of Race Relations, and was deputy-editor of the FM at one point - he was (is) a clever journalist. Steven "the babe magnet" Friedman, though you might not agree with him, and notwithstanding his arrogance, is a clever journalist: he knows his stuff, he's well connected, and he nearly always gets it right.

Rand Daily Mail journalist Mervyn Rees, who died a week ago, was a clever journalist. Rex Gibson, who's hanging about in God's waiting room (Hermanus), was (is) a clever journalist. Darrel Bristow-Bovey, who wrote very funny TV and other columns, and is probably writing film scripts in Cape Town, was a clever journalist. Dave Hazelhurst, whom I think has just retired, was (is) a clever journalist. 

I could go on and on (I haven't even talked about some of the backroom whiz kids - John Leask, Jimmy Beaumont, Alf Hayter, etc, etc). My point is that, very nice guy though he is, Cohen is not "easily the cleverest journalist in the country".

Then Bruce tells us that Cohen is not Jewish - as though this is some sort of positive attribute. Personally, I think it deeply negative not to be Jewish and, if I were Bruce, I wouldn't publicly defame Cohen in this way, especially not when he's starting a new job.

Now then, besides having to read Bruce's nonsense, I received the other day a most peculiar press release. Its headline read as follows: "LEAD SA AND CRIME LINE LAUDS NATIONAL ORDER RECIPIENT, YUSUF ABRAMJEE."

Apparently 702's Abramjee, whom I, for no good reason, call Abumjee, is going to receive the Order of the Baobab, silver. I don't, when I think about it (which is not often), know much about Abumjee, other that he seems to be in constant and passionate pursuit of publicity about himself. You can often see him trying to edge into certain news pictures - say when famous people visit Radio 702, or something.

Well, he's clearly doing well - Order of the Baobab and all that. I'm impressed. The Order of the Baobab, we learn, takes its name from the baobab tree, which was chosen as a symbol because of its "endurance and tolerance, its vitality, its importance in agro-forestry systems, and its use as a meeting place in traditional African societies."

That sounds like our Yusuf, doesn't it? Previous recipients of the Order of the Baobab include, the late former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Arthur Chaskalson, and prominent academic, Barney Pityana. Good company. 

I'm not certain for what Abumjee's getting the ol' baobab, but it seems to be for the launch of Lead SA, "a call to action on South Africans to become active citizens and ‘Stand Up, Do the Right Thing and Make a Difference'." And also for being the founder of the anonymous crime tip-off service, Crime Line, known to criminals as "Impimpi Line".

Radio 702, friends ... In touch, in tune and mostly incorrect ...

It said on the press release that "a profile picture of Yusuf is attached to this email". Well, not to this column, I can tell you.

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