Hacks and Harlots

I write this as a follow-up to last week’s essay on muzzling after making whoopee. I’m on my way to an island so difficult to get to, it has kept the great unwashed away, and from now on it is the only island I will grace with my presence—until the next time, that is.

It was Kipling who quipped about journalists having “power without responsibility.” He then added “the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages,” which was repeated by Stanley Baldwin, not Stanley Johnson. Comparing hacks to harlots is, of course, unfair to the girls, some of whom have risen to the highest offices in the past due to their discretion, whereas the only journalist I know who made it to the top is Boris Johnson. Hookers are more to be trusted than hacks, insisted my late father, who also claimed that whores enjoyed a seismographic alertness to future winners, far exceeding that of the hacks.

So let’s begin with the definition of the word prostitute, which is a man or a woman who indulges in sexual intercourse for money. More to the point, it is a person who debases his or her talent for money, including writers, painters, and of course journalists. Needless to say, newspapers and TV networks can also be classified as whores, starting with the BBC, NBC, and the biggest whore of all, CNN.

I remember when people back in 1963 wondered how John Profumo, a cabinet minister, could betray his beautiful film-star wife, Valerie Hobson, for part-time hooker Christine Keeler. How little they knew. The lovelier the wife the more fun it is to cheat. Tom Wolfe called it “nostalgie de la boue.” Yet it is an unjust world, because although Profumo was justly rehabilitated, Christine ended up an outcast and broke. Harlots have been mistrusted and maligned as far back as the Bible. Samson was the Netanyahu of his day, pummeling the Philistines in Palestine, but met his match with Delilah, who was most certainly a hooker. Samson was suppressing the Palestinians, and Delilah got her revenge, as well as the bum rap of history. She was, unlike a lot of whores in France during WWII, resistance personified. Journalist Martin Bashir lied about, invented, and presented phony checks and bank statements in order to convince Diana that the Palace and her ex-hubby were plotting against her. The BBC rewarded him by making him its religious correspondent. Claude Grudet went from the street to becoming France’s greatest madam, but ended up dead broke and in prison because she refused to betray her clients, including President Giscard, not to mention cabinet ministers, industrialists, shipowners, aristocrats, and yours truly. See what I mean? Journalists swallowed the Weapons of Mass Destruction whopper because it suited them, being too lazy or intimidated to challenge Bush and Blair. One million Iraqi dead later and B&B remain the Fourth Estate’s darlings.

The ancient Greeks were so obsessed with courtesans that one of them, Aspasia, got hitched to the greatest of them all, Pericles, and ended up running the country. “She told Pericles what to do and he did it,” wrote Plutarch in his Life of Pericles. Mind you, a courtesan and a harlot are not one and the same. (Courtesans are like editors, and harlots are the reporters.) Pericles regarded Aspasia as a philosopher and politician. Socrates, in fact, came to see her with his disciples, although she ran a disreputable business because she trained young “hetaerae.” According to some Greek historians, Lysicles the sheep-seller, a man of humble birth, became the most important man in Athens because he lived with Aspasia after Pericles’ death.

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