Trauma can change memory. So can storytelling. But when you are in the business of nonfiction, no one seems to remember this, remembering only that to be credible, straight nonfiction is all you can produce, even though you are expected to tell it well.
On live television, you apologize to Callum, who simply nods in understanding, like these things happen. Still, it’s like a stab in the back. The interview moves on but within the week there is an outcry. An inquiry. Investigators dig through your traumatic stories of West Africa and find two other discrepancies, a hospital you say you never entered in Monrovia, only to tell Callum you did in fact enter. No one can find Halima to corroborate your story. Your reputation lies in shambles over an exaggeration made in an emotional interview.
These nights you pour yourself a glass of whiskey and sit up late, thinking of everything you have given up to be where you are today, and of how replaceable you all are, like moving parts in a relentless machine. It’s the double-edged nature of journalism, isn’t it, that a journalist who can’t impose bias and embellishment in just the right ways, who can’t narrativize the facts through personal experience and creativity, is no longer a journalist; but a journalist who can’t be trusted is not a journalist, either. It’s the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place in any broadcast news institution, BBC London more so than others.
And you will dream you had done it differently, while you wait for your tenure to end.