At the age of thirteen, and fed up with the pestering of my sister, I started a funny newspaper together with my cousin Rob. Rob and I have been best friends for more than a decade. During the holidays we stayed at each other’s home. Rob was good at making drawings and I had a vivid imagination. We depicted ourselves as smart and good while my sister and her friends were made to appear stupid and evil. Made-up stories can be a lot more interesting than real ones. The best stories are those in which imagination and reality are mixed up and it is difficult to discern fact from fiction.
A reason to produce the newspaper may have been a desire to write and make the news and feel some control over what is happening. After all, it didn’t really happen if it didn’t make the news, and most people believe it happened the way it is reported. Later on, I became part of the editorial team of the school newspaper Ikzwetsia. The name referred to the Dutch word for bluster as well as the official Soviet newspaper Izvestia. Ikzwetsia became a prolific and popular periodical and a bit of a problem for the school board. At the time I entertained a career as a journalist. Becoming a journalist was just one of the options I considered, and it was more entertainment than serious consideration.
My favourite journalist was the conservative political commentator G.B.J. Hiltermann. He had a weekly radio commentary named The State of World Affairs. His special trick was summarising the most important world events of the week in a short story while making it appear as if there was a connection between them. His last commentary was aired on 22 November 1999 (22-11-99), a peculiar date.
There is another side to me. My sister was more pragmatic than I was and she had a more flexible arrangement with the truth. When it came out that Santa Claus didn’t exist, I was upset. Something I believed in turned out to be a lie. My sister, who was two years younger, just promised she would still believe in Santa Claus as long as he brought her presents. I was rigid when it came down to truth issues.
Many people believe lies if that suits them but I was not like that. This turned out to be a symptom of a social handicap. And in order to stress the frivolous nature of our newspaper, it was issued by the fictitious Bullcrap Newsagency. It was fake news labelled as fake news. Facts and fiction are different domains and should clearly be marked as such in order to avoid confusion. Anne-Marie was amazed at me keeping so strictly to the facts. “Bart never lies,” she said. This might have been an expression of admiration.
But what if the facts turn out to be stranger than anything you ever imagined? In that case, you don’t need to make up stories, not even embellish things a bit. What if it turns out that there is a connection between all events? My history suggests that I might be equipped to deal with that. And it doesn’t appear to be a coincidence either. And so I followed my calling to become a journalist, albeit belatedly, documenting events as good as possible, trying to work out the connection between them, and presenting evidence whenever that is possible. The ultimate feat of a journalist is to uncover the ultimate conspiracy and discover who is pulling the strings. And I may have done just that.
Featured image: The newspaper Pravda (Russian for The Truth) dated 29 May 1919. RIA Novosti archive. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.