SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY) - Fake news and weasel journalism are everywhere these days, even in St. Maarten apparently. And while it may be true that "democracy dies in darkness," it's also true that "journalism dies in self-importance." Above all else, real journalism is about reporting what is true, not what you want to be true. It does not have an agenda and it does not bend the facts to fit a preconceived and prejudiced narrative. That is not real reporting. That is petulant opinion masquerading as truthful reporting. It's a dishonest practice that blurs the lines between honest reporting and editorial propaganda in order to mold public opinion.
The recent hit piece on Claude Wathey – for that is what it was – on St.MaartenNews.com by its anonymous publisher is a classic example of the type of weasel journalism that is rightfully reviled around the world for either playing loose with the facts or ignoring them altogether when they don't fit the narrative. The article was a sly and self-important attempt to rewrite St. Maarten's history by smearing Claude Wathey's name and legacy. But it says more about the type of person the anonymous writer is rather than the man Claude was. It is always amusing to read spiteful smear articles about Claude these days. They are always written by people who never knew him and describe a man who never existed. A convenient straw man propped up to burn for the sins of the living.
Our anonymous publisher cites gossip about Claude as "evidence" of his alleged bad tendencies without any corroboration. It is a prime example of weasel journalism that is light on fact and heavy on fiction. In American law gossip is known as "the fruit of a poison tree," and anything coming from such a tree is tainted and discarded. When writing about a man's life, facts, not gossip, ought to matter. Not just for Claude, but for any of us. The anonymous publisher may be entitled to his opinions of Claude, but he is not entitled to his own facts.
Further into the smear piece, our self-important and anonymous publisher again conjures quotes from dubious sources and says Claude once described himself as a "beneficial dictator." Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn't. We don't know the context. But there are incontrovertible facts about Claude. For most of his adult life, Claude was a member of the parliament of the Netherlands Antilles, a constitutional entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. He was also an Island Council member in Sint Maarten, a territory of the Netherlands Antilles that was embedded within the larger Kingdom of the Netherlands and governed by the 1954 Kingdom Charter. He never chose to be a minister in the Antillean government, and only briefly in his long political career did he ever serve as a commissioner in the island government. Besides him, there were countless other MPs and island council members as well as many Antillean prime ministers and governors of the Netherlands Antilles and lieutenant governors of St. Maarten, all of whom wielded real executive power under the Kingdom Charter that we still have today. It is as impossible as it is absurd for anyone to be a dictator within the framework of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, whether back then or now. So, to malign him as a dictator is an ignorant smear. But why let facts get in the way of a good narrative?
Let's get another fact straight. Claude was never convicted of forgery, as the article falsely claims, but perjury. And only after one of the most expensive and exhaustive investigations in Dutch Caribbean history was launched against him in the twilight of his life. Prosecutors at the time threw a mountain of charges against Claude, none of which they could prove in their own Dutch court of law. Nevertheless, the damage was done. The investigation was the punishment. Yet that seemed to disappoint our anonymous publisher, who seems to wish that if only they spent a few more millions investigating and interrogating Claude - his civil liberties and personal dignity be damned - something, anything, might have been found. It doesn't occur to our anonymous publisher at all that perhaps Claude just never did the things they accused him of.
In the end, they had only words to convict him with. They cornered him into what notable Harvard law professor Allen Dershowitz describes as a perjury trap, which is a dubious legal weapon available exclusively to prosecutors. They often use it when they fail to come up with sufficient evidence on the other charges. Even one question that results in an answer that is contradicted by one witness would be enough to spring a perjury trap. Many times, the witness may himself be a criminal who has been squeezed by prosecutors into "singing" in order to save his own skin. "Truth" is often already determined in the eyes of prosecutors, and it is they who decide which "truth" to believe. The way prosecutors trapped Claude and got him convicted of perjury is now no longer permissible under our modern criminal law precisely because it is viewed as an ethically dubious method of getting a conviction. It is the reason why Claude deserves a posthumous pardon.
Conveniently, our anonymous "journalist" neglected to add this important context. Who knows what motivates such people to peddle false narratives. But the piece is fake news and fake history, and it is most certainly crooked journalism. St. Maarten did not ask for self-important and anonymous publishers to volunteer their version of our history. We have only the obligation to truth.
COMMENTARY: The opinion expressed are the sole responsibility of the author.