‘Interviewing Afghan warlords is always something of a delicate dance,’ writes roving BBC reporter Nick Bryant in Confessions from Correspondentland (Oneworld, £10.99), and, given that he has also observed the methods of warlords from Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, his word counts for something. Though he acknowledges the journalistic allure of ‘shouting into microphones over the din of exploding ordnance’, Bryant’s memoir of his time as Auntie’s man in South Asia (and Washington, and Sydney) is refreshingly free of the macho stuff. Instead, he is concerned with analysing (not to say justifying) the changes in news presentation during his time on our screens, from the growth of post-Diana ‘how do you feel?’ reportage to the susceptibility of even foreign journalists to the wave of US jingoism that broke after 9/11.
Bryant is particularly sharp on how reporters struggled to find words to compete with the unforgettable image of the Twin Towers in flames, and how John McCain’s basic decency cost him the presidential nomination in 2000. (There is a vivid portrait of a stiff-armed McCain celebrating his early victory in New Hampshire ‘like some smiling zombie in a low-budget science-fiction flick looking for a victim to strangle’.)
The book ends with the author explaining how fatherhood led him to hang up his flak jacket after 15 years in the field. ‘Bryant is good,’ says the quote from Christopher Hitchens on the book’s back cover. On finishing Confessions From Correspondentland, you might well conclude: yes, he is, rather.