HARARE – It is very rare, but is said to have happened once or twice.
The president or prime minister is standing by the microphone, ready to start the proceedings…a news conference awaited eagerly by all.
Before he can utter a word, a gruff, rather whisky-soaked voice is heard above the silence.
“Mr President, are you aware that your fly is open?” There is increased volume in the stunned silence — if that is possible.
The man in front of the mike looks sheepishly, down his trousers, before hastily crossing his legs, the colour on his face changing rapidly. “I…don’t know what you mean, sir,” he says, recovering his equanimity. “I’ve never heard such rubbish in my life…”
After which there is loud laughter all round. The politician then clears his throat, manfully, before calling on the MC to launch the show with his customary panache.
But what if the politician’s fly was indeed open? I leave you to speculate. It would compare, easily, with Monica Lewisnky and Bill Clinton, or that French international bank executive and the New York hotel maid.
Many journalism manuals on the art of the interview recommend a reporter choose his opening gambit very carefully, to set the tone for the interview.
The interviewee must know, from the start, that they are in for a torrid ride.
This is particularly so if the character has a shady past — such as jumping from one political pillar to another post.
I was reminded of this at the recent death of David Frost whose interview with Richard Nixon on the subject of Watergate earned him much kudos as an interviewer, bringing into the open — for the first time — Nixon’s confession of guilt.
By the way, I met both men: Nixon in Lusaka while on his way on holiday to South Africa in the early 1960s. He refused to speak on apartheid.
Frost interviewed me in London on the closure in 2003 of the Daily News and the Daily News On Sunday. We had his sympathies.
Nixon was involved in the all-time political scandal known as Watergate in 1972. He was eventually impeached after being sworn in as president.
Watergate demonstrated to the world that politicians everywhere can be as dirty the lousiest pickpocket in the most crowded housing area in the capital of a poor developing country, existing on less than a dollar a day.
A point in passing: allegations of dirty tricks in the run-up to the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe ought not to be dismissed as wild speculation or propaganda churned up by enemies of Zanu PF.
Politics is dirty business. There is subterfuge and murder.
The stakes include winning the right to exploit the country’s resources. You might not have to answer to anyone, if you frighten people with enough dead bodies turning up with no clues as to who dunit.
In the Watergate scandal, Nixon pleaded: “I am not a crook.” As time passed and the evidence against him mounted, he did not come out and declare: “Okay, you’ve got me dead to rights. I am a crook!”
There were people whose tenacity would not be challenged. Someone had abused their system.
They had shamed the entire United States, showing the world that, in spite of its history of democracy, it teemed with crooks, as dirty as the dirtiest politicians in the banana republics.
So, even for us, in Zimbabwe, as innocent as we may be, the point is not to be lulled into a false sense of security.