Tuesday 23 May 2017

Now they are ganging up against poor wee Marty

Was 'individual error' or 'deeper malaise' behind faux pas, asks Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

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ON the RTE Nine O'Clock News last Sunday night, there was a round-up of the day's electioneering, during which it was stated that Fine Gael had ganged up against Martin McGuinness. Ganged up.

Now this is interesting, is it not? Many of you would perhaps have felt that if there was any "ganging up" to be done, it was the candidate with the private army who was in the best position to do it. And usually when we say that certain parties have "ganged up", we mean they have brought in reinforcements, which in this case might have involved Fine Gael "ganging up" with Fianna Fail or Labour against the defenceless McGuinness.

We wouldn't normally say that members of a political party, expressing a point of view independently of other parties, had "ganged up".

And if we're RTE, on the Nine O'Clock News, we really shouldn't be saying such a thing at all. It displays such an obvious bias -- be it conscious, subconscious or unconscious -- it might as well have been a report in An Phoblacht.

The reporter doing the round-up was not one of the better-known RTE voices, and like the unfortunates in the sports department who keep getting it wrong, she may be accused of making an individual error here. Which would be factually accurate, up to a point, but not really true.

Reporters are allowed to make individual errors, especially on a Sunday. But when there's an election going on, even the Sunday night news becomes a highly sensitive environment, policed by RTE's crack operatives working overtime to ensure that it is just not possible for such a howler to get out there.

"Individual errors" is a convenient term which was exposed in another context a few years ago by Mr John Giles. It was the Man Utd defence at the time which was making all these "individual errors", implying that there wasn't a deeper malaise in the side, it was just individuals who kept conceding all these soft goals and getting it wrong.

So Giles pointed out that almost every goal conceded in every game that has ever been played is a result of some sort of an individual error, somewhere down the line. If it keeps happening, you have a deeper malaise.

In this "individual error"/"deeper malaise" dichotomy, RTE News and indeed sport are now clearly on the "deeper malaise" side of things.

At a lower level you have Fine Gael "ganging up" on Martin McGuinness, at the highest level you have Sean O'Rourke ganging up on David Norris, throwing words like "rape" and "paedophilia" at him in the most belligerent style, while taking McGuinness for a proverbial walk in the park. And somewhere in between you have the Six O'Clock News last Tuesday, failing to mention that there would be a presidential debate chaired by Vincent Browne later in the evening on TV3.

Which was poor, in so many ways.

Another individual error there, no doubt.

* * * * *

Without the licence fee, it was still TV3 which became the public service broadcaster for the evening, with Browne making the first serious challenge to McGuinness.

"I know you were in the IRA," he asserted, and the eight books he produced to support his case were not just an entertaining flourish -- this is showbusiness after all -- they showed that he had actually given the matter some thought.

While the official public service broadcaster has either given up, or is pretty relaxed about the whole thing anyway, Browne was working hard, asking McGuinness how the authors of all these books could have got it so wrong, to which McGuinness replied: "Because some people jump to conclusions."

At that moment Browne had become John Cleese, the customer in the Monty Python parrot sketch, banging the stiff parrot on the counter to show that it was dead, and McGuinness had become the hapless pet-shop boy Michael Palin, insisting that there was another way of looking at it.

It worked a lot better than Gay Mitchell's attack on McGuinness' financial arrangements -- for McGuinness the money questions are easy-osy, as he had shown when RTE obliged him by opening its Late Late debate on that topic.

Browne's commitment to the task bore fruit with the widespread acceptance that the winner of the TV3 debate overall, was Vincent Browne.

The hacks keep saying that Fine Gael will get nowhere by ganging up against McGuinness. Yet the first time in this campaign that it was done properly, with a bit of intelligence and energy and even a touch of wit, it resulted in national acclaim and a victory for someone who isn't even a candidate.

A man who, in the end, was considered not right for RTE.

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