Rumour and gossip the life-blood of reporting
Journalists should hope that politicians won't now be reluctant to pass on what they are hearing on the street, writes Liam Collins
Published 21/02/2010 | 05:00
The words that Willie O'Dea told the reporter after telling him a bit of salacious gossip about the Sinn Fein candidate were "check with your sources".
So it was a bit of gossip, and, as the reporter found out when he asked the aspiring councillor Maurice Quinlivan, it wasn't true. His apartment wasn't used as a brothel -- it was his brother Nessan Quinlivan, the IRA man's apartment.
And that, you would think, would have been the end of it.
But what hasn't been fully explained is why the tape recording of the conversation the reporter had with Willie O'Dea ended up in the possession of the Sinn Fein councillor's solicitors when the words that he used were not used in the story.
The curious aspect of this is that Maurice Quinlivan was happy to deny the smear, giving the Limerick Chronicle, part of the Limerick Leader group, an assurance that he would not sue them. The result was he got a front-page headline in the paper.
Following publication of the denial, he then sought an injunction against Willie O'Dea personally under the terms of the Electoral Abuses Act of 1923 -- which Sinn Fein is apparently more familiar with than most other politicians. This is not the usual way people behave when they are asked by a reporter about a story.
Most reporters will have put allegations to people -- and usually if they're told they are not true they don't publish them, unless they can find proof that the person is telling them lies.
But quite often they are met with: "No -- that's not true and if you publish it I will sue you."
There has also been quite a lot of po-faced reaction from some politicians and media commentators about "salacious" gossip.
Let's face it, that's where reporters get stories -- by gossiping with politicians and businessmen and policemen and anybody else who might have a story.
That's where good stories come from -- sifting through the gossip, from hearing things in the Dail bar, or Doheny & Nesbitt's, or in the Clarion hotel in Limerick.
But like most things in life. it's a two-way street. The people who give you the good stories should be afforded whistleblowers' protection under the law, otherwise good stories won't come out.
Why did nothing ever come out about Anglo Irish Bank before the doomsday scenario of the bank collapse was upon us? The reason is that the 'golden circle' made sure nobody got a whisper of what was going on because it was in all their interests that they didn't.
If we're all to get so politically correct that we cannot repeat political gossip over a pint or a cup of coffee then nobody is going to hear anything.
Politicians and the media enjoy gossip, and good gossip is usually salacious.
As Lyndon B Johnston once said when told a press release that was about to be issued on his behalf just wasn't true: "Let's see the bastards deny it."
A lot of political people enjoyed the smear about CJH having a baby with a well-known journalist many years ago.
It was the talk of the late-night set in Dublin's bars and clubs. Charlie never denied it, because it wasn't true.
Despite what's happened to Willie O'Dea I hope that politicians won't stop telling reporters what they're hearing and maybe if we could get a few bankers and businessmen to do the same then we might live in a better society.