Friday 28 October 2016

Radio review: What counts most is a candidate's character

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30

Dave Fanning
Dave Fanning

The most startling thing about last week's media coverage of the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the discovery that Newstalk's Sean Moncrieff and RTE's Dave Fanning both pronounce the surname of the former US President Ronald Reagan as "Ree-gan" rather than "Ray-gan" as the man himself did and as all pronunciation guides agree that it should be said.

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What's that all about?

The least surprising thing was the disdain which pundits were showing towards coverage of the US election in advance of the head-to-head. Fanning, fronting The Ryan Tubridy Show on Tuesday, lazily pooh poohed it all as akin to a reality TV show and soap opera.

Former RTE Washington correspondent Carole Coleman's attitude was typical. "What upsets me," she tut tutted on Monday's Today With Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio One, is that "we're not even touching on policies... we're only talking about the people and their personalities."

It's as well that Hillary didn't listen to this approach but concentrated firmly on her opponent's personality - or, to use its proper name, his character. This is actually what matters most in the race for the White House, and voters know it even if the policy wonks shudder with distaste.

It's this concentration on percentages and statistics which can make Late Debate, which returned to RTE last week to coincide with the end of the Dail summer recess, an endurance test at times. Some evenings it sparks to life (Tuesday's opening episode of the new series was a terrific hour of debate on the subject of whether Ireland needs a Jeremy Corbyn). All too often it can sink into a morass of facts and figures. It's researchers' job to provide the raw data, and politicians' and radio's job to communicate it punchily.

The best preview of the Trump/Clinton debate was on Monday's Ray D'Arcy Show where stand-up comedian Andrew Maxwell neatly skewered the new populism which has led to the rise of Trump in the US, and the Corbynistas and Brexiteers in Britain, as "all about easy answers and all about feelings".

Maxwell amusingly characterised his view of the race as like seeing "your least favourite teacher in school trying to shoo a tramp out of the playground".

John McGuirk, on the line from America to discuss the debate next morning on Today With Sean O'Rourke, also showed why it's character that counts.

As he noted, Clinton was strongest when talking about Trump, and Trump was weakest when talking about himself. If the Republican nominee could turn the conversation round to being about his opponent's character and judgement, as she did with him, then he'd have a much better chance. McGuirk's conclusion that the debate showed "how Trump could win the election and why he probably won't" was far and away the soundest and most original take on the previous night's tussle.

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