Wednesday 17 July 2019

Radio review: Soft interviews are no place for hard politics

Miriam O’Callaghan
Miriam O’Callaghan

Eilis O'Hanlon

On this week's Miriam On Sunday on RTE Radio One, Miriam O'Callaghan talked by phone to Democratic US Congressman Brendan Boyle, the only serving member of the House of Representatives with an Irish-born parent.

To say that this was a soft interview seriously understates its gentleness. Here was a typical contribution: "Do you think that closeness gives you a special connection with Ireland, with affairs here in Ireland?"

"There's no question," Boyle replied, to absolutely no one's surprise.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, if the chat stays on family matters. But the American politician was on the line because of his opposition to Brexit, and his recent statement that the British were not to be trusted in negotiations. Miriam asked him about both Brexit and Donald Trump, but without challenging him on them. Don't bring up someone's views on huge and divisive political issues if they're not to be tested.

American politics also got a mention on Today FM's Mario's Sunday Roast, presided over by impressionist Mario Rosenstock, best known for his Gift Grub sketches on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show. On this occasion, Mario eulogised about New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, declaring how important it was that she was inspiring more young people to get involved in politics.

That may well be the case, but the argument that it's somehow unfair that the 29-year-old has not yet reached an age when she can run for president (all candidates for the White House must be at least 35) was curious. Rosenstock himself pointed out that the minimum age requirement was set at a time when life expectancy was barely over 40, but, if you think about it, that's an argument for increasing, rather than decreasing, the age limit. Average life expectancy in the US is now into the late 70s, so people of Ocasio-Cortez's generation have plenty of time to get where they want to go. What's the rush?

The Peter Casey Reports were supposed to disrupt all this fashionable cosiness. Indeed, when Newstalk announced last year that it had signed up the presidential election runner-up for a series of broadcasts, some listeners threatened to boycott the station.

They needn't have worried. The first editions were aired last week as part of The Pat Kenny Show, and were quite peculiar, to say the least. How much editorial input Casey had remains a mystery, because they consisted almost entirely of the one-time candidate being criticised for his contentious views on Travellers. Strongly. Repeatedly.

Casey was taken to a halting site, where he agreed that conditions were "a disgrace". He was brought to meet a Traveller who spoke of being discriminated against in school. Casey duly declared it was "totally and absolutely wrong". It actually made for deeply uncomfortable listening, and it's hard to believe this is what he thought he was signing up for. It would have been more honest to call these segments The Barry Whyte Reports, after the Newstalk reporter who accompanied Casey on his journey and provided a voiceover.

Sunday Independent

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