Friday 14 December 2018

Radio review: When did fake news turn into good news?

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Eilis O'Hanlon

Today With Sean O'Rourke gave the lurid allegations about President-elect Donald Trump's behaviour in a Russian hotel far more credence than might have been expected from a supposedly serious programme, especially one that was righteously indignant about so-called "fake news" after the US election.

Despite an initial proviso that these were "unsubstantiated reports", the entire tenor of last Wednesday's coverage would have been such as to persuade listeners that there really was something in all these rumours, with Washington-based journalist Marion McKeone quoting intelligence sources who insisted that they'd only pass on "intel that they think is more likely than not true, that has a serious, you know, substance to it".

Drivetime didn't exactly have its sceptical head on either, interviewing reporter Tom Foreman of CNN, a media organisation specifically attacked by Trump on the same day, who said that the President-elect's contemptuous dismissal of the allegations "troubles a lot of reporters in the sense that we would like to hear specifically 'are you saying this is not true?' as opposed to 'this is a ridiculous idea', because that seems to leave a lot of wiggle room later on if something were to come up".

That's an extraordinary defence of a "when did you stop beating your wife?" line of questioning which, if accepted as legitimate, would basically mean that every public figure has to answer any question put by a journalist, however absurd, or be considered guilty by default.

Again, it's worth comparing this to the muted treatment of the leak of actually verified emails from Hillary Clinton.

RTE Radio One provided more edifying fare on Sunday Miscellany, as Maeve Edwards recalled the "Big Snow" of 1982, when roads were impassable, travellers stranded, and shops ran out of bread.

"This siege went on for days and I've never seen people so happy," she said. "We clambered over garden walls with freshly baked loaves, helping out neighbours we'd only ever waved to before. We became a community without even knowing it."

Do we still have that cooperative instinct? A hard winter might be set to give us another chance to find out.

The Essay on BBC Radio 3 presented nightly studies in how landscapes and people are shaped by their underlying rock. Tuesday was the turn of Peak District poet, Helen Mort, who beautifully described how the Millstone Grit in her part of Britain was first laid down millions of years ago, before "patient weather set to work, with its liquid chisel and file of air".

She's also a climber, and quoted the warnings of the guide books: "Climb the rock as it is, do not be tempted to shape it to suit your inadequate skills, or to gouge out protection placements where none exist."

As the row continues over what is and is not acceptable to say in public discourse, the over-sensitive could usefully heed that advice in other areas of life too.

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