Saturday 16 February 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Bad faith, bad information, from bad places'

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Now that parts of the democratic governments of the USA and the UK are no longer functioning in any meaningful sense, it is clear that much of the respectable media has been unaware for some time of the true nature of what has been happening.

Or maybe they have been aware, but they have ploughed on anyway, ignoring the voices of those who are indeed aware of what has been happening, unable to imagine that there is any other way of engaging in their ancient craft.

In this Diary we have been resolutely against the culture of "balance" in journalism, of "impartiality".

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We have always known these to be Big Lies, in the normal run of events - but it is only when they have been truly tested by the forces of "populism" in Britain and America in the last few years, that they have finally been exposed in all their uselessness and their dishonesty.

It wouldn't be right to say that hackery has brought us to this, but it has certainly been there or thereabouts. Time after time you'd be watching a Brexiteer being interviewed by some supposedly crack BBC interrogator, and they would reach that point which usually comes whereby the Brexiteer is clearly speaking in bad faith, using bad information derived from bad people in bad places.

And instead of nailing that charlatan to the hallowed floorboards of the BBC, the interviewer will say something like: "And what will be Theresa May's message to the 1922 Committee?"

That's our old friends there, "balance" and "impartiality", though in truth it's our old friend fear. It is the institutional fear of the BBC that they might be going against "the will of the people" and their bad decision in the referendum - a decision that was reached after listening to Brexiteers speaking in bad faith, using bad information derived from bad people in bad places.

So it is revealed that under pressure, balance and impartiality - the great mythical pillars of "good journalism" - amount to little more than surrender to the forces of darkness. And the "good journalist" becomes a mere conduit for the propaganda of the far right.

And the far right knows it too, they have been pushing incessantly at these points of weakness. Trump knows it, he knows the terrible need of the political hacks to be inside the tent, their craving for "access".

So the White House correspondents still have not withdrawn from the "briefings" of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, demonstrating again this basic failure to understand the nature of what is happening there - a failure to realise that the working practices of the political hack are poor enough in a fully functioning democracy, but have been irredeemably exposed by the aggression of the demagogues.

Some would like to "send the interns" to listen to Sanders, as was suggested by the writer Jay Rosen, but there was also an excellent contribution last week by Melissa Chan, who argues that reporters should now be covering the White House the way that a foreign correspondent in China would cover the outpourings of the regime in Beijing.

"A big part of American media has failed," she wrote. "Many journalists cannot bring themselves to realise that their country has changed."

The foreign correspondent based in Beijing or some other authoritarian setting, would regard the overwhelming majority of the information coming from the Government as garbage, not to be reported unless labelled as such - you do not "objectively" broadcast the statements of an obviously delinquent administration, and call it journalism. No truth is to be found there.

Oddly enough when I was a boy journalist with Hot Press, this is roughly how we regarded most aspects of Irish government and society, and personally I have always been comfortable with this model - and you have to say, it's looking better all the time.

But they are afraid in America too, afraid that by defining the Trump regime correctly, they will be accused of the dreaded "bias". Afraid to acknowledge that some "experts" do actually know what they are talking about, and others don't, and it is the job of journalists to be able to tell the difference. Not just to stand in the middle moving a microphone from one side to the other.

So this vision of Melissa Chan's of a kind of People's Republic of America, in which journalists have to "realise that the country has changed", is not just some flight of fancy, but can be seen as a precise analogy.

It is the only way to go.

We're not speaking the same language

The thing to remember is that there are two things - there's the Irish language, and there's the Irish language industry, which is something else.

While I have written much on the Irish Government's official efforts to "restore" the language, seeing them rightly as perhaps the most fantastically extravagant failure in bureaucratic history, and worthy of deep study in itself, I should add that the industry is actually doing well.

It was alluded to indeed by Sean Kyne, Minister for the Gaeltacht, speaking to Ciara Kelly on Lunchtime Live about the possibility of a "separate stream" for those who might come out of a Gaelscoil wanting to work as teachers of Irish in schools or universities, or in the European Commission (presumably doing the vital work of translation), and those who just want some "conversational" Irish.

And I guess that is all fine too, though Mr Kyne neglected to add that it is these career opportunities which have helped to condemn the rest of the population to Compulsory Irish - there is clearly no other morally acceptable reason for it.

After all, if the numbers wanting to study Irish fall, as they certainly would in a voluntary system, it might be argued - unsuccessfully, no doubt - that fewer teachers of Irish are needed.

Moreover, he was on the show mainly to talk about the fact that with many people now having their children "exempted" from doing Irish, they wouldn't be allowed to "game the system" by taking up some other language that is foreign to them - they can't be claiming they have learning difficulties with Irish, but no such difficulties with German or Italian.

So the Compulsory Irish is now openly and officially damaging the education and indeed the career opportunities of thousands of students - in order to maintain the education and the career opportunities of others.

There's probably a great word for that in Irish.

Carry on shaving... until the razor cuts

By a happy coincidence, the new ad for Gillette, which "takes on toxic masculinity", arrives just as I have finished watching Mad Men again in its entirety on Netflix.

And in the course of all that impossibly beautiful work, there is the celebrated episode in which Don Draper takes out an ad in the New York Times, announcing that his agency will not be doing business any more with the cigarette industry. He admits they have recently lost their biggest client, Lucky Strike - but are using this as an opportunity to get out of that toxic business anyway.

Thus he "changes the conversation", and saves his company.

When you consider the Nike ads, which use the progressive message of Colin Kaepernick, and now the Gillette campaign, it seems the finest minds of advertising are still very much in love with Don Draper and his playbook.

Except I don't think Gillette have hit the spot the way that Nike did. To change the slogan from "The Best A Man Can Get" to "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be" is a tad inelegant, but it falls apart completely at the end - after an uplifting sequence of images of men not behaving badly, they conclude with the lines: "It's only by challenging ourselves to do more, that we can get closer to our best."

Anyone who put that in front of Don Draper would have received a chilling glance as he swept out the door, and the verdict: "Next time you want to write a short story, send it to The New Yorker."

"We Believe…" they've declared at the start, but looking at that line, Don would know they don't believe it enough.

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