Saturday 21 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'We've looked at clowns from both sides now'

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

There has been criticism of the Irish media in general for providing Peter Casey with the opportunities to make his case - whatever it is - about Travellers.

The critics were arguing that this is how "populism" has grown to such monstrous proportions in other countries, with reporters just reporting what is said, without exercising their judgment on the wisdom or otherwise of the speaker.

And there is something in this. For example, I would never report anything that Peter Casey said without also reporting, ideally in the same sentence, that he was the man who committed the single biggest act of eejitry in the entire campaign when he drove the golf ball into the water - and no, he wouldn't exactly be the first candidate in an Irish election to be rewarded for an outbreak of eejitry, and for following through on the original promise which he displayed in that department.

So I would not wish to broadcast his views on anything more complicated than the issue of driving a golf ball into the water, based on my editorial judgment that this tells me as much as I need to know about Peter Casey and anything else would be mere window-dressing.

Indeed, across the Atlantic, it was an act of golfing eejitry that told us more about Trump than any amount of "fact-checking", when he was pictured driving a buggy across a green. There is no doubt that the royal and ancient game has been played by some really, really bad men, but driving a buggy across a green is such a taboo, even the baddest of these have somehow refrained from it - even if they owned the golf course.

Leaving that umbrella blowing in the wind outside the door of the plane was poor from Trump, but the man who can drive a four-wheeled vehicle across the sacred surface of "the dancefloor" is truly capable of anything.

They've been trying to get these things right in America, these respectable reporters struggling with the fact that, to quote Michael Moore, "Trump is lying all the time, and he's telling the truth all the time, which is what makes him such a great performance artist".

But it may be too late - last week The New Yorker journalist Adam Davidson was beseeching his American colleagues to abandon what he called the High Church of Both Sides, "an ideology which believes that journalists are at their best when they ignore their own beliefs/prejudices, etc and are able to cover 'the other side'".

Davidson describes this both-sideism as "a useful tool in normal times… but it has no crisis mode".

Of course some of us didn't need the emergence of these various "authoritarian" leaders across the world to realise this - and some of us would even dispute the assertion that both-sideism is "a useful tool in normal times". As for the belief that journalists are at their best when they ignore their own beliefs/prejudices, it seems to have escaped the attention of those who teach and preach in the High Church of Both Sides that that would rule out Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Christopher Hitchens, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S Thompson and Just About Anyone Else Who Was Any Good.

They don't see that, because strangely enough these advocates of both-sideism will only accept their own side of that particular debate. But as Adam Davidson and other leading American journalists are observing, there are not two sides to the Trump story, and to suggest otherwise is not just an error of judgment - it is worse, it is an error of fact to be reporting what Trump is saying without immediately pointing out that it is either a lie, or a statement issued with no concern whatsoever as to whether it might be true or false.

Reporters themselves need to be saying this, rather than trying to find some opponent of Trump's to supply the "other side", as if it was an equivalent point of view - I look forward to RTE's Brian O'Donovan running with this immediately.

But what you really needed with Trump or any of these other "authoritarians" was some kind of a Section 31 measure. What a thing it was, all the same, back in the 1970s, for Ireland to recognise that the Provos, being at war with this Republic (according to themselves indeed), should not be given access to the public service media as if they were just "the other side" in a reasonable two-way discussion.

It went against the most deeply-held journalistic convictions of the "both-siders" - some of whom, it must be said, were probably in agreement with what the Provos might be saying anyway.

But it was grounded in the deepest journalistic instinct of all, in the absolute fact that no good can possibly come from letting an army of nationalist fanatics loose on the airwaves, to advertise their wares.

It's too late now in America for a Section 31. They should have seen this monstrosity coming, but they didn't. Or not enough of them saw it. Some of them still don't understand what's happening, otherwise those White House correspondents wouldn't be sitting there as usual, maintaining this false impression that democracy is still the name of the game.

So the very minimum that is required now, is that they stop going to that room to be "briefed" by Sarah Huckabee Sanders - it would be symbolic at least, and might even upset the Trumper, to have the enemy dictating the terms for a change.

They must also stop going to the rallies, where he has made them part of his act - again he would miss them there.

Forget about the mythical journalistic "balance", because the far-right, the Provos, so to speak, are everywhere now. Forget about the "both sides", because the media helped to put them there, and the media has to do everything it can to get them out - there's only one side now.

Sunday Independent

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