Frank Coughlan: 'Enjoy gossip? Don't shoot the messenger'
WE were making slow progress on an exacting loop of our Wicklow mountain walk when two women in our group began an animated discussion about a gruesome and tragic murder trial that had the nation in its thrall.
No bloody detail was considered too unpalatable to be left to one side and no possible motive considered too far-fetched to deem it beyond their remit. What they hadn't read they were happy to speculate on. Never let a deficit of knowledge get in the way of a good, malicious gossip.
It was a glorious day, the hike wasn't too arduous and the only thing that had them struggling for breath was their eagerness to out-shock each other with their forensic attention to detail. They would have left Patricia Cornwell somewhere back down the trail.
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We eventually stopped for a quick refuel and, after brief introductions, we got chatting. Out of the small talk it emerged that I was a journalist.
One of the women nodded politely and was suitably indifferent. The other, though, fixed me with a stare that stapled me to the log I was resting on before launching into a denunciation of the Fourth Estate that was as bewildering as it was unexpected.
Newspapers, she lectured, had been contemptible and scandalous in their coverage of this murder trial. The level of detail, its graphic nature, the invasion of privacy. All to sell newspapers. So grubby. And on. Then on. I listened politely, but if she felt that was an indication of contrition she was, of course, mistaken. When she had finished offloading, I complimented her on such nuanced and detailed knowledge of the trial, considering that she would never obviously sniff at anything as malodorous as a newspaper.
I left it there and moved on. Literally.
That was a while back but it is a point that has more relevance now in this age of 24/7 media, digital news banditry and living, as we do, in a fraught age of populism where proven facts are contested and journalists reporting them are stalked on social media and in real time.
Nothing new about people finding the message distasteful and blaming the unfortunate messenger, but the avalanche of abuse that BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg received for tweeting that the man who argued with Boris Johnson in a UK hospital corridor was a Labour activist, when that's exactly what he was, takes some licking.
Whatever about the hypocrisy of my accidental hiking companion complaining about the ethics of covering stories she obviously devoured, it pales into nothingness compared to what we have to put up with in this post-truth age: people outraged at being told facts that intrude on the certainty of their rigid world view.
This, sadly, applies as much to, hmm, tolerant liberals as it does to right-wing deplorables. Fake news is not only everywhere, but it is also what a lot of people who should know better seem to exclusively demand.
Times have changed along with the climate
It would be easy to be cynical about the Climate Strike protests. Being patronising is, after all, part of being a grumpy grown-up.
But this is more than a passing fad, or at least will be if these young climatistas go on to live the life and not just chant the chants.
Reality check though: my carbon footprint at their age was a fraction of theirs.
Baby boomers, reared in leaner times, had far less money to spend on disposables, seldom flew, shopped locally and ate seasonally.
Where we sinned was in giving our children the nice stuff we never had the opportunity to enjoy. Shoot us now.