Gerry Adams, CBS’ 60 Minutes And The Journalism Of Stereotype

Is this a metaphor? I do believe it is!

I’ve stated before on ASF that the vast majority of “Western” career journalists don’t know their arse from their elbow when it comes to writing about the minutiae of politics and history in nations or regions far away from their own (and as we know, the devil is in the detail). As a general rule of thumb, the further a reporter strays from his or her home territory the greater the gulf of misunderstanding grows. For instance, if you think that your TV news shows or local press are giving you fair and accurate descriptions of the events in the conflict-cauldron of Syria and Iraq, well think again. They give half-stories, or more frequently stories wrapped in crude and easily digestible stereotypes that supposedly make it clearer for the general audience or readership to understand what is happening – but which just as often leads them completely astray, leaving false, and in some cases, dangerously misleading impressions (Gulf War II, anybody?). Lest you think this phenomenon is confined to the more exotic climes of the world, even modern European nation-states can be subject to the indignities – or stupidities – of lazy (or politically partisan) reporting. For instance, take this preview from CBS’s flagship news and current affairs show, 60 Minutes, on an upcoming documentary on Gerry Adams TD, the Sinn Féin leader and former Irish republican insurgent. Let’s just say if the synopsis is anything to go by it may well make for cringe-inducing viewing for anyone in Ireland. My comments in the square brackets.

“Many believe Adams could be the Republic of Ireland’s prime minister someday [ASF: It’s Ireland not the “Republic of”, and no they don’t; they really, really don’t]. He is careful in his answers to questions about his affiliation with the IRA, for whom many Catholic Irish voters sympathize. [ASF: And who would they be? Some 85% of the electorate in Ireland, if one were to go by the last census? And of course, on this island nation, we all vote according to our religious identity or that of our parents or grandparents… Sigh]

…[Jean McConville] was believed to have betrayed the Catholic IRA by informing on them to the British – the group’s enemy, along with Protestants who supported British rule in Northern Ireland. [ASF: The “Catholic IRA”? Seriously? This is like a British news report from 1971!]

In 1984, Adams was shot three times in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in an attack that a Protestant militant group said was retribution on Adams for orchestrating attacks on Protestants. [ASF: Protestants, Catholics, sectarian, tribal, tit-for-tat, blah, blah, blah…]

Northern Ireland is still very much divided. Despite a “Good Friday” agreement for shared power in the country between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority reached with Adams’ help in 1998, walls separate neighborhoods and Catholics will only call a Catholic cab, Protestants patronize their own livery services. [ASF: Irish Nationalists? British Unionists? Has anyone in CBS heard of these commonplace and politically accurate terms? And what in the name of Christ is a Protestant livery service?!]

Like I said, don’t bother with getting to know the minutiae of the subject or using recognisable descriptions of groups or communities; just chuck out some old propagandist labels and stereotypes from the middle of the 20th century. It really is easier than doing some up-to-date, 21st century journalism. As for the issue of Jean McConville’s murder and Gerry Adams’ likely involvement as a former senior member of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army’s Belfast Brigade HQ Staff in 1972, the truth is out there. Unfortunately it’s a little bit more complicated than the news media can handle (or would wish). So, you know, they’ll stick to reporting the more melodramatic, fact-averse versions that they always have. Especially with two general elections looming on the horizon…

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3 comments

  1. well yes, Séamas, you’re quite right when you complain about biased, poorly informed reporting.
    Look at the objections the Scots are raising about biased BBC news programmes. London is hardly that far from Edinbro’! So distance is not the only issue.
    one anecdote: I’ve heard that people who were hostages in the kosher French supermarket a couple of months ago (Je suis charlie) want to sue TV companies because their reporting increased the danger they were in. The scoop is all!
    Anyway best wishes for Easter. Hope you have a great time.
    Onwards and upwards we go, creating awareness step by step!!!
    We’re getting there!!

    PS any chance of a link to this CBS show?

  2. Coming from a news service that had reported those of lower income in Ireland were catching and roasting pigeons over make-shift fireplaces last year, this does not surprise me at all. What I still find worrying is that some in our government seem to think it a good idea to have these highly ms-educated folks mediate in some of our most sensitive affairs,

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