As feared the short piece on the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams by 60 Minutes, the primetime current affairs show for the CBS television network in the United States, largely met the low expectations set by most seasoned observers of American international journalism. Frankly it was like watching a British TV news broadcast from the 1970s or ’80s, one informing the viewers back in Britain about the conflict in “Northern Ireland” while adhering to the propaganda-line crafted by the government, intelligence services and armed forces. Thus through the eyes of the 60 Minutes’ correspondent Scott Pelley – and the US news media in general – a complex post-colonial conflict about nationality and politics was reduced to hackneyed nonsense about warring religious tribes of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland still loyal to ancient historical grudges. I don’t think I can go any better than the dire summation of Ed Moloney, an Irish writer and journalist who knows more about these matters than most:
“The CBS Sixty Minutes item on Gerry Adams and Jean McConville last night was utterly predictable, utterly simplistic, utterly superficial and in so many ways utterly wrong. The contrast between this so-called television journalism and the sort of work and research that Patrick Keefe put into his New Yorker piece published last month couldn’t have been greater.
The Troubles were, in the Sixty Minutes version, a civil war between Catholics and Protestants with the British accorded, implicitly, their preferred position as ‘piggy in the middle’, trying valiantly to keep these irrational and violence-addicted Irish tribes from slaughtering each other. The truth, that the British, historically and during the last forty years, share in full, responsibility for the state of affairs that caused the violence – and Jean McConville’s sad end – is not even acknowledged.
This was the journalism inspired by the British Information Office on Third Avenue circa 1972, recycled ad nauseum in The New York Times for the following two decades and picked up in 2015 by CBS: the valiant cousins trying to keep peace amongst warring clans just like the US Marines in Tikrit in 2003.
We were served platefuls of cliched journalism: fifteen foot peace walls and the lack of integrated education. Not a single nod in the direction of the facts and the possibility that the British Army might have been exploiting a widowed mother-of-ten for the pathetic morsels of intelligence she could provide; not a mention of the possibility that the IRA might have been telling the truth about Jean McConville.
Not a mention of what Brendan Hughes had to say, that Jean McConville confessed to him that she was an informer, that a radio transmitter found in her apartment had been used to communicate with her British Army handlers and not a word that he had let her go because of her family circumstances; not a word about the assertion that she then returned to her trade despite the damage this would do to her children; not a question directed at the British about their alleged role in the affair, that through malice or incompetence they kept on their books an informer whose life was in danger and by so doing contributed to her death.”
60 Minutes and CBS News have proven yet again that when it comes to our island nation American journalism achieves the same factual and analytical level as an average episode of the Sons of Anarchy. And we all know what racist crap that is. So here’s the question. If the US news media can get reporting on present or past events in a modern, Western, largely English-speaking, largely secular nation-state so spectacularly wrong what on earth do you think they are doing with their reporting of events in the rest of the world?