As several commentators over at the Cedar Lounge Revolution have noted, the ideologically schizophrenic attitude of the Irish Times towards the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis has become increasingly apparent in recent weeks, with both editorials and features expressing a degree of sneaking regardism towards the Darwinist argument that we should just “get on with it” and learn to live with the pandemic sans the need for substantive regional or national restrictions. If not quite an anti-lockdown stance the newspaper has nevertheless begun to lean towards something more in line with the “herd immunity” theory, or at least a scientifically distorted version of it, that initially gained traction with authorities in the United Kingdom and the United States. And which Sweden pursued to its own considerable detriment in terms of lives and prosperity.
However few people believed that the newspaper would go so far as to permit the publication of an expensive full-page advertisement from a disreputable organisation, funded by libertarian think tanks and billionaires in the US, attacking the health rules in place to manage the pandemic. Containing a number of scientifically false or misleading claims, the ad in the self-styled paper of record has been hailed by the far-right tendency in the country as a vindication of their position – and tactics. And while most newspapers maintain a firewall between the news teams and the sales teams anyone familiar with the inner workings of the Irish Times will be aware of just how porous that wall is. The timing in the publication of implicitly lockdown-sceptic editorials and explicitly anti-lockdown features is not coincidental.
Unfortunately Ireland lacks a liberal – as opposed to neoliberal – media which is why the crisis gripping our island nation is only going to get worse. Not just the spread of the virus itself and the terrible effect it is having but also in the increasingly irrational and unscientific behaviours of some of our elected politicians and their fellow-travellers in the press. Such actions are opening up spaces for ideological toxins to seep in and poison the well of public opinion. For proof of that look no further than the latest opinion piece in The Burkean, a conservative college magazine that has now become one of the Americana mouthpieces of the domestic neo-right.
Yesterday’s papers carried news of clashes Saturday afternoon at the anti-lockdown ‘Let Ireland Live’ demonstration. Unusually, the media also largely admitted to have been instigated by Left street activists through an informal alliance of football ultras and Left Republicans. Billed as an explicitly Nationalist event, the planned demo occurred fairly successfully, despite a marked increased left-wing threat at the gates of Leinster House.
With successful orations given by the National Party’s Justin Barrett and other figures the day, despite aggravation, proceeded well, with the starting skirmish merely guaranteeing public attention rather than preventing the demo to occur. If the previous half-dozen Nationalist demos the past 6 months were victories for the Right, this had the appearance of an effective stalemate with the resulting media storm heavily benefiting the Right.
…allowing the Right to profit from anti-lockdown disquiet.
Ironically even the liberal press gallery were forced to report on the very clear violent nature of the black bloc assembled, as opposed to the generally more peaceable Nationalist attendees. Online commentary from the left focused on targeting journalists who had the temerity to air the fact that violence was the sole responsibility of the Left and the Left alone, who came with the aim of disrupting a lawful gathering.
Without the added variable of the left-wing protests, the event would have occurred below the media radar, with the presence of the black bloc merely propelling the demo to the frontpage of national consciousness, with largely sympathetic coverage to boot.
To be clear, we have associates of the fascistic-style groups exploiting the current Covid-19 crisis by opposing government-mandated (and popularly supported) restrictions to manage the situation praising the Irish mainstream media for “sympathetic” coverage and using that praise as a means of legitimising their activities. And the decision by the Irish Times to accept the publication of a full-page ad by a controversial organisation whose aims align with that of the reactionary right adds further weight to that campaign of fake legitimacy.