herald

Wednesday 15 August 2018

A line has been crossed with this personal smear

Ursula Halligan of TV3 rarely minces her words when asking a question.

That said, there was real surprise at her directness when she tackled the Taoiseach Brian Cowen over his interview on RTE.

As the Taoiseach moved into the seminar room she demanded to know was he drunk or hungover earlier that morning? She was citing a quote left on Twitter by Fine Gael's Simon Coveney.

To most people in our party it seemed that an invisible line had been crossed in both the media and the Opposition in how they treat their adversaries.

Brian Cowen was surprised at Halligan's directness and stated by way of reply "That is uncalled for".

This kind of political charge of a highly personalised nature has recently become very common.

When someone is subject to a charge of this kind, it is impossible to deal with, yet it lies out there as an allegation.

It represents a new dumbed-down politics in an age where substance comes second to style.



Turmoil

One suspects that both the media and Fine Gael hoped that the event would be an occasion of bloodletting by the party amid hints of a leadership turmoil.

But in fact, unlike many other such gatherings, there were no rocks thrown at the top table.

Brian Cowen and his Finance Minister used the event to underpin a message that things were being accomplished.

A former party adviser gave an insightful view on public attitudes to the media coverage of politics.

Peter McDonagh stated that focus group research bears out public unease about media presentations of politics as a series of personality contests.

The Taoiseach described Simon Coveney's charge as marking a new low in Irish politics.

He is, of course, correct.

Under his 'oh-so innocent' exterior, Coveney has planted a spectacular and unfounded smear.

He is just the latest in a line of politicians and bloggers who use new technologies to damage a person's reputation.



Unethical

The mainstream media seems unable to resist a herd-like instinct to follow up, even if unethical, what is out there on the internet.

One experienced journalist privately expressed reservations to me about the media frenzy that had taken over on this issue.

Seasoned journalists treasure the access they get on occasions such as at Galway.

It may be that Brian Cowen, like his predecessor, has given the media a level of access that is not a feature in other countries.

But Simon Coveney, I am sure, is aware of that old phrase that those who live by the sword inevitably die by it.

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