Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.

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Welch & Rawlings

Saturday, 3 December, 2011 0 Comments

With the light, dry wit that marks his superb musical criticism, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney of the Financial Times recently wrote, “Gillian Welch’s European tour, which ended in London this week, will not have been a bonanza for local haulage firms and roadies.” Hunter-Tilney was watching Welch and David Rawlings in action at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and the “show” consisted of two performers, two acoustic guitars and two pairs of microphone stands. “As stage shows go, it is austere in the extreme,” he noted. And the music? “To become disenchanted you must once have been enchanted,” he observed. “That was precisely the state of mind that Welch’s and Rawlings’s masterly performance provoked.” This is great music making.

Shame on the Street

Friday, 2 December, 2011 0 Comments

Name that party! Let’s look at this New York Times headline from yesterday: “Ex-Governor Is Said to Be Focal Point of Inquiry“. Why didn’t the paper of record write “Republican Ex-Governor Is Said to Be Focal Point of Inquiry”? Maybe it was keeping it’s firepower for the first paragraph. Here it is: “Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico who ran for president in 2008, is being investigated by a federal grand jury for possible violations of campaign finance laws, according to people with knowledge of the inquiry.”

Still no mention of the “R” word. Actually, Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, was not a Republican; he was a Democrat, and a very good friend of the Bill and Hillary Clinton, too. You see, the beauty of having a free press is that you get to read the all the news that fits the agenda of those who own it.

Let’s quickly jet now from New York to London where Mr McCann spoke of stories “which appear to have no factual basis, or exaggerated, or distorted” from which newspapers profit enormously while damaging their subjects profoundly. Mr McCann is Gerry McCann, whose daughter, Madeline, was abducted in Portugal. He was telling the Leveson Inquiry about how the press accused him and his wife Kate of selling their daughter into slavery or murdering her.

Speaking of the McCanns, the Australian cultural critic, Clive James pointed out something very obvious and very shocking: “As I recall, they have always spoken with transparent nobility in their own defence. Their most telling point is the question they keep asking that gets no answer: how come none of the writers and executives involved in their persecution have ever been docked a day’s pay?” And he adds, “There is a difference between freedom of speech and the freedom to get a kick out of inflicting misery. Is the question really all that difficult?”

Under oath, the actress Siena Miller told the judge of how photographers used to spit at her so she would pull a face and caption writers could then put their own, usually unflattering, interpretation on the image. Another theme at the inquiry is how newspapers take retribution on those who oppose their might, in the form of ad hominem attacks in comment columns, and of the hurdles erected that slow down agreements to run corrections. And on and on and on.

Looks like it’s time to Occupy the Press.


Thursday, 1 December, 2011 0 Comments

“Please could you get me a quote responding to this specifically and a more general one saying what you think it will achieve. As I said we will be publishing the piece at 14.30 GMT so a quick response would be appreciated.”

That’s how “doorstepping” (cornering somebody for an unexpected interview) is done by e-mail. Even though the sender is a journalist with a “quality” newspaper and although he uses the word “please”, the naked threat is conveyed by the formulation “we will be publishing the piece at 14.30 GMT so a quick response would be appreciated”. In other words, we’re going to press with this regardless of what you say.

In its “Editorial Guidelines“, the BBC elaborates upon doorstepping thus: “Any proposal to doorstep, whether in person or on the phone, where we have tried to make an appointment for an interview with the individual or organisation concerned must be approved by a senior editorial figure or, for independents, by the commissioning editor.”

How does approval by “a senior editorial figure” or by “the commissioning editor” turn an invasion of privacy in something beneficial for the public? What extraordinary moral standing do these people possess that renders a questionable practice acceptable? If “a senior editorial figure” called Jack tells a reporter called Jill to doorstep a person called Di, is that OK then?

In the relatively courteous 1960s, an inexperienced John Simpson attempted to doorstep Harold Wilson at a railway station. The pipe-smoking British Prime Minister rewarded him with a sharp punch to the stomach.

The biter got bitten in the early 1990s when Lorraine Heggessey of the BBC doorstepped the doorstepping reporter Roger Cook over allegedly dodgy reporting tactics he had used during a show on Arthur Scargill. She then chased him down the road shouting, legend has it, “Answer the question, you fat bastard!”

But in Ireland, where different standards apply, some of the doorstepped were willing to go beyond epithets and punches. In “Veronica Guerin: The Life and Death of a Crime Reporter“, Emily O’Reilly recounts that, “Throughout her time in journalism, she doorstepped politicians, the child of a politician, crime victims, armed robbers, murderers, suspected murderers…” On 26 June 1996, when Veronica Guerin stopped at a red traffic light on the outskirts of Dublin, she was shot dead by an armed man on a motorcycle.

Tomorrow, here, victim impact statements.