The Least Worst Option

The Least Worst Option in Irish Politics is only matched by the Least Worst of Irish Political Reporting.

Can you remember the lifecycle of a river from Leaving Certificate Geography? I Do. The River starts out in the Youth Stage; swift moving, eroding the detritus downstream in a rapid fashion with little or no concern for its own safety. Obstacles are engulfed, overcome and dragged into new fresh vibrant routes. The river may seem reckless but it’s at the centre of chaos where new discoveries are made. .

Next the River reaches the Mature Stage. Here the river starts to take cognisance of its environment. It no longer rushes as quickly to its destination, it meanders. The river adjusts to the environment and assimilates much more with the topographical constraints surrounding it.

Finally the River enters the Old Age Stage.  Now the meandering river is but a small part of the valley floor it once dominated. It is not even unique anymore; it may find other rivers, lakes, floodplains, marshes and swamps inhabiting its environment. It cannot engulf these any longer, let alone erode the detritus; it can only plod along to the end. The area around it is flat and without ambition. It cannot muster any speed as the land no longer allows it. Finally the River reaches the sea, spent and used up by the land it set out to change once in its Youth.

Now let’s look at our Political Reportage. Journalists start of with the belief of Speaking Truth to Power. They open debate, hold to account, challenge obfuscation and optimistically feel their work can help broaden the public knowledge of the incompetence (or less often competence) of the Politicians elected to represent the citizenry.

Then as they mature they slowly start to Embed themselves among the Political Class, excusing their lack of impartiality as a means to get the inside story. The start to publish Opinion Pieces that seem less critical of individual politicians and more inline with the Governmental Policy of “Everyone’s to blame, so no one’s to blame” mentality. You might refer to this period as the Fox News era. They still say some harsh and challenging things; they may even offend one or two ministers. But gone is the Optimism, they’re now pragmatic. Where Political Corruption/ Incompetence were once a call to arms the Journalist now errs on the side of caution. They feel they’re playing the Politicians while ignoring how much poison they swallow in order to climb the ladder of preferred reporters.

Finally, they reach the Old Age: a stage where reporting dissolves entirely into Sound bites and Quotes from unnamed and anonymous sources. Essentially they print what their master dictates and maybe peddle a sideline in Gossip, kite flying and unconventional Political Apologist PR. They dismiss legitimate criticism using clichés of keyboard warriors and actually believe their pretentious pragmatism, which has eroded their ability to be free thinkers, is “the least worst option”.

It would be idealistic to think our Political Reporters would wade out of the turgid stream of inane pieces and venture up river to the where the water has the power to create change. Why would they, it’s hard to break out of a circle that you never knew you were in? These Journalists have families, mortgages, bills and health insurance to pay. Pragmatic Old Age River Reporting is understandable. And that would be okay, if the Electorate – who want better for their children, their futures and their country – weren’t being fed this stream of drivel as fact.

We are continuously beating about the head with the underlying argument that Our Politicians aren’t the Best, but they’re the Best of a Bad Bunch. That our Incompetent Incumbent Cohort isn’t really very good, but they’re “the least worst option”. Think about that. Any aspirations you may have need to be adjusted down because we must expect less from our Government. We as a country shouldn’t ask for more, we should be Pragmatic, like the Old Age River Reporter.

Tony Groves Jan 2016

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19 thoughts on “The Least Worst Option

  1. Agreed, they are Masters of the Hot Potato.. “they won’t hold onto it for too long and will pass it on at the earliest opportunity, trying not to get burn’t”

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  2. There is an element of Stockholm syndrome in political reporting. You begin to fall in love with the people you are living with. OTOH, the way it works is you cannot get access to the “sources” unless you treat them nicely.
    The only commentator (you should distinguish reporter from commentator) worth reading is Fintan O’Toole.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, agree on the commentator from reporter. The access to sources is secondary to who controls the narrative, a point I should also have made. Really appreciate your time.
      regards

      TG

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  3. But surely this is the natural progression for most cycles – just like the river, the reporter too gets tired, beaten down and spent. He/she enters the cosy inner circle and likes it. The believes, principles and reasons for originally setting off on their exciting path is diminished by the responsibilities that life ultimately brings.

    So, what is the answer? How do you change the predictable life-cycle of the. Contemporary Reporter? 10 year full throttle reporting career, stinking of energy, enthusiasm and full of objective opinion. Then throw them a cushy Late night current affairs program on TV 3??

    Really enjoyed the read. Well written.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. I agree the current natural progression means that well-intentioned integrity driven journalists are going to be swept up by the flow of the well worn path. The answer, I believe, lies in those of us who consume these “reports” asking more, demanding better and questioning convenient opinion pieces. Next time you’re reading a piece look for the shoddy needle work in the strokes of “sources close to X minister” or the ubiquitous “unnamed sources confirmed” and ask who’s really telling the story .

      Thanks again

      TG

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  4. Nice piece TG. The progression is perhaps inevitable. The counterbalance, that said, in any profession is a behavioural integrity (sometimes formally defined, sometimes more organic). Thoughtful inquiry and truth telling, and not the regurgitation of spin, are the hallmark of good journalism. Unfortunately, Irish journalism hasn’t demonstrated much in this regard for a long time (the odd honourable exception excluded).

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    1. Thanks Mark, agree on the counterbalance, but in any industry if the culture only values long term sycophancy then all the behavioural integrity of any exceptions will not avail. Hence when you (correctly)mention honourable exceptions I think we slip into the least worst option problem ourselves. Really appreciate the feedback.

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  5. Nice post and nicely written.

    I think you hit on it with the reference to the fact that journalists are only people and that many of them reach a point where they have mortgages to pay and children to feed.

    In a small country like Ireland, when it boils down to it, people in any industry have relatively few prospective employers to choose from in the domestic market. Vested interests have been allowed to take very controlling positions in the media in Ireland. At the same time, the whole area of news media is going through significant change and it’s not clear how or whether consumers of news will pay for journalistic content in the future. In the context of all of this, it’s difficult for anyone, who plans to live in Ireland for the long term, to stick to the journalistic principles of their youth.

    The guys who write Broadsheet.ie are generally very principled and gutsy, but even they frequently have to give in to threats of litigation from strong vested interests and they all write under pseudonyms.

    Soldiers get to retire, or at least remove themselves from front line combat after a relatively short time and the lucky ones get to grow old away from the bullets. A journalist, at every stage of her/his working life always has to put his name to his/her articles. That must be difficult at times for journos who are also mammies or daddies.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, you make several good points. But (you knew there was a but coming) I can’t help thinking the loss of journalistic “joie de vivre” is more than simple risk aversion. I think it’s also an over abundance of experience. The “try, fail, try again, fail again, fail better” method seems to morph into “why try when you can fake trying?”
      Thanks again
      TG

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    1. If I may have a second bite of the cherry, consequent on the death of PJ Mara. Some of the commentary today reinforces Tony’s view of their world. A group of insiders reminiscing (sp?) about what they see as a world gone by, not realising that it hasn’t it has only become worse. I liked the clip I heard of Vincent B having a go at PJ for gagging the press…. keep it up Vincent, there are not many like you.

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