22 May 2008 Edition
TRYING TO work out the politics or even an editorial viewpoint held by the Sunday Tribune is like trying to read your teenage brother’s mood swings. There is no pattern or method to a personality that has no developed political outlook or philosophy, just a well-meaning world view that passes for that dubious quality, ‘common sense’, occasionally punctuated by bursts of outraged indignation at perceived slights or wrongs.
Some of the Tribune commentators are baby boomers who were once mildly (and safely) radical while others are products of that great new factory - the media training degree courses - churned out every year.
Last Sunday, staffer Sarah McInerney wrote an essay on female abusers of children - “the species as deadly as the male” - featuring such monsters as Myra Hindley and Rosemary West and arguing that a significant proportion of child abusers are female (well, 7 per cent, according to one survey) and that this is a problem we will become increasingly aware of in future.
McInerney argued that children abused by their mothers are even more traumatised than other victims, given the nature of the maternal relationship. And, in a concluding quote that would surely warm the cockles of John Waters’ misogynist heart, readers were told that “men have been painted as monsters and, in a way, it’s our turn now”.
Given that Hindley and West are the type of people McInerney is talking about, one has to believe that Sarah would lock up such people, for a little while anyway. But flicking on through the same edition, one stumbles across South Dublin’s favourite liberal, Ivana Bacik, who has a quite different message. Bacik argues that most women in jail are a danger only to themselves and that any suggestion that we jail more women is very wrong.
The two writers are discussing different phenomenon, it must be admitted, but the problem with the Sunday Tribune is that many of its views and subjects are plucked out of thin air because they are ‘interesting’ or have human attention value. There is no depth, no discernible outlook and no long-term values - neither particularly right-wing, nor left-wing. Such absence of ideology reduces the paper to the lowest common denominator and this results in ‘common sense’ attitudes (i.e. right-wing, at bottom leavened by a dash of 1980s liberalism).
A GOOD EXAMPLE of this, again in last Sunday’s edition, is an article by a Shaun Walker on the revived popularity of Stalin in today’s Russia.
The writer comments with incredulity on such attitudes given that “he executed thousands of Russians” and that millions more went to concentration camps. In an article that traverses the 1917 Revolution, the Second World War and most of the last century, this incredibly superficial treatment of history omits to mention another mega statistic: the 25 million Russians who were slaughtered by the Nazis in World War II. That Stalin - no favourite of this Leninist - was leader of the Soviet Union at the time, whatever his human and political crimes, might help to explain his enduring popularity in the Russian psyche. And Walker might also have mentioned the extremes of vulgar wealth and poverty that have been produced by the overthrow of the ‘grey’ Stalinist regime that once ensured every single citizen had food, health services, education and so on, whatever other limitations that existed.
LAST SUNDAY’S Tribune led with a story about €1 million stolen from 300 credit card accounts (okay, it was a slow news week) and another about politicians pressing the wrong voting buttons in the Dáil. Substance overwhelmed by not very stylish frippery.
Inside there were two pages devoted to the phenomenon first generated by Britain’s Lady Di - public grief as a commodity, in this case over the passing of writer Nuala Ó Faoláin.
The paper has always struggled financially but with its editorial values now submerged under an ocean of trivia, it is also bereft of personality or real content.
The Irish Times is a right-of-centre newspaper that caters for the privileged middle class and secular (non-Catholic, actually) liberals. It is anti-Fianna Fáil and anti-republican. The Irish Independent is similarly right-wing but less liberal and softer on Fianna Fáil. The Mail titles are British Tories trying to adapt to a less reactionary Irish market and most of the tabloids can be characterised in one way or another. The Sunday Independent is so repulsive, reactionary and sleazy that it does at least have a perverse attraction. And the Sunday Business Post is what its title suggests, although it has jettisoned its former political personality, exchanging its broad republican outlook for a fawning Fianna Fáil posture.
The Tribune has no such defining political characteristics and its editor, Noirín Hegarty, would probably boast that it cannot be bracketed. The paper mixes consumerism, fluffy human interest stories, crime shockers and the occasional worthwhile feature on items like the health services. And it has columnists who dream up quirky angles to engage readers and abuse individual politicians - but never the political system.
The Tribune once had an editorial direction and identity that saw it challenge power centres in society. It was hardly revolutionary and was also dependent on a middle-class readership and advertising bosses but there was an edge to its journalism that has disappeared. Sad.