The Irish Times – Our Strict Father

[A slipshod look at the IT’s approach to Lisbon Mark II]

The linguist George Lakoff poses the thesis that the differences between idealised conservative and liberal mindsets can be understood in terms of how each prioritises “conceptual metaphors for morality in our conceptual systems” – for example, the prioritising of retribution over restitution.

The self professed bastion of liberal moral accounting in Ireland, the Irish Times, tends to complicate Lakoff’s thesis. On the one hand, it’s left of centre commentators and reporters often produce compelling criticism of issues of “poverty and displaced groups or marginalised people,” however at the very same time, reporting of the often corrupt “relationship between politics, business” and the media itself can often appear to be somewhat overlooked, or at least toned down by some spurious mitigating factor.

As Frank Connolly noted in interview with MediaBite on his attempts to cover corruption while at the Sunday Business Post, “immediately you could sense a friction there.“

I (we) would argue that despite contributions from the likes of John Gibbons, Lara Marlowe and Fintan O’Toole, representation on behalf of the establishment is by and large the dominant theme at the Times. Take for instance, the Irish Times’ editorial approach to discussion of the proposed 2nd referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, one of the Irish Times’ major campaigning issues of the last few years.

From the outset, the editorial writer makes clear this is a one way communication – voters are “being given a second chance” to make the ‘right’ choice. And for those that gave the incorrect answer to the important question first time round, there is also a casual reprimand – “Voters have had many reasons to think long and hard.” A clear manifestation of Geraldine Kennedy’s strikingly paternalistic plan “to lead and shape public opinion.” After all, according to Lakoff, “the father’s primary duty is to tell his children what is right and wrong, punish them when they do wrong.”

With Lakoff’s Strict Father Model (the conservative) “life is seen as fundamentally difficult and the world as fundamentally dangerous. Evil is conceptualized as a force in the world, and it is the father’s job to support his family and protect it from evils — both external and internal.”

And so the Irish Times’ opens the discussion by setting the scene: “A STARK, FRIGHTENING reality exists.” The writer clearly failing to uphold the same rules of engagement she or he is about to lay out: “[politicians must] resist any temptation to exploit the situation [the current economic and political landscape].”

In order to emphasise exactly what “second chance” is now being offered the editorial writer warns of the need to remain at the ‘heart of Europe’, evoking “a common metaphor, shared by conservatives and liberals alike — the Nation-as-Family metaphor, in which the nation is seen as a family, the government as a parent and the citizens as children”:

“The defining issue for Lisbon, second time round, is whether Ireland wants to stand financially isolated or part of a strong and supportive European Union.”

Lakoff writes: “The father embodies the values needed to make one’s way in the world and to support a family: he is morally strong, self-disciplined, frugal, temperate, and restrained. He sets an example by holding himself to high standards. He insists on his moral authority and commands obedience.” Here too, the writer attempts to assert the high moral ground:

“[Farmers and trade union] demands contributed to negative sentiment and added to public confusion about what, precisely, the treaty involved. A week before polling day, some 60 per cent of those surveyed either did not know or were only vaguely aware of the issues.”

Yet this was the very week the Irish Times and its competitors went into confusion overdrive. The following are the headlines of all the articles discussing the treaty from the Irish Times opinion page in the 5 days leading up to the referendum:

The imperative is a Yes vote

Voters are well enough informed to make decision [by Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill is chairman of the Referendum Commission]

Indefensible ‘defence’ dimension demands a No vote

Yes vote required to prevent Ireland’s isolation and a loss of jobs

If you care about climate change, vote Yes to Lisbon

A question of influence [“After seven years of hard bargaining this Lisbon compromise would be very difficult to renegotiate after a No vote”]

In absence of trust, coherence is all the more crucial [“A reasonable set of answers to some questions would have seen the treaty Yes campaign coast home”]

Europe deserves a better treaty than this [Jens-Peter Bonde from Denmark is a long-time critic of the European project]

A No vote will damage the EU and also hurt us economically

Vote No for Fear. Vote Yes for Hope. The choice is ours

No vote would precipitate a major European crisis

No better deal if we reject treaty

Are we out of our minds? [“ARE WE out of our collective minds? We are not going to win our money on “the horses” if we say No to the Lisbon Treaty.”]

As a nation we have simply too much to lose by voting No to the Lisbon Treaty

Support for No vote shows lack of faith in politicians

Gulf between leaders, voters frames treaty [“the increased muscle a Yes vote would give the Government within the EU system”]

Voting No would plunge us into uncertainty and crisis

Of the 17 articles, 14 could accurately be described as ‘Yes’, 2 as ‘No’ and 1 neither ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Of the 14 ‘Yes’ articles, a substantial proportion of the authors portray a ‘No’ vote as being potentially catastrophic, using terms such as ‘crisis’ and ‘much to lose’ – it can be seen that as the day of the referendum approaches the headlines and articles become noticeably more desperate.

The following are the headlines of all the articles discussing the treaty from the Irish Independent opinion and analysis page in the 5 days leading up to the referendum:

Damn, no secular takeover after all [“So, despite the fact that there’ll be no legalisation of drugs, prostitution, abortion or euthanasia, and no conscription into a European Army or relinquishing of our tax laws, I’ll still be voting “yes” next Thursday. Boring, but true. The Devil would not approve.”]

We need to think of consequences [“The notion that the people of Europe would applaud an Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is dangerous nonsense and it is revealed as a lie by reports of widespread concern in the EU at the news that the rejection lobby appears to hold the lead.”]

Defeat from the jaws of victory [“Yes is the only answer to Thursday’s question”]

Chill wind from dole queues [“Those who would reject the Lisbon Treaty and blithely launch our country into a period of further uncertainty and confusion would dismiss such appeals as scaremongering and bullying.”]

There is nothing to fear in a Yes vote

A ‘Yes’ vote is the best way to keep our economy competitive

This is the only way to ensure we have a say in our future [“By voting ‘No’ we will emphasise the huge issue involved in the constitutional change.”]

Time we idealistic ‘Yes’ voters started to feel the love [“many on the ‘No’ side are arguing from self-interest.”]

Add your voice to the chorus for Europe and drown out nay-sayers [“Good For Ireland, Good For Europe.”]

A word to the wise from one Abraham Lincoln [“When the Irish go to the polls they will in a real sense be carrying with them the 450 million disenfranchised Europeans who have no vote.”]

Playing Mr Nice Guy won’t secure Yes vote, Brian

Sinn Fein at the heart of the anti-Lisbon lunatic menagerie

Decision will be far-reaching [“The latter choice would present the EU with a crisis.”]

Brian baffles foreign media pack with late charm assault [“What had the Europeans ever done for us, they demanded. If Brian had known his Monty Python he could have replied, “the aqueducts, the roads, education, wine, sanitation . . .” Instead, he was on his best behaviour. “If I ask ye nicely will it make a difference?” he enquired.”]

Be wary of the unelected and their hidden agenda [“Any citizen contemplating a ‘No’ vote would want to think long and hard about the damage that would do to our international reputation as a positive, forward-looking European country.”]

Bad news is just the job for ‘Yes’ campaign

‘Yes’ camp’s empty Eurobabble should be met by a simple ‘No’

Why ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters are in a class of their own [“but one thing is clear: the establishment is at odds with the population and this tells us more about Ireland today than it does about Europe tomorrow.”]

Of the 18 articles, 14 could accurately be described as ‘Yes’, 3 as ‘No’ and 1 neither ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Of the 14 ‘Yes’ articles, most if not all use openly derogatory terms to describe ‘No’ campaigners, such as ‘lunatic menagerie’.

It’s safe to say this gives a good indication of the “sustained PR barrage” we are likely to be subjected to “from now until October.”

“The Government must turn the Irish people’s fear of an uncertain economic future to their advantage by blending that fear with the hope membership in good stead of a stronger EU might give them.” [Stephen KinsellaThe Irish Times]

Stephen Kinsella is my new hero.

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