In a recent episode of TV3’s ‘Taoiseach’ Matt Cooper was challenged by John Waters about the media’s abject failure to go after Charles Haughey and his disastrous culture of corruption when he was in politics. As one of the journalists who believes his profession lives up to its claim to be the guardians of democracy, Cooper was apoplectic. Without being able to point to exactly how the media had done the great job Cooper claimed they had other than to say ‘everyone was talking about it at the time’, he shouted Waters down until the point went away – dismissing Waters’ observation that there were hundreds of corrupt politicians about whom nothing at all was being said. Either then or since Waters might have added. Cooper is apparently oblivious to the fact that Haughey was able to continue unhindered in power for a very long time despite the timid commentary and reporting unfolding in the news media. For him there is no brooking any possibility other than that the media is beyond reproach – merely scratching the surface of the rotten nature of Irish politics is more than enough to make him feel satisfied with his profession.
Matt Cooper was one of the panelists at the UCC Journalism Society’s 2010 conference at which I also spoke. He was mightily affronted by what I said. Rising to the full magisterial height of his celebrity journalist status and casting as much scorn as he could muster from way up there, he proceeded in every utterance to personify all the characteristics of the intellectually embedded creature of mainstream media that I had just attempted to describe: he has been in journalism for 22 years and loves it; there is no problem with journalism beyond what can be explained by ordinary human failing; there is screeds of investigative journalism and the establishment are regularly being held fully to account by journalists like himself. Didn’t they get Ray Burke and Michael Lowry? Safe in the knowledge that he could deploy a sort of sneering condescension at the third pannelist – UCD lecturer and socialist Kieran Allen – Matt invited the audience to share his woefully cliched quips about Allen’s perspective and the left in general. Apparently it was a given for Matt that people would find this stuff amusing, thereby revealing an extraordinarily unbalanced and biased attitude towards leftwing politicians and politics. I only wish I could have filmed his response in advance and used it as exhibit A in making my case.
I don’t think too many people present were fooled by Matt Cooper’s failure to engage either intellectually or substantively with what Kieran Allen or I had said. Allen had pointed to the heirarchical nature of journalism as also being a core problem. Matt seemed to think that because he couldn’t conceive of a workable alternative to that arrangement, none could possibly exhist. ‘There has to be a filter’ he said, writing off the entire field of citizen journalism at a stroke. And who better than your well-paid, business studies graduate self to filter the news, Matt?