Who let the dogs out?

[Cross-posted from politico.ie‘s collaborative #budgetjam]

Yesterday the Sunday Times published what can only be described as a despicable hatchet job on Fintan O’ Toole. His character, personality, aspects of his personal relationships and other issues were the subject of the paper’s venomous, cowardly and anonymous attack on him. Arguments about his solutions to our economic crisis and the proposed budget are for another piece. There are many criticsims that might be made about O’ Toole’s position on many things, but this post is not concerned with them – nor is it concerned with the many sneaky, dishonest insinuations that the Sunday Times article is riddled with.

Defending heoroic individuals on whom we might all depend is not my agenda here. But one thing is unmistakable: Fintan O’ Toole is nothing if not well motivated. Disagree with him as many people clearly do, he deserves recognition for his recent efforts on behalf of Irish society and about the manifest inequalities about to be visited on us all if the proposed budget tomorrow is voted through – and above all if the systemic corruption and incompetence that he has so eloquently exposed in his book Ship of Fools, is not radically confronted and halted. All that in itself is more than enough reason to anger the chauvinist brutes who run our country – and their equally brutish – if sly – opposition party supporters – Fine Gael and Labour alike. When you add into the mix, as O’ Toole has, a series of effective public speaking events at which people have clearly warmed both to him personally and to what he has to say then you can be assured you will attract the customary, vindictive brutality of the Irish governing elite and, crucially, its supportive and equally vindictive media elite. Step forward The Sunday Times yesterday, The John Murray Show on RTE this morning and the Sunday Independent (who else?) yesterday. And of course the old Fianna Fáil reliable, Ryan Tubridy’s (no relation!) Late Late Show – all suddenly coming out in a crowd over just three or four days. Funny that, isn’t it? This post comments only on the Sunday Times piece – but watch this space.

Speaking to him late this afternoon, O’ Toole does not rail against a conspriacy of vested interests out to get him but he does agree that the Sunday Times’ and other newspaper/broadcaster’s coverage could well be more than merely sloppy journalism. “No-one called, not to check a single fact”, he says. “These are small things, but they tell you something.. street names, my salary, the 19A bus does not run from past Harcourt ‘Road’ and the whole thing about me driving off in a BMW Series or whatever after the protest march…I don’t drive, I don’t own a car, I got on the 13A bus after the march in Dublin to go home – as many people on the bus would be able to tell you…I am paid €85,000 a year and I am not a part-time worker. My work involves much more than the hours I put into writing – there are many meetings and a lot of adminsitrative and other things involved – as Deputy Editor, of course there are”.

What has O’ Toole done to get the establishment so nastily riled? It’s not possible to repeat the insinuations against FOT here without giving them possible legal credence but see here, in particular if you want to know what has upset ‘the powers that be’:


6 thoughts on “Who let the dogs out?

  1. Perhaps this is an attempt to drum up support and sympathy for O’Toole, whom it is fairly easy to see is himself part of the establishment he affects to rail against. Any view that O’Toole is some kind of threat to their interests tends to be challenged by two salient facts: he is associate editor of the Irish Times (for heavens’ sake) and has regular access to the airwaves to air his left-gatekeeper views.

    He may posture as a crusader, but his critique of the structures of which he forms an integral and essential part is decidedly vacuous. There is no international context to his ‘analysis’, no attempt to dissect the broader political and financial interests being served. Yes, kids, the current disaster is not part of a wider economic and political process; it’s all the fault of Fianna Fáil, localism, tribalism, clientalism, in fact, anything that does not require rational analysis.

    Ship of fools? Yes, and O’Toole is the helmsman. I’m astonished that in a site that claims to analyse the workings of the media, you would be so credulous with regard to one of its more obvious phonies.

    1. Hi Andrew

      Thanks for your reply. I don’t agree with all that O’ Toole says but neither do I think that much if any of what he says could be described as vacuous. Sure, he’s an embedded mainstream journalist. I disagree that O’ Toole is a phoney – he’s as genuine in wanting to see things done better as anyone and has put his head over the parapet to say so – thus the backlash against him for suggesting even the mildest of ‘reform from within’ type programmes.

      Agree it is astonishing that despite all of what has happened there has not been much question about whether it is the system itself that is the problem. Yes Fintan is one of those who is hell bent on trying to repair what doesn’t work. Beleive me we see the role the media, and people like O’ Toole play in keeping things the way they are, though O’ Toole himself disgarees strenuously that that is what he is doing. On the other hand that is just your and my opinion – we believe with equal strength that another way would be better. That doesn’t make us better, more genuine people and it certainly doesn’t prove that we are right, howevermuch we might believe we are.

      I don’t think we are in a position to dismiss people who manifestly mean well and are doing their best to do something about the present crisis, whatever point on the political spectrum they are arguing from – left to right. Andy Storey has just written an article* in support of right wing economists David McWilliams and Constantin Gurdgiev who are calling for a default on bank debts on the grounds that they are private debts which citizens should not be burdened with. Many people on the left and right agree about that. As with O’ Toole both of them have experienced official and media backlashes for saying something self-evidently true.

      I’m weary from the tendency among some folk on the left for arrogant incivility towards people who don’t share their world view point in every particular. It’s no crime to acknowledge where there is common ground, where others are well motivated and to respect the possibility that we might not be as right about everything all the time as we hope we are. If O’ Toole leaves out rational analysis of aspects of the system he benefits from, (and there are aspects of the system most of us are benefiting from whether we like it or not) he is nevertheless right that a lot of what has happened IS substantially “the fault of Fianna Fáil, localism, tribalism, clientalism” etc. He describes those faults eloquently, courageously and consistently in my view. I like him, I think he is a good person and good people in public life are in short supply at the moment.

      * http://politico.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7019:the-debt-default-option&catid=257:there-is-no-alternative&Itemid=1064

  2. While I agree with some of what you say, especially the contradiction inherent in the editorial role with the Times, I think O’Toole’s analyses are of value. On the main site http://www.mediabite.org there is a fairly
    lengthy interview with O’Toole ‘The Corporate Media’ from back in 2007 I think, you might find it of interest.

  3. I think the ‘phoney’ tag is pretty pointless. Yes, O’Toole’s sustained high profile as the establishment’s favourite radical is on account of the fact that he stays clear of a radical critique of the economic system that underpins the political culture he consistently denounces. If he did, no-one would pay him any attention, and he sure as hell wouldn’t be working for the Irish Times.

    Many people are subjected to inevitable constraints that limit and influence how they make public interventions. Maybe O’Toole’s private thoughts chime perfectly with his public writings, maybe they don’t. But some people choose to work within certain constraints, even if it ends up leaving them open to charges of hypocrisy or lackeyism, because they figure it’s the best way they can contribute something to public life. The results can be pretty unpalatable to onlookers, but unless you’re able to figure out what precisely the choices these people make are, it’s hard to judge people for it personally.

    The interesting thing for me here is how viciously right-wing the Irish media is, and how much they must fear popular revolt, that they go as far as making up a pack of lies about the fairly anodyne O’Toole in order to stop their readership from swaying ever so slightly left.

  4. I’m not surprised at the rush to defend O’Toole; it is a sign of desperation more than anything else. Thus:

    “If O’ Toole leaves out rational analysis of aspects of the system he benefits from, (and there are aspecrts of the system most of us are benefiting from whether we like it or not) he is nevertheless completely right that a lot of what has happened IS substantially “the fault of Fianna Fáil, localism, tribalism, clientalism” etc. He describes those faults eloquently, courageously and consistently in my view.”

    No, he is NOT right about this. What in fact he is doing is echoing a collage of PR points currently being bandied around in favour of “political reform”, i.e. reduce the size of the Dáil, because obviously the superficial difficulties in getting repressive measures past parliament are clearly to blame; eliminate the Seanad, because clearly even the prospect that a bill will be rejected and sent back to the Dáil is to blame; eliminuate the Constitution! because it is routinely ignored and defied in legislation but, for some reason, is blamed for everything up to and including bad weather.

    Oh, yes, and “clientism”, because democracy really isn’t about local representatives responding to the needs of their constituents, it’s about ramming oppressive measures through even more efficiently. Maybe we should conduct a poll of Dublin 4 to decide all such matters instead of consulting the rural hicks, who don’t know what’s good for them anyway?

    And I beg your pardon, but I guarantee you that Fianna Fail would not have been able to achieve anything like what they have achieved without the consistent cooperation and cheerleading of the media. I’m not focusing on O’Toole in particular because of personal animus, because whether he’s a nice lad or not is perfectly irrelevant. But if people declare themselves satisfied by his “analysis,” then we have a problem.

    It’s precisely his failure, and that of other so-called left commentators, to provide international analysis and context that is the issue. The idea seems to have been embraced that Ireland somehow exists in a void, creates all its own problems and bears no resemblance to apparently similar processes in other countries. That’s entirely intentional, because then we have the perfect excuse for paternalism. It’s all the fault of the rural hicks that didn’t know any better and so can’t really be trusted to govern themselves. Let’s just forget the power relationships between this country and little entities called the EU and US, and the all-pervading effect they have on every policy decision made here for the last 30 years or more.

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