Caught up in the sobbing despair of this year’s Christmas travel and the financial apocalypse that our politicians have allowed to happen in 2009, it’s easy to forget we have reasons to rejoice in our blessings. One example: the quality of the press, both in Britain and in Ireland. Despite the temptation to be caught up in public controversies, they maintain a steely objectivity, never stoop to sweeping judgement or personal abuse, always cover and analyse controversy with a calm presentation of facts.
Take today’s ‘Observer’, for instance, where Nick Cohen covers the Liam Adams case and related matters. Not for Mr Cohen the easy jibe: ‘Irish nationalism cannot break from the dire illusions of the past’; [Gerry Adams’s] unexpected baring of a soul few suspected he possessed’; ‘Keeping child abuse private has all but destroyed Irish Catholicism’;'[Gerry] Adams … was at the top of a movement that killed children’; ‘the south [of Ireland] doesn’t want the north’.
You may be tempted to say ‘Ah, but that’s a British newspaper. You’d never get that calm presentation of facts in an Irish newspaper’. Oh no? Well here’s Suzanne Breen in an article in today’s ‘Sunday Tribune’:
‘Gerry Adams’ [sic] position as Sinn Féin president has been made untenable by revelations of the lies he has told’; ‘he [Gerry Adams’ drove his vulnerable niece to Donegal to confront her father who was living there. They sat down to tea and Mikado biscuits’; ‘Why didn’t the Sinn Féin president swiftly distance himself from his brother and his spiralling public profile as a youth worker?”Gerry Adams’ [sic] disturbingly inadequate response to his brother’s suspected abuse makes him politically toxic, he is stripped of all credibility and moral authority’.
Now I’m not claiming that this quality of detachment can be maintained all the time. In the last paragraph of her full-page article, Ms Breen briefly stumbles: ‘Of course, he [Gerry Adams] shouldn’t be held responsible for his brother’. But with the exception of that tiny splash, you can see from the examples I’ve given how dry-footed and objective Suzanne stays .
I’m not saying the British and Irish press are perfect. Some people say their coverage of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy had too much bandwagon condemnation and not enough analysis, but of course that’s a filthy lie. The truth is, British and Irish journalism has a forensic, facts-based brilliance that’s the envy of Europe. You see it in its treatment of the Catholic Church, its treatment of Irish culture, its treatment of Irish nationalism. You see it particularly when it’s faced with a story that has links, however tenuous, to Irish republicanism. When that happens, the Irish and British press know exactly what to do.