Junk Food Journalism


From top: Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe offer cakes and coffee during the Fine Gael leadership election hustings last month; Tony Groves

Facilitator: “Kevin Doyle from the Irish Independent…”

Kevin Doyle: “Congratulations Mr Varadkar…”

Leo Varadkar: “Hi, Kev…”

Kevin Doyle: (talks over Leo) “… first off on Fianna Fáil…you’ve said some things that we probably couldn’t say as this is airing live…”

The above happened at Leo Varadkar’s first press conference as the elected leader of Fine Gael. The bonhomie, over familiarity and little inside jokiness off the relationship between politicians and the media charged with holding them to account, laid bare in a 15 second exchange.

A window into world of anonymous sources, party spokespersons and a source close to a source.

I know that I’m just a grouchy old man shaking his fist at a cloud, but even I know that this is the way of the world. Journalists are embedded, and in bed with those they are paid to cover.Kevin Doyle is just doing his job, Leo is just playing the game, and we, as consumers, are eating junk food journalism.

Fox News unashamedly uses the tagline “Fair and Balanced” and it used to bother me. Not so much anymore, I mean, some people go to the cinema to suspend reality and spend a few hours away from the travails of real life.

Is it really any wonder millions of Americans watch Fox; the American middle class has shrunk relentlessly over the last decade and Fox News acts as a comfort blanket of unrealities and an outlet for their outrage.

The BBC warned Jake Painter, the man behind the Liar, Liar song, not to go too heavy on the Tories before he went on screen. They’ve also refused to cover this speech by Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve found their election coverage, while not as biased as Sky News, more pro establishment than in previous campaigns.

And I understand it. The Beeb’s reluctance to upset the Tories stems from money. I mean, they depend on the licence fee and this Tory Government have threatened to cut their budget by hundreds of millions. No matter how well Jeremy Corbyn does, the BBC knows too well that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Junk food journalism, in moderation, serves a purpose. It can be somewhat informing, it can build consensus and social cohesion. Unfortunately many of us aren’t discerning consumers. We eat our news at the same echo chamber restaurants every day. The only thing we like in moderation is any fair and balanced moderation.

I’m a glutton for news and my problem is overeating to the point where I’m able to hold opposing views at the same time.

Multiple helpings of the Indo, the Times, RTE, Sky News, Al Jazeera and Fox News, barely leaves enough room for my cognitive dissonance dessert. Still, I would like to see the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland show some teeth. I’d love to hear the Press Council comment on the quality of the commentariat.

There’s an old story, perhaps apocryphal, that I never get tired telling. It goes that in one of Lyndon B. Johnson’s early congressional campaigns he told an aide to spread a rumour about his opponent. “Leak to the press that the guy fucked a pig”, he reportedly ordered.

His aide, horrified, responded “Christ Lyndon, we can’t call the guy a pig fucker, it simply isn’t true”. Johnson, not to be overruled, shot back “Of course it ain’t true, but I want to make the son-of-a-bitch deny it”.

I often wonder in today’s modern media landscape that if you want to smear an opponent would an aide be necessary; couldn’t you just Whatsapp Kev at the Indo?

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld

37 thoughts on “Junk Food Journalism

  1. MoyestWithExcitement

    We have a huge problem with the 4th estate here, and obviously the likes of US and UK. I’d say good aul Kev has different motives than the BBC do when protecting the Tories though. I *reckon* Kev, and quite a substantial amount of print journos & columnists in this country enjoy feeling like they’re in the VIP lounge. They’re essentially groupies and ‘superfans’ who feel like they’re friends with the celebs/pols which makes them far more likely to endorse their demeaning policies and look down their noses at poor people and women and millenials. If they’re looking down their nose at the chaff, that means they’re not chaff. They’re superior. The BBC and RTE doing it though might be a bit more sinister. Like, quite a bit more sinister. Planning is needed for collusion at that level.

    Print journos just need to have their ego tickled, just need to be given a smidge of validation and they’ll do whatever you want. Like a desperate teen who has a huge crush on a popular kid and will laugh too hard at their jokes and fall over themselves to do unsolicited favours for them. The popular kid knows this and flirts with them here and there to keep the unsolicited favours flowing. That’s Kev and Leo.

  2. Jonsmoke

    “….the media charged with holding them to account….”

    I question that statement.

    Yes, that is a function of journalists/the media if they choose to do so, but they don’t have to. Kev can be Leo’s buddy and write articles supporting Fine Gael if he wants.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      You can drive a car with your feet if you want. That doesn’t make it a good idea. (Stole that) Writing articles supporting your pal isn’t journalism, it’s PR. Lots of journalists just do free PR and politicians laugh at them behind their backs.

      1. Sheik Yahbouti

        Nonsense. I’m sure Vogue and Gerard and Lisa et al REALLY adore Barry Egan ;-(

    2. egghead

      What is your understanding of the role of the media, beyond acting as press officers for their pals?

      1. Goosey Lucy

        I reckon Jon thinks it’s to blow smoke up the bottoms of those in power. Oh, and write poo opinion pieces on laws and policies that largely won’t affect them. That, and restaurant reviews

        1. Jonsmoke

          The role of the journalist is to do whatever they need to in order to earn a living, the same as the rest of us.
          Under what law are the media charged with holding politicians to account?
          Yes there are codes of conduct and regulations to guard against libel and slander but opinions and style are free. The consumer can decide to consume more or try something else.

          1. Tony Groves

            If that’s true then the journalists job is to placate their pay-masters. Hardly a healthy democratic equation. Sadly, you may well be right.

        2. Sheik Yahbouti

          Would that be a FABULOUS fish restaurant in West Cork? (since the 1970’s)

  3. rotide

    It’s hard to get past the breathtaking hypocrisy in this article. You talk about bias on the scale of Fox News and Echo chambers and not once acknowledge that the very website that gives you a platform to air your views suffers from the same if not more bias and echo chamber-ness.

    It’s also very hard to take you seriously when you equate the BBC with Fox news. As for the flimsy pretext of this blog, it’s so tenous and such a reach its not worth commenting on.

    This really reads like you’re bitter that you never got your break in the North Dublin News and have a chip on your shoulder since.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      Broadsheet is as big and influential as BBC and Fox, lads! And it’s a news service as well, apparently. Poor Rotide. It’s mad how often he makes a complete fool of himself in his efforts to make others look stupid.

  4. Sheik Yahbouti

    Tony, you are not old and you are not grouchy. Your Sheik can be seen as both. Nonetheless, I have been reduced to near projectile vomiting status so many times by the state of affairs which you describe. Now the difficult question – how can this pooee situation be remedied?

    1. Tony Groves

      Older than my illustration depicts. As for the remedy, we all know the solutions (better regulation, breaking up media conglomerates, oppositional editorials, fact checking etc) it’s “only” implementation we lack.

  5. bisted

    …so are you saying that the story about David Cameron and the pig isn’t true…

  6. Hawkeyed

    Tony deals in anecdotal evidence to support his view that the BBC are Pro- Tory. I scream ” bias” . Tony screams ” Junk Journo” .

    *the penny drops*

  7. Milo

    Im wondering why journalism is held to a higher standard than other professions. Or why the folk on here are so pretentiously naive as to think they deserve better. Why would a business not try and make as much profit as it can by selling its wares to whoever wants to buy at a price they can afford? Unless the journalism is being funded publicly, it has no duty whatsoever to its audience except to satisfy demand. You are not satisfied, then stop consuming you muppet. But save yourself the tireless moaning, keep on browsing for free, and then complain like a spanner that the quality is getting worse.

    1. Tony Groves

      There’s something in that “what’s free has no value”. I’m lucky enough to have a tiny platform (relative to MSM) that I can do as a hobby/outlet. Many more aren’t as lucky.

  8. Listrade

    You can’t equate private corporations like Fox or even print media with public broadcasting. The private companies have their bias, they always have. Caveat spectator. Interesting though that in the years of Fox news’s existence, the Republican party has never won the popular vote. It has influenced and helped create a divisive media, but not really impacted the electorate.

    BBC and RTE are different. They are mandated to be neutral and their problem is how they go to pains to be neutral for fear of criticism and legal action. Its telling that for the BBC both sides think it is biased towards the other. I only pay attention and get angry when they have the other lot on saying stuff I disagree with.

    Anyway, i find that controlling my hypertension is better managed through the old mantra to never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I’m less inclined to believe in a nefarious and shady influence on our media and its editorial content by a cabal of neoliberals/George Soros funded liberal elites and more inclined to just think its incompetent journalism or bad editorial decisions made in an attempt to be “balanced”.

    Oh look, another feature on refugee deaths, better balance it out…Nigel Farage is always free.

    1. Tony Groves

      But I’d didn’t equate the BBC to Fox. I spoke about them within a spectrum of editorial biases. Nor do I allege conspiracy, I called it a comfort blanket.
      But I am in total agreement with you on the nonsensical need to get balance and it’s dumbing down effect that has.

      1. Listrade

        I know you didn’t, but I had a point to make and I had to make up something to argue against in order to make it.

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