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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 22, 2008 @ 10:25 am

    An obsession with details?

    Harry McGee

    Mark Brennock, who formerly laboured in this vineyard, wrote a though-provoking piece last Saturday about his own opinion on politics and politicians, now that he is no longer a political correspondent. The thrust of what he was saying, if I’m interpretiing what he had to write correctly, was that, often, we political journalists cannot see the woods because of the trees. We are concerned with the minutiae, the small details, the minor daily shifts, the moving of all those small cogs and wheels. Adn that there is a broader sweep that we become conditioned to ignore.

    It is true in Ireland – as elsewhere – that in relatively settled and peaceful times, process and personality will always out-trump idea and ideology. There are some arguments put forward about the media by the British journalist Nick Davies in his provocative book Flat Earth News that I can’t agree with. But I do agree with his point that the media’s role in seeking ‘balance’ often results in grotesque distortions. Arguments are pitched up one against another as if the media was some kind of white-clad boxing referree, when it is clear that an act or action is an outrage.

    Do the small things matter? If Brian Cowen has a lousy week this week and a lousy month this month or even a lousy year this year, all of it is likely to be completey erased from memory by the time 2012 comes around and he is still there and the economy is in a recovery phase. We all love using that nice-sounding suggestive phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’. The problem is that to receive a thousand cuts can sometimes take an infinity. It certainly took until after the 2007 election before it felled Bertie Ahern. Despite the negative headlines (with the unlikely duo of the Daily Mail and the Sunday Independent leading the charge) don’t expect Cowen to fall on his sword anytime soon.

    It might seem like I’m arguing that small details and events (the plankton on which we political journalists feed) don’t make any difference. They do. Of course they do. Yesterday, Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd unearthed another sheaf of reports and documents that once again highlighted terrible shortcomings in standards of nursing homes, both public and private. (See this morning’s story on it here.)

    What was most shocking was that in one HSE area (the South comprising of Cork and Kerry) over 50 complaints were upheld since 2005. There were many cases involving shoddy patient care, or inadequate staffing, or indifference of staff to these extremely vulnerable human beings who are dependent on others for care.

    Yes, they are small things. The sad thing is that this single-handed campaign of O’Dowds to expose failings of nursing homes and the failings of State (for example, Hiqa has not get gained the power to initiate investigations) will make not a whit of a difference to his re-election chances. But these small things matter.

    • Brian G says:

      Good piece Harry.

      FYI, slight typo – “though-provoking” should be “thought-provoking”.


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