A Christmas Snarl
In the spirit of the season, Vincent Browne delves into his sack and delivers a present to all political correspondents.
Oh, wow, it’s a splatter bomb, lobbed right into the middle of the pol corrs room.
You can read Vincent Brownes ‘s column here.
Just for the sake of accuracy, it wasn’t a lunch. It was a round-table interview with Cowen by one representative from each media organisation. There were about 20 representatives in all and it took place in the late afternoon for about an hour.
Browne’s main gripe, when you pick your way through the irony-stroke-cynicism, is that nobody asked Cowen any tough questions and that the cosy club of establishmentarians more or less let him away with it. I wasn’t one of those present but there are couple of points that need to be made.
1. It wasn’t a lunch. It was a press conference. The media represented included daily broadsheets, tabloids, Sundays, radio and television. And that included outside agencies like the BBC.
2. That kind of setting doesn’t lend itself to the interrogative interview that Browne desires. Unlike a one-on-one with a single interviewer or anchor (like his own news show) a press conference situation puts constraints on the extent to which you can pursue a question. You can ask a question and then you can press on it, but you won’t get a chance to pursue relentlessly and ask loads of follow-up questions because others will be trying to get their questions in. So that type of situation confers an advantage on the subject rather than the questioner.
3. Cowen is Taoiseach and that position means that he is treated with some degree of deference. Loads of questions were fired at him during the course of the hour. Some of them were harsh and direct (his wan Dail response to the Murphy report; his poor communication skills, his handling of the banking crisis; journalists challengimg him to accept that he messed everything up). But his method of dealing with these was deflection and evasion. Bertie used the same technique but in different ways. What Cowen does is answer at extraordinary length using civil service jargon and moving away from the subject. He won’t offer anything personal or any individual reflection, considering these as hostages to fortune. I know from interviews I’ve done with him in the past that for such a supposedly sharp thinker and speaker, he can be an incredible bore, droning on with useless details for an age.
4. Are the pol corrs a cosy lobby? One of the comments on Vincent’s piece refers to a very tall political correspondent (that rules me out!) having the craic with a Fianna Fail junior minister in Buswells. I don’t understand the logic of that. Leinster House is a smallish place and you end up knowing everybody and being friendly with some. Does it involve compromises? Small ones perhaps, but you can’t be doing the job if you aren’t prepared to bite the hand that feeds if it warrants it. John O’Donoghue’s recent demise was a case in point. Cowen and his Government – despite this morning’s bleatings – haven’t been relying on the media to do their PR. On the contrary, the media have been on the whole hostile to Cowen and his stint as Taoiseach. I can think of only one prominent commentator who believes that Cowen is doing a good job. So I don’t know where all this soft-shoe shuffle is coming from.
5. The thing that annoys him the most is that nobody put the hard question to Cowen that Vincent wanted to ask. And that was to press the Taoiseach on why public servants earning under €30,000 faced cuts while no moves were made to change the relief on income tax for pensions to the standardised level. But the problem with that is to ask that question you’d have to agree with Browne’s take on the Budget. And I, for one, don’t.
6. The final point on Vincent Browne’s little bit of mischief. If he had been there, being Vincent, he would surely have gone into Vincent mode. And I’m sure he would have pursued and pursued on that. But he wouldn’t have got any further than anybody else there. Besides they’d start getting browned off with Browne for hogging the limelight.
Final phrase. In the spirit of Christmas, Bah Humbug.