Donie O’Sullivan: I learned how to talk to people working with my dad in Cahersiveen’s fish shop

The CNN reporter spoke to Jennifer O’Connell to open the Irish Times Summer Nights festival

Donie O’Sullivan: ‘You had to talk to well-to-do people down in their holiday homes buying hundreds of euro of prawns and then also the 70-year-old bachelor buying his three or four euro of mackerel’

Donie O’Sullivan: ‘You had to talk to well-to-do people down in their holiday homes buying hundreds of euro of prawns and then also the 70-year-old bachelor buying his three or four euro of mackerel’

 

“That America doesn’t have a shared understanding of the objective truth of the day is a worrying sign of things to come,” said Donie O’Sullivan, the CNN correspondent who rose to prominence with his calm reporting of the riot by Donald Trump supporters at the United States Capitol, in Washington, DC, on January 6th this year.

That night was “surreal and stunning but not that surprising”, the journalist told Jennifer O’Connell of The Irish Times at the opening event of the newspapers’s Summer Nights festival, on Monday. In the months running up to the attack, he said, he had heard backers of the then president say that “the election had been stolen from them and that they wouldn’t stand for it”.

I had a fairly hellish year in 2013, with anxiety and depression. It was terrifying, and I’m always concerned it will come back. But I’m also conscious of it not being the thing that defines me. You can go on and live a normal life

O’Sullivan, who was at a rally in Ohio at the weekend, said that Trump supporters still believe the election was stolen from them and that, more worryingly, many of them said that the Capitol Hill attack “wasn’t the work of Trump supporters but that of some left-wing group, the FBI or Black Lives Matter”.

The 30-year-old journalist, who was born in Co Kerry and is now based in New York, said that, on a broader level, we are only starting to grapple with misinformation – not only fake social-media posts but also deepfakes, or doctored audio or video. “It’s a decades-long issue as we see the use of technology in ways we’ve never dealt with before, and Ireland is not immune from this stuff either.”

O’Sullivan said he believes you don’t have to be crazy to believe crazy ideas. “Conspiracy theories have all the answers in a nice digestible fashion, and people find their community on social media – especially [as the pandemic] has meant that people have spent much more time alone on their screens and smartphones.” He added that “empathy and sympathy” are the most valuable ways for family members or friends to help people move away from conspiracy theories.

Irish Times Summer Nights: Jennifer O’Connell’s talk with Donie O’Sullivan opened this year’s festival
Irish Times Summer Nights: Jennifer O’Connell’s talk with Donie O’Sullivan opened this year’s festival

Growing up in Cahersiveen, he said, he learned how to talk to people by working with his dad in the town’s fish shop. “You had to talk to well-to-do people down in their holiday homes buying hundreds of euro of prawns and then also the 70-year-old bachelor buying his three or four euro of mackerel.”

The journalist also spoke more about his mental health, an issue he first spoke about in an Irish Times interview earlier this year with Simon Carswell, the newspaper’s former Washington correspondent. O’Sullivan said he used the opportunity so other young men would feel confident about broaching the subject. “I had a fairly hellish year in 2013 [with anxiety and depression]. It was terrifying, and I’m always concerned it will come back. But I’m also conscious of it not being the thing that defines me. You can go on and live a normal life. I’m very happy right now. I feel thankful and very privileged to do the job I’m doing.”

The Irish Times Summer Nights festival, sponsored by Peugeot, is a series of online talks featuring Irish Times journalists in conversation with local and international authorities. It runs until Thursday, July 1st.

Still to come in the festival are: Mary Lou McDonald  in conversation with Kathy Sheridan; Chris de Burgh talking to Paul Howard; Maureen Dowd interviewed by Hugh Linehan; Gordon Brown and Roddy Doyle talking to Fintan O’Toole; Mona Eltahawy with Róisín Ingle; and Jo Spain talking to Bernice Harrison. A ticket covering all events costs €50, or €25 for Irish Times subscribers.

Full schedule and tickets at irishtimes.com/summernights

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