Bad hair day for TV3, calamity for Radio One

Sure, I get hot and bothered about media failings. In fact I've made a pretty good career-sideline of getting thus hot and bothered.

But, to be honest, there are a lot of things that I simply don't expect to be done very well. I can hardly recall, for example, the last time I sat through a news bulletin without enduring some offence against English grammar and/or syntax; I don't anticipate, e.g., hearing business journalists, or the stockbrokers who laughably pose as objective experts, making the link between financial deregulation and today's economic mess; I wait in vain but without astonishment for crime and health journalists to notice how many killers seem to be on anti-depressant drugs. These sorts of failures are built into the media system.


Mooney Goes Wild, RTÉ Radio 1,
3pm-3.30pm, Weekdays 


Nightly News with Vincent Browne, TV3,
Mon – Thurs

RTÉ Radio 1,
4.30pm – 6.30pm Weekdays


Then, on the other hand, there's Derek Mooney doing an ostensibly simple show on weekday afternoons on RTÉ Radio 1, as awful and egregious and car-crashingly calamitous a failure as I've heard in two decades of close attention to Irish radio; and yet bosses who know a thing or two about broadcasting allows him to sail away on the airwaves for month after month. That, I must say, is shocking.

Yes, Mooney Goes Wild on One was a pretty good show at times, but these days Mooney's daily performance underlines the abiding impression that his old programme was best when he shut up and let the birds do the talking.
Mooney was his own producer on the old weekly show. These days he has a more conventional, albeit fast-rotating, team of RTÉ pros feeding him guests and info. Any temptation, however, to ascribe his previous success to his own production efforts, and the current disaster to the failures of those around him, would underestimate the self-inflicted idiocy of his performances. The programme without Mooney would be passable, it seems to me. With him it's regularly embarrassing.

He can't seem to resist displaying his ignorance. Example: an obviously Welsh-sounding guest is in studio to talk about a book and documentary project. Mooney stumbles through the interview, then says, “So you're from South Africa then, are you?” It's a question that surely doesn't feature in the brief from the research team, and the guest promptly replies that he has never set foot in South Africa. On a phone-in show such an error might have a certain gormless charm; when a well-briefed presenter commits it with a studio guest, it's head-in-hands time.

Not Mooney's head or hands, you can be sure – he sounds like a man who can't be shamed. He clearly fancies himself, for example, as an expert on finance, full of wisdom about, for example, the fail-safe prospect of the wonderful Richard Branson taking over Northern Rock.

At the risk of prompting cries of “He would say that, wouldn't he?”, I confidently assert that the problems with TV3's Nightly News with Vincent Browne aren't intrinsic to the presenter. (That's assuming he doesn't attempt to tame his own hair – watch it rise as the programme proceeds – or choose the slouch-inducing furniture.)

The peculiarities of Browne's vocal style must force any employer to the conclusion he is no news-reader – he barely manages to read the scripted intros to video inserts – which means that the title of the programme is immediately at odds with its format: he kicks it off, then turns it over the first few minutes of “news” to someone else.
Lovers of his lamented radio programme will find a few of the familiar and glorious idiosyncrasies. On the very first night, dealing with Bertie's money, Browne's first “question” was a direct assault on his Fine Gael guest, Eugene Regan, for the way he personally financed his own council campaign.

But the show feels short and slight. The TV3 sound is poor compared to radio's intimacy, and the interviews (Browne's bread and butter) echo emptily around the studio. The host's smile as he introduces ad breaks is rather – shall we say – forced. And his colleagues, while nowhere near Mooney heights of over-rated, are lacking in Browne's gravitas and astute political sensibility. The programme's coverage of the global financial crisis has been, if anything, even worse than of most of its competitors.

It's hard to imagine TV3 coming up with the resources to make this programme essential viewing, as opposed to running an arguably premature promotional campaign.

RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime has certainly invested in covering the US election, but whether Nuala O Faolain's regular effusions of liberal received wisdom represent a sufficient return on some of that investment is another matter. What she has provided is not so much reportage as an accidental insight into the thinking of the white US upper-middle class. A declared Hillary supporter, nonetheless at times she has swooned for Barack Obama as dreamily as she did for Dick Spring in 1992.

One characteristic of the social circles she replicates is that affection for Obama doesn't stop its members descending into racial stereotyping. Thus, on one occasion, she agreed it was problematic to call Obama “African-American”, stating (and I quote carefully and verbatim): “He isn't African-American in the sense that, for example, outside my window, black women are pushing around white women's babies and doing all the shit work of this country. He's a very very privileged, middle class, much-loved, brilliantly intelligent person of mixed race.”
Loved and intelligent? Ah, yeah, no chance he's a genuine African-American. And of course no one with those blessings could possibly find themselves doing “shit work”.