Bertie, Big Brother and Tom McGurk
There were two great interviews – both with Bertie Ahern as it happens – done on the broadcast media during the election campaign and the immediate aftermath. One was conducted by Matt Cooper on The Last Word on Today FM. Matt Cooper is now maybe the best of current affairs radio broadcasters. He is articulate, coherent, fluent and oh-so informed. He took Bertie briskly through the issues, always with sufficient back up knowledge to challenge Bertie when the latter went into his detail mode, laced with incoherence. Matt Cooper had a sufficient knowledge-bank and forensic skill to disentangle Bertie's (contrived?) incoherence.
The other notable interview with Bertie Ahern during the period was by Mark Little on the night of the election results. The decks were cleared for Bertie, hailed as the victor of three successive general elections, even though in not a single one of them did he win an overall majority for his party. Mark Little in what must have been a largely unprepared exercise put him through all the relevant issues and did so politely but clinically, allowing Bertie enough rope to hang, if not himself, then a few journalists with his remark about journalists being paid and having to write defamatory material about him. Mark also drew him out nicely on his retirement plans.
The election results programme produced the usual drama notably in Dublin South East where Michael McDowell lost his seat. The latter's histrionics were wondrous to behold, all the more so in the abandonment of any sense of obligation to his party colleagues by the self-indulgent announcement of his resignation not just as leader of the Progressive Democrats but his retirement from politics.
But a lot of that results programme was just plain boring, especially as the night wore on. John Bowman's excursions into the minutiae of constituency politics seemed at times as just showmanship and oh-so-boring. The interruptions to bring us the third count from Laois-Offaly (or wherever) invariably of no significance whatsoever proved (a) RTÉ can do outside broadcasts and (b) because they can they will.
The ludicrous Frank Luntz popped up at some stage during the night to tell us how right he had been all along, having spoken to 24 people in Kilkenny and 32 people in Boyle. Nobody told him to clear off.
The Late Late Show before the election featured three tedious right-wing dinosaurs, Eoghan Harris, Eamon Dunphy and John Waters, telling us how to vote in the election of the following Thursday. It was an extraordinary exercise in partisanship on the part of the public service broadcaster. No attempt to reflect a variety of opinion, just right-wing populist blather about character. The suggestion that any probing of Bertie Ahern's financial arrangements were irrelevant and an improper invasion into the privacy of an honest man went unchallenged.
Pat Kenny played dumb then but as a radio broadcaster his stature has been enhanced – in part by his own prowess and a new restraint in answering his own questions, and in part by the debris around him. The Tubridy Show has improved since Christmas by the introduction of more substantial items but it remains irreparably marred by the idiotic, irrepressible loquaciousness of Ryan Tubridy. He simply cannot keep his mouth shut, cannot stay quiet. Even the most routine announcements are inflated into gibberish. For instance, he cannot say just “thank you” to a guest, it has to be “thank you kindly”. It is awful, exasperating radio, the worst we have had, maybe ever. My mother used to insist someone called Liam Nolan was the worst ever, now she is not so sure.
Which brings me to my aunt's old flame, Tom McGurk. He is the other broadcasting debris that makes Pat Kenny seem so good. McGurk is simply a bombastic bore. His knowledge of politics is close to zilch, of anything is close to zilch. As with everyone else on Radio One, his politics are right-wing, so no change there, but the laboured ignorance is what is novel. He screeched at panellists on Monday, 4 June about the green party “But who is in charge?”, as though this was a telling interrogatory, whereas it was telling only of his own ignorance of non-hierarchical politics. And that booming laughter at what his own jokes or what he thinks are jokes is so irritating. Also the self-obsessiveness – “Tell me”, he invites guests, as thought he was the important one rather than the listeners.
Together Ryan Tubridy and Tom McGurk have embellished the stature of Pat Kenny as the station's pre-eminent radio broadcaster. Well done.
On Marian Finucane's Sunday morning blather-fest on 3 June there was a discussion among a panel about Big Brother, which had just started on Channel 4. They kept at it for 20 minutes, how this was a postmodernist statement on the prevailing cultural malaise and similar garbage. The question is: if it is as bad as you say it is why bother watching it or talking about it? Why not talk about Tom McGurk or Ryan Tubridy?