Unfortunately, I was unable to come across Smith's blog (if you have the link please send it on!). But you'll find McConnell's article here.a
Anyway, this is what I thought was he key quote from Smith:
"It hasn't really broken a single notable story in its three and a half years -- Vincent gets very annoyed if you say this! Often, there's no carry-through on what the headline suggests lies below and too much leading material is dyspeptic rehashings of old material, usually about the big male beasts in our society such as Tony O'Reilly or Michael McDowell."
Smith continued: "Sometimes too -- as with Charlie and Bertie -- Vincent tellingly feels he has to publish endless nonsense about what nice fellas they are underneath it, as if that mattered in determining corruption in public life. The only reason you could forgive all this is that he did once introduce Frank Dunlop to his radio audience with the phrase: 'You're some little bollix, aren't you?'"
This is hilarious. Here is Smith saying that Vincent Browne - the most splenetic and outspoken and most obdurate of them all - isn't hard enough, that he too succumbs to the most common wasting disease of Irish journalism.
And disease is best identified by a phrase that was coined by Eamon Dunphy a long time ago - decentskinmanship. And of course, all you have to do is listen to Dunphy any Saturday morning (or when he was pitiably trying to be the new Gay Byrne on TV3 some years ago) to know that he too has thrown his snout into the trough. (I have written about this on this blog before - see this entry from February 2007)
Ireland is a small country and when you work in Irish journalism you quickly realise that you are fishing in a small creek. And awkwardly extending that metaphor, the problem with shooting fish in a barrell is that when you shoot them there are few left. And those that are left will hate you because you have downed a decent man and will shun you for the rest of your life. Let me explain a little...
Journalism is a classic example of symbiosis. To get by, you need good contacts. But it's a two way street - the contact's relationship with the journalist can also be beneficial. And sometimes, it can't be denied, that the motives of the contact (and less often, the journalist) are not the altruistic dewy-eyed ones about bettering society or upholding democracy.
There are different levels of dependency. In security, crime, property, music, motoring, there is a high degree of dependency on good contacts - and you wonder sometimes about the kind of compromises that are made. You bite off the hand that feeds at your peril. For example, if you are critical of garda behaviour for example, or a garda operation, or say it was was excessive, you may lose a contact for life.
Politics is no exception. Leinster House is like a large school though the status of journalists is somewhere between first years and scullions. But you build up a 'hello' relationship with virtually every politician in the place over a period of time (I will be five years there this August). And despite the jolly hail-fellow-well-met dispositon of most politicians, many of them have think skins. So if you are critical (sometimes even mildly so) the jolly hellos can quickly turn to dagger stares as you creep along the corridors.
I still have to psyche myself up to ask a hard question of a politician. For years, I tried to use a softly-softly approach where I'd butter it up with general preliminaries before asking the awful question. But it was usually so grotesquely out of character with everything that went before that it became THE WORST. So nowadays I tend to ask the question directly. Still, it's hard, harder than youy can imagine.
And that certain intimacy between journalists and politicians always rears its head most when there is a question of impropriety or a politician has found himself in the soup because of a lack of standards or whatever.
It's hard not to succumb to the 'poor old devil' syndrome. But as a colleague reminded me a couple of days ago, we are the fourth estate and do have a vital function in a democracy (notwithstanding our low stock and our unpopularity). And that means asking tough questions. And making enemies rather than currying favour with friends.
The extreme example of that was Brian Walden, the famous British current affairs journalist. As he prepared himself to interview politicians, he would always say to himself with indignation: why is this lying bastard lying to me?
It may not be pretty, but it's the way it has to be.