Abusing a tragedy: A new low for Irish journalism

Towards the end of last week the Irish public was presented with a deeply tragic story, one of a woman whom had died during childbirth along with one of the two babies she was giving birth to. To further deepen the tragedy, the child that did survive birth was also in a critical condition, fighting for its life.

However sad a story this is, it is questionable if the media would have paid any attention to it were it not for the fact that the mother in question was a member of An Garda Siochana. From that the question can and should be asked; should a family be subjected to any (even the most respectful) media attention in such a difficult time based solely on the occupation of the deceased?

Irregardless of the right answer, it is the case that the story was deemed newsworthy in the eyes of the entire Irish media scene, a status most certainly boosted by the mother’s occupation if not based entirely on it.

But the coverage itself has not been very contentious- even the Garda Press Office accepted the reasoning behind it. Rather it is the link that two Sunday newspapers, one Irish and one British, made between this tragedy and another completely unrelated

As you can read on the Sunday Independent website here, Ireland’s biggest Sunday newspaper deemed it newsworthy to tell the public that the husband of the deceased mother and child just happened to be the same Aidan McCabe (of the Gardaí Emergency Response Unit) who shot John Carthy in the Abbeylara siege. The other newspaper to cover the story, by the way, was the Irish Daily Mail on Sunday.

As the public reaction has noted, this is a complete non-story and a completely irresponsible one at that. There is no relevance between the previous actions of either Garda and this tragic occourance. Just as it doesn’t matter who McCabe or Corcoran arrested or when during their careers’, it doesn’t matter what either of them did in the line of duty before, particularly and specifically as last week’s incident happened to the two as private citizens (ie not as on-duty Gardaí).

In fact, even if Corcoran had died in the line of duty there would still be no relevance. The only reason there would be to bring this fact (of which McCabe was vindicated of any unprofessionalism or wrong-doing in the Barr Tribunal which followed) is if the same Garda ended up in the same kind of situation again, as unlikely as that probably is.

The Sunday Independent’s reaction to the public upset has been just as disgusting as the coverage in the first place. The newspaper’s editor, Aengus Fanning, defended their piece as “factually correct” and added that they didn’t intend to cause any upset – that said he has so far declined to apologise and remains unsure about doing so in the near future.

Fanning also said he was “not quite sure” who wrote the headline which featured on the article, which seems bizarre to say the least, and said he didn’t feel he had to answer questions about his newspaper’s production or the way the article was constructed.

At this point it should be pointed out that other major media outlets in Ireland knew who Aidan McCabe was in relation to Abbeylara, but declined to run the story out of respect to him in a very difficult time. I have heard directly that The Mirror and The Star both had the information and declined to run with it while apparently The Irish Times, Irish Independent, Sunday Times and The Sun also knew and decided there was nothing worth reporting in it. It can be assumed that other media outlets followed the same tact.
Indeed, with McCabe being named in the tribunal inquiry after the siege it would not be hard for anyone to make the connection, media outlet or otherwise.

As the newspaper’s editor Fanning is the one who should bear the responsibility for this. The fact that he OK’d this story and put it pride of place on the front page just highlights one of the reasons why The Sunday Independent has become so synonimous with down-market values – in some cases values lower than the trashiest of rags would dare to abide by.
Let’s not forget it was The Sunday Independent who claimed Liam Lawlor died while in a car with an underage prostitute in Moscow – the reality being that the female in the car was a 29 year old translator – one who is now suing the newspaper (and those that followed its lead) for libel.

At this stage even an apology would fall far short of what Fanning needs to do to rectify this situation and frankly he’s probably thinking “why should I? The paper continues to sell well, so the public obviously want it even if they don’t like to publicly admit it.”

Surely you can also bet he won’t be sacked by his superiors in IN&M from his position as editor of a strong-selling title just because he lacks a few morals.
With that in mind, perhaps it’s time the Irish public vote with their wallets and avoid The Sunday Independent until its editorial policy (and perhaps some of its team) is remedied and it becomes a reliable and reputable newspaper once more. After all, does anyone really think complaining on Joe Duffy one day and buying the latest issue on the next will really solve the problem at hand?

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