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That financial crisis…it’s all in your head… courtesy of the journalists. Oh yes. January 22, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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You know, it’s perhaps difficult to say this, but really, John Waters is simply getting odder and odder. Some feat for a man whose treading of the outer limits is already – ahem – noteworthy. What’s curious about him these days is the sort of hand-wringing overt political and social conservatism wrapped in a touchey feeley language that seems lifted, and this may not be coincidental, from self-help and suchlike.

For how otherwise to explain the sheer weirdness of his latest offering? Under the heading: Media professionals’ odd mix of sour grapes, guilt and egalitarianism threatens to affect our chances of recovery he writes… No, wait. I can’t let that pass. The economic ‘recovery’ is threatened by ‘media professionals’?
One presumes that he doesn’t actually read the newspapers, you know, not just the Irish Times, but the high selling ones like the Independent and Sunday Independent. For who, seriously, could contend that ‘media professionals’ are suffused with egalitarianism.

Anyhow, continue Waters… enlighten us as to the situation at hand…

EVERY SO often, a journalist peels him- or herself off from the pack and goes into PR, “consultancy” or the law, and immediately seems to become unfathomably richer. This syndrome is one of the great puzzles confronting modern journalists, who, on encountering former colleagues sporting off-season suntans or impossibly shiny shoes, are moved to wonder where it all went wrong for themselves. It is rarely helpful that the defectors are never the most outstanding scribes, but rather the kind who just made the first team and rarely put the ball in the net.

Now check this out…

Because many journalists are well-known, people assume they are extravagantly well-paid, but this is not generally the case. In fact, journalism has, income-wise, remained among the middle-ranking occupations. Most journalists are paid reasonably well, but, apart from a few at the top end of the broadcast sector, not obscenely so.

Middle ranking he says? So, well above the average industrial wage, and well above the median industrial wage too I’ll hazard. But, he’s a warning about how this ‘middle-ranking’ occupation, and by the way, for the record I’m not in a middle ranking bracket myself, so presumably my guilt, sour-grapes and envy are such that we could be making bitter bitter wine.

People are attracted to journalism because they want to write, or exert influence in what appears to be a glamorous profession. Only later do some desire to get rich, and – too late – realise they’re in the wrong job. (I do not exclude myself from these judgments, except to the extent that, feeling blessed to have blagged my way into journalism at all, I still fear being discovered and ejected. I long ago accepted that there is nothing else anyone would pay me to do.) “The media” was not, generally speaking, one of those sectors in which it became possible to get rich during the boom years. For one thing, the Tiger years coincided with a period of increasing pressure from “new” media; for another, pay structures in media are – apart again from the upper reaches of the broadcast industry – tied into standard “partnership” norms.

It would be nice if he were to reference some data on this. it really would. What does he mean by ‘partnership’ norms? He does not explain. But, note that he uses the mealy-mouthed ‘some desire to get rich’. How many? Is it a large cohort or a small one?

For not unrelated reasons, journalism boasts a disproportionate number of what are called socialists. This is in part because many of the current big-name Irish journalists emerged out of the left-liberal revolution of the 1960s, but it may also be related to the unhappiness of many journalists on discovering that their payslips do not reflect their alleged influence or their public profiles.

But if that’s the case who are the big-name journalists who are clearly socialist. By my reckoning of commentators it’s a handful now compared to even a decade and a half ago. And really, most were liberal rather than left. No shame in that. But liberal, as we know and have seen, has a tendency to be able to pitch right when the time is right. And then he continues…

Demands for redistribution are nowadays more likely to come from journalists than other professionals, including politicians. This arises from an odd mixture of egalitarianism, guilt and sour grapes. Interestingly, the better remunerated the journalist, the more likely he or she is to be incessantly demanding that other people be paid less or taxed more.

It’s remarkable that John Waters, of all people, given his views in the past, should be so sneering of the concept of redistribution. It’s perhaps equally remarkable that he should link that into ‘egalitarianism, guilt and sour grapes’. He is one of our more vocal exponents of Christianity, a religion that has at its heart to its credit tilted towards the former ‘egalitarianism’ while – it is true – having no end of guilt and sour-grapes. So perhaps it’s not such an odd mixture at all.
Given that by his own reckoning there are relatively few ‘better remunerated’ journalists he must indeed be talking about a small cohort indeed. So these ‘demands’ for redistribution must be, logically, few in number.

Then he continues…

A frequent refrain of journalism in the past two years has been that Ireland “surrendered to materialism” in the Tiger years, lost the “run” of herself and became obsessed with getting rich.

I’d have thought the leading exponent of that school was Breda O’Brien, on the very page he writes on. And she is hardly of the left. Indeed, this ‘materialism’ trope has, should he care to look at the back issues of the Irish Times mostly been expressed by… hmmm… him! And not in the last two years but across a career on those pages.

Which makes his next statement even more curious…

But even a cursory inventory of the average newspaper of recent times renders it difficult to avoid the conclusion that obsession with money has actually grown since the economy collapsed. About 60 per cent of news stories and perhaps 80 per cent of opinion columns these days are about banks, bankers, growth, deflation, budgets, taxation or some other money-related topic. The overall content might be summarised as betraying an obsession with other people’s money, which perfectly defines our present disposition.

Or it might be that an economic collapse is – and I am hesitant about putting forward such a blindingly fecking obvious theory – all about matters financial and monetary, that that would entail quite a reasonable obsession with, not ‘other peoples’ money, but our own. And that Waters betrays an absolute detachment from reality in his inability to understand that this isn’t some abstract concept but is a very real impact, that perhaps he on his middle-raking income has some security from, on ordinary peoples jobs, wages and lives.

Oh yeah, and by the by a little evidence that it’s 60% of news stories and 80% of news columns would be of some use.

The chief symptoms of our collective response to the meltdown of 2008 have been rage, guilt, envy and occasional demands for retribution and redistribution, all of which are readily traceable to the sentiments and attitudes of the journalistic profession. Once again, we seem to be moving towards lengthy public inquiries – arising mainly from the demands of journalists – which promise to swell further the bank balances of lawyers and PR consultants, thereby ensuring that journalists become even more disgruntled.

This is just bizarre. It really is. So ‘our’ response, to the near collapse of the economy are all due to the meeja. If it weren’t so reductionist, and solipsistic reduction at that, it would be laughable. Actually, no, it is laughable. That he think inquiries are simply down to the ‘demands’ of journalists is equally laughable. His sense of the demos is clearly askew.

And this affects in a profound way the national response to present economic circumstances. For one thing, all this niggling and lamentation tends to make people unhappy, guilty, fearful and annoyed, so that the continuing obsession with the forensics of prosperity is now threatening to affect our chances of recovery, which, as any first-year economics student knows, will depend on the nurturing of optimism and confidence.

His logic being if only people didn’t complain they would be happy. Is there a more reactionary prescription? And optimism and confidence, and recovery, depend on ensuring that within obvious constraints that these circumstances never happen again. But, look here at yet more reaction evident in his thinking.

Moreover, the present discussion has created the impression that the problems have all been to do with greed and rogue bankers, when really the core problem relates to the engorgement of the State over recent decades. This is not merely an economic problem, but also a social, psychological and existential one, causing enormously increased pressures on citizens who are required to keep the monster alive. This situation was brought about largely at the insistence of some of the very commentators now leading the clamour for heads on spikes.

Is he entirely serious? The ‘engorgement’ of the State is the problem? That is why the ECB treads carefully around the monies being poured into NAMA asserting that they’re essentially off the books, monies whose volume is such that it dwarfs our annual deficit? He doesn’t bother to explain what he means, but even during the boom, and the figures bear this out, this state continued its business with a smaller than average civil and public service and public services than the EU norm. So we must conclude he either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, hence his tilt towards ‘social psychological and existential one’ which means near nothing, and his reference to ‘enormously increased pressures on citizens who are required to keep the monster alive’ which is risible in the overtly and expressly ‘low tax model’ economy that we have and have had and that the Commission on Taxation took as its starting point.

And who are these commentators? Well he doesn’t bother to say. Explanations being so… unnecessary when one is talking complete nonsense.

Perhaps, then, it is time to consider the extent to which our collective response to the collapse of the economy has been defined by attitudes that are neither representative nor productive, but arise mainly from the prejudices of the messengers.
In as far as you can sum up the “national” response to this crisis, you would have to conclude that, by and large, it corresponds to the outlook of the journalistic profession. It is hard to imagine that – if journalists were better paid, or if the national conversation were led instead by, say, priests – the current rage-and-blame phase would have lasted as long as it has.

His apparent inability to accept that people can arrive at opinions about matters without mediation by journalists or politicians and that these opinions can diverge quite strikingly from his own thoughts is now palpable. Or, to put it another way, he just doesn’t seem to get that other people have beliefs and thoughts of their own and aren’t just empty vessels or actors who must dance to his, or anyone else’s tune. That they can look at their own circumstances and see how they have been impacted upon negatively and draw their own conclusions and draw up their own ‘demands’.
This is a smug, complacent and self-centred article given the actual pain and fear of those who have lost jobs, seen wages cut, found it impossible to meet mortgage repayments, had repossessions of their property, seen community programmes cut, seen health and education provision cut, seen semi-state agencies such as the Council on Bioethics abolished, seen the state move towards protecting the financial sector while seemingly indifferent to the plight of ordinary people…
Abysmal.

Comments»

1. EWI - January 22, 2010

People are attracted to journalism because they want to write, or exert influence in what appears to be a glamorous profession.

“Appears to be” glamorous? I can think of a certain journalist who married a starlet.

All I can say is – the crazy old man look suits him.

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2. Crocodile - January 22, 2010

Waters writes as if he genuinely believes that the bulk of Irish journalism tends towards the left. WbyS is right to say that the number even of liberals has fallen sharply in recent years.
What is the balance now? By my estimation, all commentators on the Sunday Times and in Independent Newspapers belong to the right, with the obvious exception of Kerrigan ( Eamon Sweeney isn’t usually writing about politics). In the Irish Times there are about three right wing commentators to each on the left ( even then you’d be defining Vincent Browne as left). All the leading pollcorrs are right-wing. Every national newspaper has taken a right wing economic line on the recession.
The ‘Daily Mail’? Don’t even go there. No, seriously, don’t.
A word of praise for Diarmuid Doyle on the Tribune. Outside them? Answers on a postcard, please.

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Starkadder - January 22, 2010

Matt Cooper and Diarmuid Ferriter (does
Fergus Finlay still write there as well?) at the Irish Examiner.
Village has some lefty journalism as well.

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Crocodile - January 23, 2010

Matt Cooper? Some rowing back recently, but viciously anti public service pre-budget. And his radio show is the spiritual home of the right-wing, I’m-phoning-from-my-car-and-I-think-that-Michael-O’Leary-talks-a-lot-of-sense ranters.

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shane - January 23, 2010

“does Fergus Finlay still write there as well?”

unfortunately, yes.

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Gypsy - January 23, 2010

Don’t start me off about that Sweeny fellow.
I’m a leading member of the new Keep Nutsy On Board (KNOB) and didn’t appreciate his last Sindo article. Beware those lefties. 😉
(If Eamonn Cork didn’t write that article in the Sindo which was unsigned on their web page I apologise and blame the Gypsy Forum mob. If he did the mob have a GPS lock on thanks to this site.)

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Crocodile - January 23, 2010

Something to do with Bohs, I’m guessing.

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3. Captain Rock - January 22, 2010

I don’t have too much time for Breda O’Brien but her response to Ed Walsh was good.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/1024/1224257388425.html

Maybe she’s one of the reds Waters is on about.

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WorldbyStorm - January 22, 2010

That I entirely agree with. She did good that day.

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shane - January 23, 2010

Breda O’Brien is a self-declared left-winger on economic issues.

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WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2010

I’d regard her, and in a way who am I to say, as being leftish on certain aspects… I wouldn’t regard her as left wing as such.

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Paddy Matthews - January 23, 2010

She’s certainly a world away from David Quinn, with whom I’ve seen her name being casually bundled at times.

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Niall - January 23, 2010

She also had a decent article on depression the other day.

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WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2010

Very true Paddy and Niall. She’s head and shoulders above JW.

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4. CL - January 22, 2010

Waters might be channeling Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Confidence is essential for recovery, a point stressed by Alan Ahearne, Lenihan’s economics adviser, last week. And how can there be confidence without positive thinking?
Seriously, WBS, I think your’re on to something here; “social conservatism wrapped in a touchey feeley language that seems lifted, and this may not be coincidental, from self-help and suchlike.”
Dr. Barbara Ehrenreich, a working class sociialist from Butte, Montana, has developed a similar theme.

“Positive thinking is different, she says, from being cheerful or good-natured — it’s believing that the world is shaped by our wants and desires and that by focusing on the good, the bad ceases to exist.
Ehrenreich believes this has permeated our culture and that the refusal to acknowledge that bad things could happen is in some way responsible for the current financial crisis”
http://www.alternet.org/healthwellness/143187/barbara_ehrenreich:_the_relentless_promotion_of_positive_thinking_has_undermined_america.
Expect more of the Waters-type drivel in coming days as orthodox solutions fail and those who criticize will be accused of ‘negativity’ and ‘talking down the economy’. All kinds of bullshit psychobabble will be expounded.

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WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2010

I’m not the only one though CL, and I appreciate the thought. EamonnCork said something not disimilar as well. But it’s what you say… did you see the piece from Sherry Fitzgeralds economist in the IT business section today… ‘without wanting to oversimplify things the worst may be over’… I paraphrase, but you get the idea.

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CL - January 23, 2010

With 300,000 empty houses on ghost estates, with zombie banks, and a walking dead govt. one would have thought that the decent thing for the real estate industry to do would be to stay quite for a while instead of writing cliched gibberish in the Irish Times.

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WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2010

Ah it was hedged. You know, ‘may be the time’ etc… etc… Pretty shabby in my opinion.

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5. Socialism in one Bedroom - January 22, 2010

I’m kind of beginning to wonder whether mental instability is actually a sine qua non for columnists with national newspapers. Fair enough, elsewhere in the anglophone world you have pundits who are outright prejudiced, cleave to extreme political views or are simply opportunistically controversial, but in Ireland, the sheer randomness of these headbangers’ output and targets is such that it really does seem as if there’s some kind of psychosis manifesting.

Out of interest, how many mobile phone masts are there in D4?

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WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2010

In some ways not enought 🙂

But it’s interesting what you say. A sort of cosmetically non-ideological ideology…

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6. shane - January 23, 2010

We don’t really have any Irish conservative papers in this country. The caricature we do have is like an alien virus superimposed on a body subsisting in parastical contradistinction, forever trying to mould the host into its image.

In every other European country, the local right wing press associate themselves with, cherish, and actively defend, the relevant nation state, its traditions, its interests, its people, its heritage, its story, its culture, and its often peculiar way of doing things. In France, for example, this might be the Guallist organs. Irish papers might be anti-socialist but at most they are British conservative, or American conservative, they do not articulate values that are indigenously existing in this country.

In an American context, it is considered “conservative” to support war-mongering, zionism, capitalism, extreme anti-environmentalism, etc. These things are alien to Irish traditional values, but seem to have colonized the self-styled anti-liberals of INM and the IT. What our ‘right-wing’ papers have taken up is the ‘conservatism’ of the ‘New Right’ in White Anglo Saxon Protestant countries. Indeed our ‘right wing’ element like Eoghan Harris, RDE, and Kevin Myers instruct us to be ashamed of our country, to positively hate its glories, to consider ourselves inferior to our neighbours. That may be reflective of British conservatism, but it is not Irish conservatism.

A French newspaper columnist who devoted himself to attacking his country’s history, its origins (and there is far more latitude in that instance than here), its people and encourage his compatriots to look at, say, the Germans, as a superior people in every respect would get called a lot of names…’conservative’ would not be one of them. Yet we are encouraging to think of our varient as ‘conservative’.

Irishmen as ostensibly anti-liberal as Archbishop McQuaid and Fr Denis Fahey condemned capitalism virtually as heresy. Yet to oppose the neo-liberal economic consensus is to be considered “socialist” and “far-left”. There is no articulation, or even appreciation, of distributism, or corporatism, or even Christian Democracy, which is taken up by German and French conservatives, and used to be the settled consensus of the Irish Right. As for Catholicism, the left prescribe secularism, the ‘right’ suggest Protestantism. The ideological horse crap that passes for ‘conservatism’ in this country is WASP Anglo-American, and utterly unlike the more healthy European equivalent.

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WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2010

Excellent point. And to be honest I think that’s a real deficit on the Irish left. Fennell is an interesting one. Some of his stuff has been excellent over the years. Some of it, not so much.

I also think you’re onto some thing as regards there being no expression of Christian Democracy in a European sense in Ireland, which is also a real deficit.

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EWI - January 24, 2010

Eoghan Harris, RDE, and Kevin Myers

All three tied up in the so-called Reform Movement, if I remember correctly (i.e. Southern Unionist from D4 and Wicklow).

There was even a spiel put up on their website for a while about how they had patrons, but couldn’t reveal who they were.

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shane - January 24, 2010

It’s a front group for the Dublin and Wicklow Orange Lodge. Their site is now even hosted on the Orange Order website:

http://www.reform.dublin1313.net/site/?cat=4

I don’t think Kevin Myers is in the Reform Movement, but Bruce Arnold is. John A Murphy (UCC historian) used to be a member but resigned and in the meantime seems to have went all anti-revisionist.

Robin Bury writes tedious self-promoting letters to various newspapers about the awful oppression inflicted on protestants by the playing of the Angelus. He also sees the War of Independence as fundementally sectarian, and decries the ‘Roman Catholic Church’ for its ‘intolerant’ Ne Temere decree (no mention of the absolute ban on interdenominational marriage still maintained by the Orange Order!).

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7. shane - January 23, 2010

I think Desmond Fennell is one of the last species of Irish conservative columnists (although he rarely gets published anymore).

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8. Dr. X - January 23, 2010

WRT RDE, EH, KM et al, let’s not forget they only speak for one particular section of the Irish elite – that part of it that lives in a little Dublin bubble.

Country and Irish pet food factory owners (to pick an example at random) in the midlands are probably not so enamoured of the born-again empire loyalism of the above trio.

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9. Jim Monaghan - January 23, 2010

” a walking dead govt”
And the Labour Party, ICTU and SIPTU are so ineffectual they cannot or maybe do bot want to bring it down.
Fr. Fahey was radical rihght but a very rightwing one. My friend Ranor Lysaght did a study of Fennell and he would place him on the right as well.
I suspect when Waters talks of leftwing he means liberalism on social issues like divorce. Things like this were supported by the PDs. I would say the Irish Times and PDs were for lack of a better description as “Bourgeois Modernists” with the added ingredient of being 26 County statists (in the sense of agreeing with Imperialism that this was the boundary to the march of the nation).
“These things are alien to Irish traditional values”
While I cherish the decent values of Irish People I do not think we have any special hold on them. There is plenty of racism, environmental vandalism etc. here. Sentimental as I am it would be in my opinion wrong to ascribe much in the way of inherent goodness in our people vis a vis others.

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WorldbyStorm - January 23, 2010

Very true… that last point of yours. BTW Jim, your email keeps bouncing back emails from me…

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10. john - January 23, 2010

Thought provoking piece.

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11. Terry Quinn - January 23, 2010

Didn’t the piece by Lysaght on the RMG (left-archive) describe Fennell as a fascist?
Fr. Fahy was a fascist by the way: his stuff is vile and was a big influence on Father Charles Coughlin in the U.S.
Fianna Fail arn’t in anyway west-brit and they are a conservative party in my view and the main enemy at the moment, not a few SINDO nutters (who I despise, but who are not actually running the country). FF’s flag waving still seems to blind some people.

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12. CL - January 23, 2010

Fahey was an early Holocaust revisionist, a major influence on the populist/fascist Fr. Coughlin, a correspondent of J. Edgar Hoover, and is Gerry McGeough’s main inspiration.
Fahey’s books are all still in print, propound anti-Semitic conspiracism, bear the imprimatur of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy, and are available from most fascist websites.
Sean South of ‘Garryowen’ was a leading member of Maria Duce, the Fahey-following clerical fascist outfit. All of which leads me to question the left-wing credentials of Sinn Fein, which had McGeough on its Ard Comhairle for many years.

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13. shane - January 24, 2010

I agree with all your dismissals of Father Fahey’s views. His books used to be given out as prizes in schools, unfortunately he was far from alone. Archbishop McQuaid made similar statements about Judeo-Masonic conspiracies in Hollywood as a young priest, though he later considered Fahey a loose canon.

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14. Digest – Jan 24 2010 – The Story - January 24, 2010

[…] too. Also over on the CLR, WorldByStorm deconstructs John Waters’s latest musings – the financial crisis… it’s all in your head… courtesy of the journalists. His apparent inability to accept that people can arrive at opinions about matters without […]

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