Jude Collins

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Spin or no-spin?

Right. Have a look at the words of the following two people as reported in The Irish Times last Saturday.

Interviewee 1: “We have had no contact with the victim. We were there for Danny and for Danny only. They came along because they wanted to support Danny and they believed Danny. Nobody organised anything. We went because we hadn’t been able to contact him since he was found guilty. We wanted to shake hands with him – he’s our brother, our son. People followed suit. It was a spontaneous reaction. We had no idea that girl was going to be in court”.

Interviewee 2: “Now Áine was about 14 at the time, she was a wee kid, but she was always a very good wee girl and always, you know, I , I just couldn’t imagine a child like her making up such a serious allegation. And although I didn’t have you know, the the, the awful details of the, the wrong that was done to her, I think it was doubly done by Liam refusing, called her a liar and denying emphatically that he had done any wrong. Áine in this case is the direct victim, but child abuse has a whole ripple of other victims. You know, for me it’s like, you know, a permanent bereavement”.

It’s those “the, the”s and “I, I” s and “for me it’s like, you know”s, isn’t it? What has happened, as you’ve probably guessed, is that the reporter in the first paragraph has almost certainly screened the words of the speaker, eliminating ‘you know’s and repetitions and the rest of the wandering, self-correcting swing-around-the-houses extras that we all use in the spoken word. Ninety-nine per cent of journalists do this. It’s not that they falsify what was said – they just nudge the syntax and grammar into a form that makes it more readable.

In the second paragraph the reporter hasn’t done this. She’s simply given the words of the speaker in the raw form, with all the twists and hesitancies that the normal spoken word contains. But while we readily accept and sometimes don’t even hear such hesitancies in real life, in written form on the page it looks odd, suggests an uncertainty or maybe evasiveness on the part of the speaker.

The two reports appeared on the same page of last Saturday’s Irish Times. The speaker in the first story is Tim Foley, brother of the man sent to jail in Kerry for a sexual assault on a woman but greeted warmly in the court by about fifty local people. The second is from an interview with Gerry Adams about his niece Áine’s claims that her father, Gerry's brother, sexually abused her as a child.

The question is, in terms of reporting style, which speaker is made to look shifty, evasive, almost caught on the hop?

But hey – the Irish Times is Ireland's quality newspaper and would never slant its reporting against someone it didn’t like. The record shows that the Irish Times has always treated Sinn Fein the same as it has any other democratically-elected party. Like, I mean, right? RIGHT?

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