Like most of us I have a sharp ear for a compliment, so when I got a message yesterday asking “Are you the only one with a titter of wit?” you may be sure I gave it my full attention. I assumed – rightly as it turned out – that the comment referred to my critical view on air of the queen’s visit. For a few minutes I patted myself on the back, the way you do, but then I began to wonder if I knew what I’d been talking about. I’d criticized the queen’s visit and yet I hadn’t seen her during her time here. Not once. Nor, for that matter, had a great number of the commentators who formed the chorus of the gushfest that greeted her. I know, because I was watching a number of them gushing as they stared at a TV screen.
Is this leading somewhere, you’re wondering? Yes it is. Well over 95% of what we know about politicians, heads of state, prime ministers, presidents, what are laughingly called ‘dignitaries’ - all come to us via the media. They and the world get chopped up, carefully arranged, put in a parcel with a particular colour of bow, and then we get them. One tiny example: I was in a discussion on RTÉ Radio One yesterday and one of the panel was former Irish ambassador to Britain Noel Dorr. Noel, being a wily old cat, waited until the end before dropping in a final highly-civilized comment that made my criticism on the Anglo-Irish Agreement sound like the biased rantings of a stuck-in-the-mud northerner. Nothing I could do about it – we were out of time. Nice one, Noel.
That’s the nature of the media – they give a time-and-space limited view of the world. When I was a child, I used puzzle over the fact that every day, exactly fifteen minutes of news happened. Every single day, down to the second, the number of things happening in the world fitted into a fifteen-minute slot. Amazing.
Some people will tell you that bankers are the most powerful people in our society, others that the big multi-nationals are. Uh-uh. The most powerful are the media. We’re like blind men and women and the media tell us what the world looks like. Remember shortly after the invasion of Iraq, how we got those groups of people cheering a welcome of the Americans? And then it turned out they were a small unrepresentative group: all over Iraq there were scores, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who hated the US and its troops.
That selective view of the world is on my mind as we gather ourselves for yet another gushfest. Who’s to say? Maybe there are thousands of ones with a titter of wit out there, only their voice doesn’t get to be part of the media package. Maybe – it’s possible – you’re one of them.