So we all know about fake news, right?
In media circles it is without doubt the hot topic du jour.
It’s not a new phenomenon, of course; fake news has long done the rounds in our newspapers, on radio, on television and online.
Some of it is subtle and comes from a media outlet’s underlying bias – oh yes, this is a thing ok, as I wrote about previously – while some of it is just shamelessly made- up nonsense, as I know from personal experience many years ago.
— Pat O’Mahony (@patomahony1) January 12, 2017
But this current fake news surge is tied in with a huge downturn in our trust.
We are, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, living in an era of backlash against authority, and so far, government and the media have borne the brunt of populist anger.
The election of the new President of the US and his behaviour and that of his paranoid patchwork of populist advisors and hangers-on is a perfect example of how this has been exploited.
And particularly since he won the election in November, fake news has become their go-to accusatory phrase of choice.
Which is odd given the role some of his supporters played in perpetuating such false news stories to actually get him elected in the first place.
But now the media are bad – and ‘liberal’ to boot, for chrissakes – and by golly, Donald’s going to sort them.
So while we wait for that bizarre – and let’s be honest, unlikely – scenario to unfold, I’ve been thinking about the role footballers’ post-match interviews have played in all this craziness.
The what, you say? Footballers’ post-match interviews and fake news? How so exactly?
Well it’s not a direct link per se, but part of a general overall failing of our modern media to challenge all subjects vigorously.
And it’s far more common than you might think.
But when was the last time you actually heard a player say anything meaningful?
Managers use more than their fair share of useless clichés too, but at least they regularly say something of interest, even if it’s only to give out about a refereeing decision they didn’t like.
But the players? My god, but talk about bland and uninformative.
They can’t all be thick as planks – that would be too easy an excuse and too lazy an accusation – but they’ve obviously been drilled by their club’s PR team to within an inch of their lives in case they say anything vaguely controversial, so dull and repetitive are their utterances.
“It was great to score but the important thing is we got the three points.”
“The fans were magnificent today. They deserve better.”
“We knew what we had to do; we just had to go out there and do it.”
“We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
“We had a point to prove today.”
“We have to keep trying and we have to remain positive.”
And on it goes. Relentlessly.
Their after-match social media posts are equally insipid.
Yeah, some are controversial and have sometimes got the tweeter in trouble – *waves at Ashley Cole, Joey Baron, Rio Ferdinand, Bacary Sagna, et al* – but these are very much the exception.
A Victor Anichebe tweet from late last year – since deleted, so thank heavens for screengrabs – perfectly revealed this overbearing behind-the-scenes communications command and control and why we (probably) need to unfollow footballers on Twitter:
At some point you’d think a TV producer would just say, ok, enough is enough, let’s drop these waste-of-our-time player post-match interviews.
But they’re the stars of the game and even if they say nothing, we still want to see and hear from them afterwards.
So on it goes.
Which, I guess is ok, as it’s only footie and in the end, who really cares what any of them say?
But something occurred to me after the recent controversy when the Irish Times was accused of irresponsibly giving voice and credibility to the extreme right by publishing online Nicholas Pell’s everything-you-need-to-know article on the alt-right movement.
I wondered if this potential normalising of access to those who preach hate and for whom facts are flexible is partially our own fault as media gatekeepers because of our already existing lax attitudes to everyday guests we feature who brazenly and blatantly play hard and fast with the truth.
We’ve all read, seen or heard interviews that are so unbelievably soft, not asking any hard, tough questions, that you wonder was a deal done beforehand that certain areas were off limits?
Similarly, how many times have you nearly pulled your hair out when witnessing someone continually refusing to answer a question by spouting irrelevant nonsense to divert attention away from the unwanted attention?
Not for nothing do media trainers teach people to answer the question they want to answer, not necessarily the question they’re asked.
And that’s before we even get to those who just plain lie, aware of the adage that if you repeat one often enough it becomes the truth.
I can only imagine how frustrating it is for interviewers to have to put up with all this crap and nonsense yet we repeatedly have these guests back on because they’re ‘important’ and ‘an essential part of the debate.’
So we all get used to this skewed normality where truth takes a back seat to ‘celebrity’ access.
And if anyone dares question it, we all scream holy, blue, free-speech murder.
So when someone from the far right comes along whose views are so despicably vile and contemptable – usually involving some toxic mix of homophobia, jingoism, racism and misogyny – we’ve become so desensitised to dishonesty and addicted to controversy that we think it’s perfectly fine to give them airtime or column inches.
And to hell with the consequences.
In certain media organisations these poisonous wingnuts are pushing against doors more open than in others.
While some blatantly populist outlets welcome them with open arms, even in the poor beleaguered ‘liberal’ mainstream media that Trump loves to hate, there are undoubtedly editors and producers who, even quietly, have more than a little sympathy with their views and in the name of balance, argue for their inclusion.
Today footballers can spout their clichéd inanities, business people can boast of how wonderful they are and politicians can promise us the earth, all un- or badly challenged, and as long as we tolerate this…well, it’s a slippery slope we’re already well down.
So, if you’re thinking of interviewing any of these facist gobshites, first off ask yourself when did you last do likewise with someone from the extreme left?
And I don’t mean someone from Socialist Worker or suchlike involved in the political process, even if only on the margins, but someone who wants to completely overthrow the current economic status quo and is prepared to use violence to do so (though they may only have the rich and powerful in their sights, not the weaker, marginalised members of society).
Then be aware of the effects just giving our friends on the far right this invaluable exposure will have, both in terms of legitimising their bully-boy views and on any vulnerable listeners, viewers or readers.
If you still at this point absolutely must interview them make sure you have a well-funded newsroom to hand that hasn’t been decimated by cutbacks since the recession of 2008 where there are good researchers with time and ability to fully investigate them and their ideology, history, personal writings, audio/TV clips, etc so you can rebutt all their lies and, bless, ‘alternative facts.’
Then make sure you have enough time to go through everything of importance during the interview, during which you don’t allow any waffling, deflections and deliberate digressions, especially if it’s live on radio or TV where there are no second chances or later editing opportunities.
Then maybe think about treating every other guest and interview with exactly the same rigour and thoroughness.