The editor of the Irish Times, Kevin O’Sullivan, obviously has shares in JCB as his latest response to the Kate Fitzgerald affair indicates that he has no intention of ceasing to dig a hole for himself and his paper until he reaches Australia.
Last month, the Irish Times censored and then apologised for an anonymous piece it published calling for greater understanding of depression among employers after the author was identified as Kate Fitzgerald, a PR executive with the Communications Clinic, a firm with links to RTE, the Catholic Church and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The apology, issued after complaints from the Communications Clinic, referred to significant factual errors in Kate’s piece and also undisclosed addition information from the managing director of her employer, PR man Anton Savage (although the Irish Times can’t bring themselves to naming him). Given the Communications Clinics own claims of mastery of the dark arts of PR, it is surprising that the Irish Times were sufficiently convinced of the accuracy of this information to publish an apology without contacting her family or friends.
Anyway, O’Sullivan has now backed himself into a corner and now appears to be mounting a defence which is in breach of his newspaper’s apparent editorial policy on mental health issues.
At a meeting earlier this week with Kate’s parents, O’Sullivan claimed that even though the paper had publicly claimed there were factual errors in Kate’s account, it didn’t mean that it was calling her a liar. The obvious interpretation of this defence is that the Irish Times’ defence is that Kate was a mentally unstable fantasist who dreamt up all the issues she had with the Communications Clinic.
This sits very badly with his claims that the newspaper has “a long-standing policy of encouraging a more open approach within society to the reality of suicide”. Such an approach would naturally entail challenging the stigma and erroneous beliefs surrounding suicide. But O’Sullivan’s defence essentially relies on some of the worse and most stigmatising stereotypes about people with mental illness – that they are unstable, untrustworthy and have a tenuous grip on reality.
In addition, his handling of the affair has raised questions over his newspaper’s ability to champion society’s underdogs against the forces of the establishment or to even achieve the basic task of holding the establishment to account.
Despite O’Sullivan’s weasel words, it is becoming clear that the only reason why the Irish Times has consistently bowed to the Communications Clinic on this issue is because of its political influence. When challenged by Kate’s parents to pinpoint the factual inaccuracies in Kate’s piece, O’Sullivan was unable to reply. The fact is that there don’t appear to have been any.
We now know that the Irish Times has placed a price on its integrity and the Communications Clinic was able to meet it. The one remaining mystery is what the price was. Was it an exclusive interview with the Taoiseach, who is advised by the company’s founder Terry Prone? Was it soft coverage from the station broadcaster, RTE, whose board is chaired by Tom Savage, who is also the Communications Clinic’s chairman? Or did O’Sullivan want to ensure that his writers regularly appeared on the Anton Savage’s national radio show? Or was it something else? Will we ever find out?