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Tag Archives: stupidity

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has found that an RTE * programme in the series Prime Time Investigates, “Mission to Prey”, was not fair in that it broadcast serious, damaging and untrue allegations about Fr. Kevin Reynolds.** The reality is more serious. A good man was cruelly injured. He was trampled in a bovine lust for a story.

Once the truth emerged, the response of the media industry generally – in failing to call a spade a spade – has been ridiculous. Leaving aside management structures, guidelines, “group think”, standards in journalism, “best practice”, legal advice etc., something quite brutal needs to be said: On the verge of publishing an allegation of paternity, it requires an enormous level of stupidity to refuse to defer publication when the man concerned is offering to take a paternity test. While there can be many determinants of stupidity, the word still needs to be said without professional prevarication.

Incidentally, we all do stupid things from time to time. We learn from them. The costs of stupidity can be viewed as an investment in the avoidance of similar mistakes. It is therefore silly to get rid of an employee whose stupid error has cost the organisation a great deal. Look at it this way: It can be said with enormous confidence that such a person will be very careful in future. Their replacement comes with no such guarantee and the person in whom so much has been “invested” goes off to work – carefully – for someone else. In short, the stupidity has been compounded for the sake of creating a tough image.

Publication of the BAI report prompted the familiar balm: comments by industry worthies processed in ritual seriousness. However, the BAI investigation and report turns out to be a veritable rescue package for standards of operation that any thinking person would regard as ordinary – indeed, as minimal. Absence of records and notes, and failure to perform checks do not constitute a problem specific to journalism; this would be maladministration in any industry or organisation. It is a description of inefficient, wasteful chaos.

It is impossible to believe that such chaos existed in one isolated area and that word of its existence never reached the outside world. It is more likely that it was learned and accepted in RTE, in the media industry and very probably in industry generally.

A long time before “managerialism”, management was in trouble. It was fluttering from fad to fad, guided by well-meaning people who thought they had found a career in promoting some fundamental truth. Routine, well-tested, ordinary – even boring – management was interrupted by or abandoned in favour of a series of fashions. Let’s put it this way: The study of management in order to make it better is desirable and necessary but like life in general, there is no blinding liberating truth and proposals for change have to be plausible. Moreover and much more importantly, there are basics which if removed, draw the enterprise into inflicting and incurring damage. The chaos that was Prime Time and which the BAI reveals is all too familiar: The triumph of a slipshod, bogus iconoclasm over planning, minutes, research, questioning etc. – all very likely dismissed as “bureaucracy”.

* I worked in RTE for more than three happy decades. I seldom criticise the organisation now for a few reasons. Firstly, there are fond ties of loyalty. Secondly, if tempted, it would be wrong to use insider information in argument. Thirdly, while RTE is subject to all of the fads which pass through industry generally and while RTE journalists are too like journalists generally, it remains an exceptionally good organisation which deserves to be spared overly harsh criticism.



Here’s the story:

This story is ridiculous. What it states explicitly is that after the start of the debate about soft vs. hard landings at the end of Ireland’s property-bubble scam, a civil servant wanted to have Ministers warn of a possible collapse. However, the use of the word “whistleblower” misleads and it perpetuates one of the great fairy stories of recent Irish history.

A whistleblower reveals information which is vital to the public good. Without wishing to underestimate the courage of the civil servant at the centre of the story, there are two problems with this story and its framing. Firstly, the incidents related are far too late to have had an enormous bearing on avoiding the damage done to Ireland; once the “landing” appeared on the agenda, all that was in doubt was the scale of the damage.

Secondly and more importantly, what is needed is evidence of earlier civil service opposition to the virtually insane policies that created the bubble. Such evidence would tend to exonerate civil servants generally from the suspicion of utter stupidity or shameful lack of integrity. It is at this point that use of “whistleblower” perpetuates the lie.

You see, what happened in Ireland did not involve a secret and seeing it coming did not require expertise in economics. It happened in plain sight and only a complete fool could have failed to notice and failed to realise that it would end very badly. Very few of those in Ireland who are paid to think and speak (The group includes journalists, managers, teachers, politicians etc.) showed themselves competent. It is not credible that so many professionals are so wilfully ignorant or stupid that they were unaware of the approaching mess. It is more likely that they lacked the integrity to speak out again and again in opposition.

Should journalism want to redeem itself, some of its better practitioners would do well to focus on who stayed silent as the bubble was intentionally inflated before everyone’s eyes.

See here:

Breda O’Brien in The Irish Times of Saturday, February 20, seeks to minimize the blame which should attach to those who did not rise to protect children. She reckons that they are being too strenuously tested, that few of us would pass what she calls the “challenge-the-culture test”. How depressing! She is very wrong to set such low standards.

 Excusing inaction on – or even participation in – wrongdoing on the basis of a dishonest understanding of “culture” has become a familiar evasion in Ireland and one that seeks to give a lick of dignity to a life or a career that is in truth unworthy of a citizen – or indeed unworthy of any kind of right thinking person. It is shameful and slavish to claim that as long as misconduct is so common as to attract the term “culture”, one can avoid blame for letting it happen. It is alarming that so many people seem to think that the holder of a post is not required to take some sort of stand against wrongdoing or stupidity.

It is certain that many of our scandals rest on past acceptance of this contemptible nonsense. Now it needs to be up-rooted to ensure the appointment of people of better character.

Very few of us will get through life without being asked at times to make some kind of stand and it could be argued that such tests are necessary to a full life. In extreme cases the risks will be too great. Standing up might result in death, imprisonment, exile or loss of a job. Faced with such risks, no one could be blamed for keeping quiet and surviving. However, when the risks are merely to one’s popularity, one’s quiet life or one’s chances of promotion, failure to take a stand should be condemned.

It is certain that in the case of extensive child abuse removing the “culture” fig leaf should cause many to fall from respectability. The excuse is, however, more widely used. For example, employment in the banking industry during the damaging years asked questions about courage and integrity. Now only those who spoke out should remain in anything but junior positions.

In short, whining about “the culture of the time” or “the culture of the industry” etc. is not an excuse for complicity.