Monday, February 01, 2010

Charlie Bird

An Spailpín Fánach did not watch Charlie Bird’s American Year last week, and has no plans to do so tonight. It is for the same reason I don’t set myself on fire of an evening – I do not expect to enjoy it.

However, it was interesting to read the derision with which the program was received last week, especially as Bird had been more or less above criticism prior to that. And yet suddenly, here it was – maybe Ireland’s No 1 Reporter wasn’t that great after all.

Four days later, for reasons unknown, something in the air perhaps, something took over the Irish Twitter community, as people started tweeting #birdfacts – elaborate claims about Charlie Bird in the style of the Chuck Norris / Paul O’Connell thing. “Charlie Bird is so smart he can work out Sudoko using the Crosaire crossword clues” ... “Charlie Bird pities BA Baracus” ... “Quantanemo [sic] bay prisoners asked for Barney songs back after Charlie Bird interrogated them.”

Ireland’s No 1 Reporter was suddenly exposed as something of a gobaloo in the public mind. As if everybody knew it all the time. It was like the movie Network, with everybody rolling up their windows and shouting that they weren’t going to take it any more.

There were some exceptions. Sarah Carey mounted a typically spirited defence of Charlie Bird in the Irish Times on Wednesday, the day before #birdfacts. She remarked on how interesting it was to see how news is made on the documentary: “Another section showed how Irish journalists are herded around the White House on St Patrick’s Day and the desperately limited opportunity they have to extract anything from the occasion.”

What exactly were they trying to extract from the occasion in the first place? It’s the annual shamrock presentation at the White House – it’s not like Obama and Cowen then went off to discuss a potentially delicate situation arising in the North because Warren Beatty had been seen with Iris Robinson somewhere near the Giants’ Causeway.

St Patrick’s Day in the White House is a day out. Nothing else. There is nothing to extract from the occasion except beer, boiled beef and cabbage. But even this proved difficult for Ireland’s No 1 Reporter.

Ms Carey sums up Bird’s talents thusly: “His reports are raw and that’s what makes them sometimes amusing, sometimes almost amateurish but always, always, completely authentic. That’s why he’s a trustworthy and reliable reporter. In a world of mannequins, he is reassuringly human. I like that.”

An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t like that. An Spailpín Fánach likes a reporter to do two things. 1. Know what’s going on. 2. Report same. All else is noise.

Media reports of the documentary comment on how hard it was for Ireland’s No 1 Reporter to find the newly named US Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, at the do in the White House as Charlie didn’t have a picture of him.

Well, why not google him Charlie? Not near a computer? Why not buy an iPhone Charlie? How hard is this? It’s not like you’re looking for the head buck cat of the Den of the Secret Nine, is it? There’s a whole press office dedicated to supplying journalists with these bios. All Charlie had to do was ask for one and read from it.

But he couldn’t even manage that. An Spailpín was listening to Morning Ireland on St Patrick’s Day when Dan Rooney’s appointment as Ambassador was announced. Charlie described Rooney as the owner of the Chicago Steelers, a football team in the American NFL.

Dan Rooney owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over six hundred miles distant from Chicago. The same distance as that from Dublin to Berlin.

That’s missing the target by a fair sketch. All the more so as Pittsburgh had won the Super Bowl when Charlie Bird arrived in America last year.

To be an ordinary citizen in America and be unaware of the Super Bowl is not easy. As a foreign correspondent who needs to get in tune with what’s going on in the new country it’s quite remarkable. But to be unable to read the team name correctly off a press is a genuinely stunning achievement.

Charlie Bird released his autobiography a year or two ago. It was ghost written by Shane Kenny. For a journalist to need a ghost writer tells you an awful lot. And none of it is good. Utter chaos here, indeed.

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