Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Irish journalism roundup

A couple of quick notes from today's Irish Times (unfortunately, subs. req'd). Some of the more feverish speculation on the Valerie Plame affair in the US focused on the possibility that the soon-to-be-ex New York Times' Judy Miller might herself have been a confidential source for the divulging of Plame's CIA identity. While that has now waned, a case in Donegal shows that in principle it can happen:

Former TD [MP] Tom Gildea yesterday named journalist Frank Connolly as his confidential source of information that an explosive device had been assembled at the rear of a Co Donegal Garda station ... The tribunal is looking into allegations that gardaí assembled the device, found on November 19th, 1996, and placed it on a television mast in Ardara for the purpose of arresting three local people, Hugh Diver, the late Anthony Diver and Bernard Shovlin ...

Peter Charleton, [senior counsel] for the tribunal, said yesterday the view came about in Co Donegal that the device was assembled in the rear yard of a Garda station, be it Ardara, Glenties, Carrick, nobody knew where. "That's correct, yes. There was a multiplicity of rumours," Mr Gildea said ... "I was told by a confidential source that they had information that, as you said, the device was assembled in the rear of the Garda station in Glenties ..."

Mr Charleton asked if he minded telling them who his source was. "No, I don't mind at all, it was Mr Frank Connolly, a correspondent with a Sunday newspaper, told me that," he said.

It's not clear whether Gildea was under any legal threat if he didn't reveal his source. We'd provide some background on the case except that it's hopelessly complicated -- but at its root is chronic misconduct by police in Donegal, including framing of "suspects" in several different cases. Gildea is himself a testament to the parochialism of Irish politics, elected to the national parliament essentially on a platform of free cable TV for people in his area.

Another case of journalist etics (as Bertie Ahern would say) is presented by the fiasco of the Sunday Independent's coverage of the death of rogue politician and property developer Liam Lawlor in a car crash in Moscow. The Sindo claimed that a woman in the car with him was a prostitute -- an allegation that struck people as unseemly even if true, given that Lawlor isn't even buried yet, and anyway, seems not to be true. But the Sindo's strategy: Blame the Observer:

The Sunday Independent, using information provided by the Observer's correspondent in Moscow, wrongly suggested that Mr Lawlor was in the company of a teenage prostitute when he died. It has since apologised unreservedly to the dead politician's family for the story, which was "lifted" by most other Sunday newspapers ...

Yesterday, the Observer, which had earlier insisted its story had reported "accurately and in good faith" comments by the Moscow police, also admitted it had erred. In a statement, the newspaper said "serious discrepancies" had emerged in the account provided by police to its correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh.

"In the light of these discrepancies we have removed the story published in the Irish edition of the Observer from our website. We would like to apologise for the inaccuracies in the story and for the distress the story caused."

Paton Walsh also broke his silence yesterday to stress that he had "no hand" in drafting the story that appeared in the Sunday Independent.

Denying that the paper "got the story" from him, he said "an editor" in the Sunday Independent contacted him last Saturday seeking help to confirm reports that Mr Lawlor had died. "I rang an official police spokesperson and relayed only the contents of three conversations with this same person to their newsdesk, stressing at one point that it was only a possibility the girl was a prostitute."

This is just another entry for the file on deeply sloppy journalism at "Sir" Tony O'Reilly's flagship newspaper.

UPDATE 6 DEC: On the Donegal story above, we want to note for potential future reference that the journalist who provided the dirt on the police making a device which they later "found" seems to be the same Frank Connolly who is a brother of one of the Colombia Three, and according to Justice Minister Michael McDowell -- not always the most reliable source -- may have availed of a false passport to travel to Colombia himself. This Irish Times story (subs. req'd) confirms that it's the same Frank.

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