The CBS Sixty Minutes item on Gerry Adams and Jean McConville last night was utterly predictable, utterly simplistic, utterly superficial and in so many ways utterly wrong. The contrast between this so-called television journalism and the sort of work and research that Patrick Keefe put into his New Yorker piece published last month couldn’t have been greater.
The Troubles were, in the Sixty Minutes version, a civil war between Catholics and Protestants with the British accorded, implicitly, their preferred position as ‘piggy in the middle’, trying valiantly to keep these irrational and violence-addicted Irish tribes from slaughtering each other. The truth, that the British, historically and during the last forty years, share in full, responsibility for the state of affairs that caused the violence – and Jean McConville’s sad end – is not even acknowledged.
This was the journalism inspired by the British Information Office on Third Avenue circa 1972, recycled ad nauseum in The New York Times for the following two decades and picked up in 2015 by CBS: the valiant cousins trying to keep peace amongst warring clans just like the US Marines in Tikrit in 2003.
We were served platefuls of cliched journalism: fifteen foot peace walls and the lack of integrated education. Not a single nod in the direction of the facts and the possibility that the British Army might have been exploiting a widowed mother-of-ten for the pathetic morsels of intelligence she could provide; not a mention of the possibility that the IRA might have been telling the truth about Jean McConville.
Not a mention of what Brendan Hughes had to say, that Jean McConville confessed to him that she was an informer, that a radio transmitter found in her apartment had been used to communicate with her British Army handlers and not a word that he had let her go because of her family circumstances; not a word about the assertion that she then returned to her trade despite the damage this would do to her children; not a question directed at the British about their alleged role in the affair, that through malice or incompetence they kept on their books an informer whose life was in danger and by so doing contributed to her death. (CBS never once asked me for the full text of Hughes’ interviews, only selected parts, which had already been broadcast to death; by contrast The New Yorker did have a copy and the result is starkly apparent)
The IRA’s action in killing Jean McConville was, it must be said, completely unforgivable and unjustifiable. She was, if the charge against her is true, such a low level source and the human damage caused by her death so great in comparison, that she should have been put on the Liverpool ferry and told never to return to Ireland. She did not deserve a hole on a beach by Carlingford Lough. But if she was an informer then more than the IRA was responsible for her death.
Which brings me back to Gerry Adams and his response to the charge that the IRA made ten orphans when they killed Jean McConville. To that, the Sinn Fein leader replied:
“That’s what happens in wars, Scott. That’s not to minimize it, but that’s what American soldiers do, British soldiers do, Irish Republican soldiers do, that’s what happens in every single conflict.”
The Gerry Adams of yore would have had a different response, perhaps along these lines:
“How many orphans has Barack Obama made with his drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen? How many orphans did David Cameron make when he and his neocon buddies connived at and fuelled the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya?”
He would have given as good as he got. But then these are different days.