Communicating gargled messages

I understand that the noise and bluster around Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s interview on RTE’s Morning Ireland earlier in the week is now being called ‘Garglegate’, another of those annoying ‘gate’ suffixes, but this time referring to the Taoiseach’s statement that the problem with the interview was that he was hoarse. It has taken me a bit of time, but I have now listened to the whole interview online; and I know I’m swimming wholly against the tide here, but I cannot see what the fuss is about. Yes, he mis-spoke twice, once referring to the Good Friday Agreement when he meant the Croke Park Agreement, and once saying legislation was ‘in place’ when he meant it was ‘in preparation’. In each case he corrected himself immediately. And I’d have to say, if I were to be condemned every time I suffered a slip of the tongue I’d now be on my way to hell.

And the rest of the interview? Well, it was boring as could be, and delivered in a monotonous tone; but with no disrespect to the Taoiseach, that’s how he does interviews, and I don’t think this one was very different from many others he has done. I can’t even say that he sounded particularly hoarse, and if he did it absolutely didn’t matter.

So why did Brian Cowen apologise? Or rather, what exactly was he apologising for? In fact, in listening to his apology I wasn’t wholly sure that he knew what he was apologising for. A storm had broken out around the interview, and he was probably advised he could calm it all down by apologising for something or other. However, it didn’t make one bit of sense to me.

The problem is, I think, that our senior politicians have totally lost the plot as regards political communication. This is not just Brian Cowen’s problem, it is also Enda Kenny’s, and for my money even Eamon Gilmore doesn’t ring the bells. We have a political class that simply doesn’t know how to inspire trust and confidence through well-judged communication. I believe that this is also why we are still being questioned in the global media about our economic performance – not because the economic policies are necessarily deficient, but because we are so bad in our national advocacy in support of them. Furthermore, two years into our financial crisis the Taoiseach has, despite calls from absolutely every commentator, not addressed the nation. The only politicians whose communication skills I rate right now are Brian Lenihan and Pat Rabbitte.

This country has several very skilled communications experts. Politicians need to take lessons.

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6 Comments on “Communicating gargled messages”

  1. Liam Delaney Says:

    This and your post about Lenihan are two very good posts Ferdinand. I think both people left themselves open to criticism – in my view Cowen did sound like he had a late night and should have postponed the interview (or gone to bed earlier). Similarly, Lenihan might have thought twice about launching a book like that given his position. But neither mistake (if you accept they were mistakes) warranted the torrents of hysteria that followed. There are some deeply serious things happening in the country at the moment that will have farreaching effects and, yes, perhaps it doesn’t help that the Taoiseach gives a bum interview. But its not the main point..it really isnt. How it can come to dominate a news cycle for a week is beyond me.

  2. Mark Dowling Says:

    I agree with this post – I wonder how many people who are calling for his head have listened to the interview in full. Perhaps it is being abroad and mostly hearing “Cowen” by means of “Nob Nation” podcasts that I have a different perception of his enunciation…

    In any case, it would be another in a long series of embarrassments for this country if, having tolerated him for bankrupting the nation he was fired for going on an interview with a hangover.

  3. Vincent Says:

    Get on with yourself, pitch modulation technology would have corrected that timber in An Taoiseach before it was transmitted, if RTE choose.
    Many on this Blog hate FF. I don’t. Nor will I consider the Hang em draw em and quarter em of the current cohort in FG with anything nearing a quite eye.

  4. kevin denny Says:

    I agree that these events are non-events relative to the larger issues but two wrongs don’t make a right.
    I don’t recall the “torrent of hysteria” apropos Conor Lenihan. Maybe I missed it because I am out of the country. I certainly saw some annoyance and disbelief which I think was certainly appropriate given his position.

  5. Al Says:

    I am shocked by the mob mentality of the media….
    The will of the people reduced to whims.
    He should have told em all to F off


  6. I too listened to the interview itself AFTER I had heard the controversy. I therefore expected to hear something truly dreadful and didn’t. I think it may be important to remember that this interview was on the morning after the second part of the RTE doc, “Freefall”, and citizens may have expected something altogether better.

    I find the term “political class” at best meaningless.

    The major problem with much of the political communication is not that it is poorly done but that the arguments are implausible and are coming from people who themselves claim (in their defence!) that they hadn’t the wit to see the developing crisis.


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