Posted by Shane Stapleton
Tuesday 25 September 2012
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Jim McGuinness’ decision to have journalist Declan Bogue removed from Sunday’s All-Ireland final post-game press conference is the prospect of it setting a precedent.
For the uninitiated, McGuinness was unhappy with how he was portrayed in Bogue’s This Is Our Year book which detailed his county’s 2011 season, and from which wing-back Kevin Cassidy’s participation saw him dropped off the Donegal panel late last year.
On Sunday, the Donegal boss was markedly annoyed and spent a number of minutes articulating this, but without delving into specifics — an issue to which we’ll return.
But firstly, this isn’t so much about whether McGuinness is justified or not in having an axe to grind with Bogue, who insists his book reflects very well on the man in question, it’s whether a half hour after winning an All-Ireland was an opportune moment for retribution.
As the Donegal folk watch the team bus, with Sam sitting up front, tour the county amid a buzz, beer, smiles and goodwill in the days after their win over Mayo, there is a feeling elsewhere that this has soured the occasion somewhat. Sullied what was a great achievement.
That McGuinness was so general in his criticisms of the “vile articles” and degradation of his person, and unwilling to point out specific inaccuracies, was always going to arouse a certain level of wariness. The point being that it’s hard to understand where he’s coming from exactly when he is so evasive on the alleged offences. Again, that’s not to suggest the Glenties man is or isn’t rightly aggrieved, it’s simply stating that his vagueness does little to convince us that this was situation was handled correctly.
Indeed this sort of treatment will do McGuinness little favours in the long run. Seeing a journalist such as Bogue being asked to leave a press conference, when you think about it, could be perceived as a warning shot to his colleagues. If we were to dramatise, perhaps it’s even a mild threat on their job; though we’d be hopeful it’s just a once-off. It must be mentioned though, that McGuinness was at pains to point out that he does, and always has, worked with the media.
But given that the pen is in the media’s hands, McGuinness has played a dangerous game. While he may well be justifiably pointing the finger at someone, he will look down at his hand to see three more pointing back at him. Meaning that you couldn’t help but ask yourself “Why now?” as he unloaded in the bowels of Croke Park on Sunday last.
Moreover, given that this was a rejoinder meant to deny Bogue the quotes that would have allowed him to do his work, this has backfired in a couple of ways. One: Bogue is now more well-known and thus his work will become more visible, his book will be more widely read, and he will be more in demand. Two: McGuinness has made a rod for this back. On a day where he was being hoisted up on a pedestal, it now looks, rightly or wrongly, as if he has snorted down from it.
Like a bitter father settling old scores during the dinner speech at his daughter’s wedding, McGuinness has doused a celebratory occasion in negativity. It brought to mind that scene in Father Ted when Ted used his acceptance speech of the Golden Cleric award to settle old scores.
You have to wonder if this incident could lead to a cycle of self-censorship. Players and managers already err on the side of caution during interviews so as to limit any motivation they may give the opposition (just ask poor Joe Canning), so will journalists now have to rethink how they write too? Just so they do not preclude themselves from admittance to future press events. It’s a concern.
Simply look at the Premier League for a snapshot of a worst-case-scenario future. Manchester United, for one, rule their press conferences with an iron fist. A colleague who has been to Old Trafford on many occasions for press events detailed one story whereby Alex Ferguson went off on an expletive-ridden rant. The press were told by the United PR folk to not print any of it or they would not be readmitted in future. They didn’t, and there is an implicit understanding of which quotes you should and shouldn’t use at OT.
Soccer writer Mark Ogden was banned for getting a story on Rio Ferdinand correct, if you can believe that. While the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor was banned because of a book that largely flattered Ferguson, one which referred to him as a “genius”. It’s all a little 1984 for our taste.
We don’t see it happening in the GAA, but we don’t like what we’ve seen on Sunday. It’s difficult to say if it was premeditated by McGuinness (we hope not, and we’re not suggesting it was) but clearly he has been harbouring ill-will towards Bogue for some time. In McGuinness’ own words, he held his court and dignity as his character was attacked — as he saw it.
Yet, when it all came out, McGuinness found a moment for this episode that would cause maximum impact. Sitting in the press room, there was an immediate sense that something was off. When he should have been beaming, his head stayed down and, after fiddling with his watch for a long moment, he walked back out of the room.
You may ask why did the collective media not leave in solidarity with their colleague after McGuinness’ left the room and this request had been made of Bogue. Truth be told, there was some talk of “not accepting that” but the Donegal manager reappeared in the midst of the discussions — however muted they were. At that point, the first question asked was of Bogue’s ejection.
The only score worth settling on last Sunday was Donegal’s on the big screen relative to Mayo’s, but it wasn’t. There were other times and opportunities to do this, like the recent Donegal press events that Bogue had attended, as said journalist pointed out in an article since Sunday.
Perhaps some folk will be happy to see a journalist get theirs, but it would not be a precedent that would do anyone any favours in the long run.
Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter @shanesaint
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