Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Kate

Publish and be damned!

– Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, when the courtesan Harriette Wilson threatened to publish her memoirs and his letters

It’s very hard to comment on anything in the Irish Times nowadays- by the time I get to the end of this post someone in a position of power might have threatened legal action and changed the whole thing.

But given the toothless, vacuous, cowardly non-explanation offered by the Irish Times blog about their despicable handling of the Kate Fitzgerald article, here goes.

Firstly, as soon as I saw the length of it I knew there would be no apology for calling the dead girl a liar.

I was right – 1500 words, and not one of them was ‘sorry’. It seems that, in the Irish Times, that word is reserved for a select few.

Instead, it opens with the classic excuse, and goes downhill from there, rambling on and on before finishing up with a mealy-mouthed pseudo excuse the like of which Sinn Féin are rightly pilloried for when they denigrate the memories of dead innocent women.

Rather than an apology, it is a 1500-word admission that journalism in Ireland has no teeth, and it does its best work when covering up its own inadequacies.

Some examples:

It is neither appropriate nor possible for me to go into detail on the specific legal issues involved in this case.

On the contrary Hugh- it would have been more than appropriate to comment on such issues, if only to explain what they were, if not the actual details.

Let us not forget that in the craven apology printed by your paper, you accused Kate Fitzgerald of being a liar, and that “significant assertions within the original piece were not factual”.

We still don’t know what they were, and no-one seems to be in any hurry to tell us.

There follows a lot of waffle about corrections policy, the net effect being to again imply that Kate had done something wrong in her original article.

For the entire 1500 words, the Irish Times are extremely cautious in their use of language to describe what went on, but there is one staggering, glaring fact- a veritable herd of elephants in the room – that is absolutely and utterly immutable, and that is this:

The piece that caused all the trouble was not Kate’s article.

It was the subsequent piece by Peter Murtagh and the revelation that Kate had worked for Terry Prone that caused the whole situation to go nuclear, and by then the genie was out of the bottle.

Changing Kate’s original article did not change anything, because there was nothing wrong with it.

All it did was appease the beast, as the baby was thrown out with the journalistic bathwater.

But make no mistake- this charade will be played out to the end, until Terry Prone or whoever is satisfied that it has been repeated often enough to become the truth.

The weasel words continue:

However, unfortunate and painful though these events have been, we as professional journalists and publishers took what we believed to be the best action from an ethical and legal perspective.

The implication here is that he and the Irish TImes must adhere to higher standards than bloggers or other social media – conveniently ignoring the fact that many of us who criticise their “ethical” course of action are professional journalists and publishers ourselves.

This is not about some kiss-and-tell Twitter rumour about a Premiership footballer. This is about a powerful woman reading something unpleasant and having her nose put out of joint – ironic, given Prone’s confessed love of plastic surgery.

This is about people on both sides ignoring the rights of writers and readers and deciding the narrative after the fact.

In Ireland, history is not written by the winners, because there are no winners any more.

It is written by the rich and the powerful and those with influence.

The version written by young women, the life crushed out of them under the burden of depression, is seemingly a mere footnote to be changed at will.

In kowtowing to the former, the Irish Times is in dereliction of its journalistic duty as the paper of record.

Not only have they sullied the name of a dead woman, they have singularly failed to follow up the story and ask the questions people would like to see answered by Terry Prone and Kate’s ex-colleagues at the Communications Clinic about Kate and her demise.

I somehow doubt Prone and the Communications Clinic, not to mention would-be president and friend of the suicidal Gay Mitchell, will be in a hurry to give their side of this uncomfortable story, so why not send someone out to ask them?

But instead of Prone using her considerable network and influence to explore and explain the death of Kate Fitzgerald, she has chosen to ignore it – instead, she wrote some folksy nonsense for the Irish Examiner.

Worse still, they published it.

All this does is copper-fastens the idea that in Ireland, we still don’t do accountability, and we don’t tolerate criticism.

Like Fianna Fáil’s inability to apologise for ruining the country – saying “mistakes were made” is not the same thing – it seems that everyone can do whatever they like, and never be held accountable.

Nor is it acceptable to criticise anyone, however deserving they may be.

I have no problem with Hugh Linehan or any other journalist in Ireland.

I have a massive problem with how he and his paper have handled this case.

It’s not good enough.

I want them to win their credibility back.

I want to know the circumstances around Kate’s death.

I want to know if her employers supported her in her battle with the illness that led her to take her own life, or if they didn’t.

I want to know what Terry Prone thinks about Kate and what she wrote and why the Communications Clinic reacted so badly to it.

I want the Irish Times to ask those questions.

And then I want them to publish and be damned.

7 responses to “Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Kate

  1. Pingback: Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Kate - Journalist.ie·

  2. You said what needed to be said and fair play. Fair play also to broadsheet.ie for not being afraid to ask relevant, pertinent questions. Seems to me that whatever about the facts (which will always be impossible to prove, given Kate Fitzgerald’s tragic death), the matter could have been dealt with more humanely by a number of parties and any (at the time perceived) reputational damage would have been minimal.

  3. Well said in the main, but I see little point in making a scapegoat of TCC, who seem to have simply acted as an ignorant employer, and reacted to the developing situation “on the hoof”.
    Therefore, rather than putting any focus on the apparent actions/inactions of TCC, unless they choose to contribute, my wish is for the IT to professionally investigate and publish some stories/examples of what great employers have in place for such situations as Kate’s, for the benefit of all employers and HR professionals.
    Additional content with advice, stories/examples and input from professionals for informing ordinary folk in this almost taboo area………Maybe an annual 2 or 4 page pull out headed “Kate’s Legacy”

  4. The silencing and editing associated with this story really leads me to recall the cliche ‘there is no smoke without fire’. Seems to me that the white elephant in this room is how (certain high pressure, high octane workplaces) handle illness and recovery from serious illness at work.

    For example, what procedures are in place to re-integrate people into a stressful, deadline-orientated client driven job? What counselling services were offered, how was the workload shared, what time is need to recover etc Perhaps this is a debate that Kate wanted people to have, to help others in her position to learn how to seek help, to put standards in place so that it there are expectations for the employer and employee on how to manage life at work post-breakdown/ severe depression.

    I am sure it was not her intention to have the debate focus on legal lawsuits. All that serves is to muffle the real issue and deflect from constructive debate – how can we help those with depression at work?

    It’s inhumane to think people are expected back to high performance levels and tempo! But of course with all the shadows, secrecy and legal eagles hovering around this covert story we will never know what, if any, assistance was given to Kate. In fact all the secrecy is doing is adding fuel to the speculation.

  5. @Neville – point taken, but there has been no public comment from them at all around what is an extremely important story both for journalists and for the wider public on a very sensitive subject. I think they have a duty to respond.

    @Treasa – in a recession, the first thing that happens is the playbook gets torn up. Like all other forms of marketing, getting and keeping a job depends on differentiating yourself and sticking out.
    The sad truth is that getting old or sick or pregnant puts you at a distinct disadvantage, as you stick out for all the wrong reasons.

    • Agree your point Phillip, and that’s why I think the TCC should be given the opportunity to respond by contributing to “Kate’s Legacy”. Most people will recognise a responsible response to a terrible (and I expect unintended) mistake. Retribution was not part of Kate’s message, and I sense that an honest and honourable response by TCC would both help them and all other employers, as well as enhance their damaged reputation with the wider public.

  6. A beautiful, talented girl dead by suicide, her family devastated – by any civilised standard THESE are the real issues here.

    #depressionhurts last night launched http://bit.ly/tn4s33 (copy and paste to browser) to try to change attitudes to depression & suicide and end the stigma associated with both.

    Seems our project is timely and may prove very educational to those I would expect to have already known better.

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