YOU WOULD like to think that, if you were a young journalist covering the Tour de France around the turn of the century, you would not have hesitated before putting your career on the line by refusing to follow more than 95% of your peers in eulogising Lance Armstrong.
That if you were working for a publication less interested in the truth than L’Equipe or The Sunday Times were, you would nonetheless resist the demands of your boss, your mortgage provider and your overriding sense of self-preservation. That you would refuse to play along with the greatest sports/human interest story in many a year: man beats cancer, becomes motivated, eats a lot of pasta, pisses home first in the greatest bike race of them all, in a faster time than those nasty drug cheats who came before him.
Yes, prior to 2004 the evidence was reasonably distant from the public consciousness, making it oh-so-easy to prioritise the quiet and good life and play pretend. Nonetheless you would still like to think that you would have told the sports editor to stuff it, that it didn’t matter if there was no conclusive proof yet, because your common sense could lead only to the conclusion that old Lance was juiced to the eyeballs.
You would like to think that no nine-to-five could compromise your integrity, that if faced with a choice between doing the ridiculously easy wrong thing and facing no consequences or doing the ridiculously difficult right thing and losing your job, you would stand firm.
You might also like to think you will be married one day to Scarlett Johansson and the two of you will live out your days blissfully frolicking on a big pile of money, but that doesn’t make it the truth.
The thousands of journalists who did the wrong thing could never be compared to the psychological black hole that is Armstrong, but they do have something in common with him: they lied. They lied either (by ignoring the evidence) to themselves, or (by playing along with the bullshit) to the public.
It continues: the statement du jour earlier this month on Twitter, that platform which allows us media types to gather and gawp at our navels, was the one predicting that Oprah would be too soft an interviewer to ask Lance the “hard questions”. Em, excuse me, Mister or Miss Tweeter. Grab a mirror and ask yourself two of the most difficult questions of all: have you ever ducked out of asking a hard question, and did you do so to avoid discomfort?
In the world of GAA journalism, where the athletes are amateur, the value of the sportswear sponsorships do not run into the hundreds of millions and nobody has been caught doping, the lies are usually of a light enough shade to pass as at least off-white.
Many feature interviews with players are at least slightly exaggerated, usually through a desire to tell a compelling story. One of my favourites was a two-page spread where an inter-county hurler left readers under the impression that he did not drink. Some of my friends had a good laugh at that; they attended the same college as him, where his regular drunken womanising and vandalism sprees were reportedly wild enough to make a 70s rock star blush.
So many of these interviews tell us of the Spartan life of dedication to battle led by our local heroes, which is confusing when you go out in Copper Face Jacks and see them on the unholy rip. Nobody is begrudging them a night out: the point is that their dedication is impressive as it is and does not need to be fortified by hyperbole.
Too many journalists take the lead role in pushing their interview subjects as the epitome of morality and courage. It is almost a standard “thank you” for the player agreeing to do the interview, and it is a widespread offence. I am not innocent of it.
That aspect of sloppy journalism is annoying but, you might argue, largely victimless. What is more troubling is the reluctance to question authority that trickles down from The Sunday Game presenter’s chair through much of our media, with those that have never been complicit scarce enough that we can comfortably label them honourable exceptions.
It is there in the way the Croke Park line is too widely and easily regurgitated on issues from pitch invasions to ticket prices, in the way too many journalists are too cosy with too many press officers; indeed, in the way many of them want to be press officers.
It is there in the way Jim McGuinness can throw a journalist out of a conference and carry on as normal (“yeah, I would have walked out, but, y’know, deadlines and that”), the way Brian Cody’s outburst in response to a harmless question from Marty Morrissey is not met by him being told he’s acting like a control freak but by nervous laughter (“yeah, well, that’s Cody for ya, ha ha, poor old Marty”).
We should realise that GAA administrators, managers and players are just people who, like you or me, are prone to lying to preserve or advance themselves. We should grow up and prize sober facts ahead of overblown puff pieces.
In the long run, as the games get ever more serious, you wonder about those reporters who are too easily fobbed off, too fond of the social cachet that acquaintance with famous GAA figures brings, too reluctant to rock the ship that bears them to the waters of solvency and easy quotes and All-Ireland tickets dropping on their desks.
How would they react if they were the first to see evidence of a GAA financial or doping scandal? Well, you would like to think …