Saturday, November 11, 2006

McGurk v. Previn

Letter in today's Irish Times:

Madam, - Tom McGurk's live interview with music legend André Previn on RTÉ 1 this morning (Nov 10th) must surely rank as prime car crash radio.Having admitted that he had never seen A Streetcar Named Desire as a play, he then expressed strong but totally uninformed opinions on the play, on opera as elitist art and requested comments from an increasingly incredulous Mr Previn. Resulting in surely the most embarrassing few minutes in recent broadcasting. Stick to the rugby Tom. - Yours, etc,
NOEL DRUMGOOLE, Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin 6.

I missed the interview in question, but it sounds typical of McGurk's recent output when he fills the chair for Pat Kenny. Several decades ago, Previn appeared on the Morecombe & Wise show where they took the piss unmercifully, so at least the guy has a sense of humour. He probably just asked his agent to warn him in future when he's booking him on a comedy show.

McGurk also filled in for Kenny during the recent mid-term break and a couple of interviews spring to mind.

One was with the chief environmental advisor to the Bush administration. You always know what McGurk's opinion is because his questions come fully-loaded. So he launched into a top-of-the-head anti-Bush diatribe which was easily rebutted by his guest. The man reeled off several programmes currently underway, listing huge budgets, targets and achievements to date. McGurk was almost completely silenced, the only fact he seemed to possess was that the US has refused to sign up to Kyoto. You'd have been left with the impression that George Bush was the greatest living friend of the environment.

Another interview was about childcare and how to raise and discipline children. Again McGurk wore his heart on his sleeve - "a good slap never did anyone any harm" etc etc.. The tone and content of his questions was completely sceptical. But his contributor stuck to his course and dutifully demolished every statement/argument put forward by McGurk. Even better, he used each case to illustrate how McGurk's approach represented a failure on the part of the parent. McGurk kept digging long after he should have realised he was sounding like stone-age man.

What McGurk best illustrates is that opinions that sound authoritative in a pub are often based on analysis as shallow as a puddle of beer. It's slightly scary that he writes a weekly opinion column in the Sunday Business Post.

McGurk is far from being unique in Irish broadcasting and viewers/listeners should be constantly reminded that (i) asking questions is a lot easier than answering them (ii) generally interviewers know a lot less about the subject than the interviewee and (iii) many interviewers are trying to create headlines for their station’s next news headlines.

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