In public relations, the concept of an “embargo” is used to guarantee maximum coverage of a news story at a time chosen by the people behind the story. How it works is simple enough: A media organisation is given access to a piece of news well in advance, and told that it may not run the story until a particular time on a particular day. That allows media organisations to write their articles in advance, and hit “publish” at the agreed time.
Yesterday morning, the Irish Times story about the latest report on “misinformation” in Irish society by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) went live at 6.10 am. Almost every outlet had some version of the story written up in detail, and published, before 8.30am. The report led the Irish Times, Journal, and RTE, and featured prominently in morning radio shows and news reports. The public relations team did its job well.
Such a PR operation can only really be pulled off with the active co-operation of the media outlets involved. Embargoes are not legally binding. They are generally abided by solely to maintain good relations between the people who report the news, and the people who, as in this case, generate the news. The Irish media, it is fair to say, appears eager to stay on the right side of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
I mention this because it was quite clear from the coverage of the report that many of the journalists writing pieces about it had indeed thoroughly read the accompanying press release sent out ahead of time. Alas, it is not clear that many – if any – of them read the actual report itself.
Notable in the coverage of the report is that while the “findings” of the document were widely reported, the document itself was even linked in the reports for public inspection by those reporting on its contents. To break that pattern, the main body of the report may be found in full here. It should be read by anybody interested in its findings.
What should strike a reader first is the lack of any discernable methodology. The report refers consistently to something called “the Irish mis-information and dis-information ecosystem”. This “ecosystem” is never defined. It is, according to the methodology of the report, simply a collection of social media accounts that were identified by an obscure process involving searching for various keywords on social media sites.
The quality of the document might well be summed up by this paragraph which introduces a brand new concept – the “bad expert”:
“‘Bad experts’ are often used to make similar points or interpret medical evidence; these are usually people who have scientific or medical qualifications that add a veneer of credibility to false or misleading claims.”
Consider the breadth and scope of this assertion: It essentially amounts to a statement that an expert in a given field should have their views assessed not in light of their own expertise, but in whether or not those people at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue – with no relevant experience in that field of their own – consider an expert opinion to be in line with their own views.
This is the logic that led to many of those critical of covid lockdowns being denied a platform in the Irish media when their own expert views disagreed with those of NPHET. It is reasonable to ask, given the long hangover from that lockdown, who the “bad experts” really were.
Across the board, the document begins and ends with a single assumption: That the prevailing views of the liberal order are correct, and other views are misinformation. Consider this example, again, taken from the report, which concerns allegations of “misinformation” during the last general election in Ireland, in 2020:
Within this topic, housing and immigration tended to be mentioned in the same posts, particularly in claims that the government were deliberately housing migrants, asylum seekers or refugees at the expense of the native Irish population.
This is cited, in the report, as an example of “misinformation”. In reality, it is an example of political argument. In fact, this publication is very comfortable in saying that the statement is not only an example of political argument: It is truthful. The Irish Government has, by its own admission, prioritised the housing of “migrants, asylum seekers, or refugees” at the expense of the “native Irish”. One need only ask the following question: When was the last time the Irish Government re-purposed an army barracks to accommodate Irish citizens without homes?
Another example of this trend comes on page 18, discussing the alleged involvement of Senator Sharon Keogan in the undefined “misinformation ecosystem”:
Amongst the most-shared posts mentioning Keogan were posts that praised her for criticising a media-orchestrated “hate campaign against unvaccinated people” during the COVID-19 pandemic, posts that praised her for speaking about the supposed threat of “radical trans ideology” and posts that supported her for discussing and “exposing” the WHO pandemic treaty.
Again, note that the positions listed are fairly straightforward political views: The report does not mention the reality of the Government and media campaign against unvaccinated people which even yours truly, as a vaccinated person, could not fail to notice: Ryan Tubridy famously warned the public not to invite their unvaccinated relatives to family gatherings. And note the word “supposed” in relation to the “threat of radical trans ideology”. Opposition to “trans ideology” is shared by, amongst others, the British Government, but is presented here as an example of “misinformation”.
For the sake of brevity, I will not continue: Suffice it to say that the report is littered with the same inherent assumptions – that political views in opposition to the mainstream liberal views of the Irish media are, ipso facto, “misinformation”.
You will note that in this article I quote far more extensively from the body of the report than any other media outlet in Ireland did, or ever will. The coverage elsewhere relates wholly to the headline findings that “misinformation” is on the rise, but never tells you what that misinformation actually is, aside from vague allusions to “conspiracy theories”.
This is for very good reason: The Irish media is now almost entirely reliant, financially, on Government support which is largely based off the media’s supposed role in combatting “misinformation”. It is in their interest, therefore, to highlight the threat as much as possible, regardless of whether the threat is real.
In reality, though, this report is not in any way a useful academic study of anything. Read it for yourself and you will see what it is: A long complaint that people on social media sites disagree with the authors on topics that matter to the authors’ sense of themselves.
Bad experts, indeed.