Quietly, this is one of the most scandalous episodes in Irish journalism for long and many’s the year. And rather than being appropriately embarrassed, the editor was out over the weekend, bragging about it. “An absolute box office piece”, says he, without shame:
Sunday Independent P1
– Gardai probe sinister calls to Nphet chiefs
– Sinéad O'Connor interviews Ian Bailey – an absolute box-office piece
– The trouble with Fianna Fail
– Lots of great interviews in all sections
– Hurling special, Paul Kimmage at The Open
– And a whole lot more pic.twitter.com/v0XS3XaO14
— Alan English (@AlanEnglish9) July 17, 2021
So, what was in this “box office” piece? Well, we do not have to get past the first line, really:
“Sinéad O’Connor joined a sozzled Ian Bailey over lunch to hear what he had to say about Sophie Toscan du Plantier and her killer”
Let’s be very clear: Nothing after that line matters. Bailey was drunk. O’Connor admits he was drunk. The paper advertises the fact that he was drunk. Deciding, then, to publish this “interview”, and sell papers off the back of it, is one of the most immoral things they could possibly have chosen to do.
Bailey, obviously, is a deeply troubled man. He is an alcoholic. He is also, in the eyes of the law, an innocent man. Nobody has ever been able, or ever will be able, to prove his guilt, and he has never been able, and never will be able, to prove his innocence. Events have transpired in such a manner that he now exists permanently in the Irish psyche in a place between guilt, and innocence. Some people will never believe that he did not commit a heinous murder. The law, it seems, will never be able to prove that he did. It is not a bit of wonder that he is troubled. It is not a wonder, either, that he is suspicious of the press.
And what did O’Connor uncover, in her piece? Nothing, is the answer. We are treated at length to Sinead’s personal impressions of Bailey – nicer when sober than drunk, apparently. Though, aren’t most people? One might write the same of O’Connor herself, potentially, though she, of course, being a Muslim, does not drink these days.
What questions did she ask him? Well, two are recorded: Whether he always knew he was heterosexual (why that matters, nobody knows) and whether “he likes himself”. At one point, Bailey tells her that he teaches journalism, and that O’Connor is not doing her job properly. Drunk or Sober, he is entirely right about that. Consider this section:
“He says he wants a break, but I decide I’m going to finish my questions while he’s out of his comfort zone — and then get out of Dodge.
I’m glad I packed my car the night before so I could get away quick if my questions made him lose control of his narrative. This is a man who is all about control.
Again, he’s being the very worst witness he could possibly be for himself, and he’s being foolish enough to let Sinéad O’Connor film him. Maybe he is actually just plain stupid? Or did he just not google me?
I ask if he would like to make an appeal in this interview for the real killer to come forward. He throws his eyes up to heaven. He doesn’t want to do it.
I tell him it could help him. He flicks his wrist again, looks away from the camera and reluctantly makes the appeal in that “OK, fine, are you happy now?” tone that misogynists use when they want to shut a woman up.”
By “out of his comfort zone”, as we have already established, she means “had a few too many drinks”. She then demands that he make a statement on camera asking for the “real killer” to come forward – telling him it would “help him”. And then she does everything she can in the article she writes to undermine that same video: She poses as his friend, in other words, and then sticks the knife in in her copy. That’s nothing new, in journalism, but to do it to somebody who is under the influence of alcohol is deeply unethical.
We learn, in summation, absolutely nothing about Ian Bailey from this interview. We learn a lot more about Sinead O’Connor, and the Sunday Independent. The whole piece has clearly been legally proofed to within an inch of its life to avoid a libel suit, and on that score the lawyers probably succeeded. What they could not hide, and cannot hide, though, is the complete absence of ethics from O’Connor and her editor. They sent a circus act down to Cork, to turn Ian Bailey into a circus act, just to gain a few readers. And they took advantage of him to do it.