Poor old Sean Gallagher. The whole affair over that Frontline debate had a stink of it, and it wasn’t just coming from him. The revelation that RTE botched its own vetting procedures on accurate content to introduce to the debate proceedings had added an unwelcome coda to the Presidential campaign.
RTE is firmly in the wrong here, and no amount of denials and pleas of ignorance from Pat Kenny will change that. They threw something at Sean Gallagher, the then frontrunner in polling, that was inaccurate when they had sufficient time to check the source. Following this, they had a whole night and morning to do further verification, but failed to do that before Pat Kenny radio show.
Added onto that was a debate that was, in the aftermath of” the tweet” weighted heavily against Gallagher. I cannot bring myself to lay much blame of the former Fianna Fail man for his stuttered response to what was a startling accusation, made worse by the “pile-on” he was subjected to from the debates moderator, a man who seemed to only want a big media moment. Gallagher is no politician, that was his problem. He didn’t have the media and debate savvy to deal with such an incident and his response was disastrous.
The real crux of the matter is how much of an effect it had. Polls released after the election found that a large percentage of responders moved away from Gallagher following the debate. I have little regard for polls, but the numbers are startling. Was “tweetgate” as it has so ridiculously been dubbed, the moment when Sean Gallagher lost an election he was looking like winning?
I think such claims are overblown. I personally felt after the debate, mistakenly as it turned out, that it would have little effect on Gallagher’s numbers (I smelled a rat, and I thought others would too. I was wrong). I tipped him to win the most first preferences.
I also tipped him to lose the election regardless, due to the transfer potential of Michael D. Higgins. My final prediction proved correct, but it was far more straightforward then I thought it would be.
I hold to that analysis. Gallagher was the frontrunner before the Frontline debate, but did not have sufficient distance between himself and the Labour man to be sure of victory. The narrative from some Gallagher supporters is of Sinn Fein conspiracy and election rigging, two things that seem far from having a basis in reality. Such accusations require more proof them mere conjecture and circumstance. The voters of Ireland had other reasons not to vote for Gallagher – his business past, his links with Fianna Fail, his lack of political experience etc.
I also believe that the national broadcaster was soft in its questioning towards the eventual winner of the contest. MDH was rarely tested on his age, his thoughts on Israel and other foreign affairs issues or this rather “unpresidential” episode. I don’t think RTE has a “liberal bias”. I do think that when it comes to politics, the station does a mediocre job frequently.
What now? I’m not sure much more investigation is actually required. The more serious accusations of planted questions is a separate issue, one that may boil down to “my word against yours”. I have little time for that, barring new evidence of impropriety.
But someone at RTE messed up, and when they missed up it did have an effect on the democratic process. I do not believe it was a critical or decisive effect, but the end result was a misleading impression of one of the candidates just days before the moratorium on election coverage.
Whoever that person was, who cleared that tweet without verification of authenticity or regard for the intended effect, should no longer be working in RTE.