Podcast Round-Up IV

Repeal the 8th Edition

I usually don’t do the soapbox thing. Try to find an explicitly political statement elsewhere on this website. You probably won’t be able to. I don’t want to virtue signal. I don’t want to exacerbate the already-septic tribal wounds. But I very often recommend podcasts, and I don’t see any reason not to recommend what I’ve been listening to this week. Some of it relates to the propaganda I’ve been seeing all around me for months, dead babies on lamp posts and whatnot. For those of you outside Ireland, I’ll explain.

The so-called abortion referendum is fast approaching. I’ll be casting my vote to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution on May 25th. Abortion is the emotive issue that the NO side is campaigning around, that’s the focus of everything. But my understanding is that the 8th Amendment is a bit broader than that. It effectively denies pregnant women the right of consent that is afforded every other person in the Irish healthcare system.

But what about the rights of the unborn, they don’t get consent, goes the predictable counter-argument. And then you’re left debating when a human life actually begins. Are we trying to agree upon a cut-off point before which you’ve got a cluster of cells and after which you’ve got a human with inalienable human rights? With our different religious backgrounds and levels of scientific literacy, is that something we can expect to reach agreement on? With all the unknowables in that equation, all the leaps of faith over chasms of ignorance, can we ever reach an accord?

Certain elements of the NO side have muddied the issue with misinformation, invented or exaggerated statistics, shocking images, and linguistic histrionics. They want to prevent what they call ‘abortion on demand’, a bizarre turn of phrase evoking a kind of casual abortion that I don’t really believe could actually exist in Ireland. This is an interesting time to be having a referendum of any kind, but particularly one with such an emotionally charged issue at its core. Following the American presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum in 2016, a lot of eyes are on Ireland. We are still trying to grasp what modern democracy looks like in the age of the filter bubble.

I listened to a few podcasts this week that looked at the referendum from different angles. Both BBC Trending and The Irish Passport investigated the online aspect of the campaigns and did the classic investigative thing that I love to hear about… they followed the money. Like the US and UK election and referendum campaigns, there is a mercenary strategy being deployed in online advertising and social media. Reporting from The Irish Passport highlighted some questionable online activities being conducted by an organisation with links to the Catholic Church. In a Facebook ad targeting undecided voters, they purport to offer ‘unbiased’ facts on a website that then tracks people’s online activities through their Facebook and Google accounts and targets them with advertising (or outright propaganda). BBC Trending told a similar tale, exploring the divisive online campaign in Ireland, the role that our data has been playing in it, and the organisations who are seeking to influence the outcome.

I’ll recommend another podcast purely for the fun of it. Once in a while you see a news headline that just makes your day. One of my favourites ever came from the Evening Echo court reports (Man in bush tells Garda to f*** off). But I saw a headline to rival that just the other day: You’re a f***ing b****cks, Eamon – John Waters storms off Dunphy’s podcast. That was in thejournal.ie and it’s been getting a fair bit of media attention in Ireland.

Like a lot of Irish people of my generation, I first encountered Eamon Dunphy as a sports pundit. I found him entertaining. As a broadcaster and journalist, he also covered news and politics. Now he hosts a podcast called The Stand with Eamon Dunphy. I don’t always agree with him, but I like his tendency to speak his mind. John Waters never interested me much. I’m sure I read his column a couple of times or saw him on The Late Late Show in the 90’s. If you asked me last week I would have had no opinion of him.

The reason Waters stormed off the podcast was Dunphy’s insistence on coming back to the question of when a human life actually begins. I touched on that question earlier, and in my mind that’s a key question that lies at the heart of the matter. People bring their philosophical and religious sensibilities to bear on the question, and I don’t think there can be a definitive answer. But Dunphy wanted to know Waters’ beliefs in this regard, because I think it is relevant to understanding where Waters’ arguments are coming from. When pressed, he did actually say that he thinks life begins at the moment of conception. When he eventually stormed out, I was surprised. I expected more provocation. He really undermined his credibility by getting so fired up about being asked to answer what I consider an objectively pertinent question. My favourite moment was Dunphy’s exclamation “I’m a NO voter!” when trying to coax Waters back. That was interesting. Perhaps Waters felt that focusing on that question and his answer to it would detract credibility from his arguments in the minds of the less religious and more scientifically minded voter, I speculate wildly. What do I know? For the record, I am less religious and more scientifically minded, and yes, it completely destroyed his credibility in my eyes.

Dunphy wanted to get both sides of the debate, so as well as his derailed conversation with Waters for the NO campaign, he spoke with journalist Una Mullally about the Repeal The 8th campaign, this time reframing himself as ‘undecided’ early in the conversation. Mullally spoke well and got into some of the nuance surrounding this whole debate. I’m going to recommend you listen to it, I won’t attempt to summarise or paraphrase. I just recommend things.

Before I finish, I’ll quickly throw in a recommendation for The Irish Times Inside Politics podcast. They’ve been churning out solid analysis of the news and the polling, and talking with people on both sides of the debate (who for the most part, manage to keep things civil). They even covered the Dunphy-Waters debacle and had a bit of a chuckle about it, like the rest of us.

This turned into a longer blog post than I intended. I don’t want to wade into a potentially fraught debate, so maybe I’m qualifying and over-explaining. If people decide to get touchy, it’ll never be enough. Look, I’m just recommending a few podcasts on my little website, as I often do. Dum-de-dum, minding my own business, dum-de-dum, walking home, dum-de-dum, counting dead baby posters, dum-de-dum. Can’t wait for Saturday, when all the NO campaigners will rush to take down the horrific propaganda they felt morally justified inflicting on the rest of us. That’s how it works with election posters, right? Because the people who put them up have such a strong sense of social and moral responsibility, right?