Chris Bray: Too Bad You’re Missing It

Too Bad You’re Missing It
Chris Bray
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2012

I’ve been writing constantly about the Boston College subpoenas since early last summer, and two kinds of interest have sustained my attention. I’m interested in the case itself, in the specifics of the subpoenas and the particulars of the ongoing exchange between governments, researchers, and academic institutions.

But I’m also interested in the thing more generally, for what it broadly represents about the condition of our political and cultural institutions. (Hint: bad.) And it’s been endlessly fascinating to compare what I know from court documents and conversations to what I see in the newspapers. My verdict on the news coverage has been pretty consistent: Are you fucking kidding me?

I’m reminded of the drunk in the stands behind me at Dodger Stadium who kept inviting the umpire to watch the game: “Great game on the field, asshole, too bad you’re missing it.” (It was funny the first seventy times.)

In the latest are-you-fucking-kidding-me development, the Irish Times reports that the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland has given a speech calling for immediate and serious debate on how the North should deal with its painful history:

“Mr McGrory, who was involved in several high-profile cases during and after the Troubles, including representing the families of the three IRA members killed by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988, acknowledged that tackling the legacy of the conflict was difficult. But he believed a proper debate was required as to whether there was an appropriate method that would be an alternative to the current situation where the Historical Enquiries Team and the office of the Police Ombudsman effectively dealt with the past.”

Aside from the fact that the back half of that last sentence wanders away from its front — it’s important to find an alternative to something that effectively deals with something? — any reader with the alertness of a geranium will quickly note what the story doesn’t say: it contains no reference to the Boston College subpoenas and the ongoing quasi-investigation into the murder of Jean McConville.

So the police in Northern Ireland are investigating an IRA murder that took place in 1972, and the person who would be responsible for bringing charges into a courtroom as a result of that investigation says that hey, hold on a minute, let’s find an alternative to what the police are doing about the past. And the report on the prosecutor’s speech about finding alternatives to what the police are doing about the past doesn’t mention what the police are doing about the past.

It’s like (deep breath) the police are out in the streets arresting everyone who wears brown pants, and the head prosecutor stands in the public square and shouts that we shouldn’t be going after people who wear brown pants, and the newspaper informs its readers that the prosecutor says we shouldn’t be criminalizing the decision to wear brown pants, but the newspaper doesn’t think to mention that the police are arresting people for wearing brown pants.

Actually, let me make that a little simpler: It’s like the police are at least gesturing at preparing a criminal case against the people who killed Jean McConville, and the person who would be responsible for prosecuting that case all but says publicly, in a thinly veiled statement, that he doesn’t think it would be a good idea to bring a criminal case against the people who killed Jean McConville. And the newspaper types up the text without noticing the subtext, which is all of a millimeter deep. Open question whether the reporters and editors who handled the story have opposable thumbs, yes?

But it gets so much better than that, because there’s something else the Irish Times (and everybody else) didn’t bother to notice, and let’s go ahead and number these points to make them easy to follow:

1.) The woman who says she drove Jean McConville to her death says that Gerry Adams gave the order to take her and kill her.

2.) So an investigation into the murder of Jean McConville is an investigation into a crime involving the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

3.) Who used to be represented by a lawyer named Barra McCrory….

4.) …who recently became the, yes, Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. Maybe you’ve heard of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland — he’s the guy who just gave a speech saying he’s not sure if the police should be digging into the past. Gerry Adams’ former lawyer just dropped a fat goose egg of a hint that he doesn’t think the police should be investigating Gerry Adams.

How do I know that Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McCrory used to be a lawyer in private practice who represented Gerry Adams? I read it in the Irish Times.

Two months ago.