NPR Admits Mistakes In Boston College Programme
The Broken Elbow
This last weekend America’s National Public Radio (NPR) – the nearest the US has to the BBC or RTE – broadcast a follow up to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s devastating examination of Boston College’s handling of the Belfast Project, the oral history archive which sought to collect the life stories of former Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, but which has been the subject, since May 2011, of subpoenas from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) which allegedly is investigating the IRA’s disappearance of Jean McConville.
NPR’s ‘On The Media’ programme, which regularly deals with issues affecting the American media, used two interviews by Brooke Gladstone, one with Anthony McIntyre, the former IRA prisoner and Belfast Project researcher and the other with Jack Dunn, Boston College’s public relations person to ask what the future of Oral History was in the wake of the subpoenas.
As the more avid followers of the story will know, ourselves and Boston College have been at daggers drawn in both our radically differing accounts of what happened when the project was set up and over our stinging criticism of the college’s cowardly approach to resisting the subpoenas both inside and outside the courts in the US. Invariably this dispute has set ourselves and Dunn at each other’s throats.
That happened again on the NPR programme and in a colourful way, but this time Dunn showed a disregard for the truth that was staggering even by his tacky standards. So outraged was I by the lies he told about McIntyre and myself that I lodged a complaint with NPR’s ombudsman, sent a message to the interviewer, Brooke Gladstone and posted this comment on ‘On The Media’s website which summarised all but one of the gripes I had with her interview with Dunn.
That dealt with what Dunn called McIntyre’s ‘lengthy history of criminal activity’, i.e. his life sentence for the murder of a UVF member in South Belfast. Because of space limitations imposed by the website I was not able to make two points in answer. One was that the US courts have recognised that IRA violence is fundamentally political in nature and to call it criminal is legally inaccurate in this country. And as a friend pointed out, ‘On The Media’ would not dare call a Palestinian fighter a ‘criminal’.
The second point was that it was because of his IRA associations – not despite them – that McIntyre was hired in the first place. The project was constructed on the idea that former paramilitary activists would not speak frankly to academic oral historians but they might to people from their own community and background. That applied to both IRA and UVF interviewees. Boston College enthusiastically embraced that approach and Jack Dunn would have been very aware of it. For him now to use McIntyre’s background against him is despicable hypocrisy.
Anyway here is what I wrote on NPR’s website:
Today, Brooke Gladstone responded, admitting faults in the programme, and this what she had to say:
And here is my response:
Incidentally, for those interested in what Jack Dunn looks like, and for a sample of what he believes, have a look at this. I was pondering for some time what message his face sent and then it hit me: “I am a kiss up, kick down sort of guy”: