For all the talk of fake news, and attaching it to social media and the internet, much of the twisting and turn (and several blind alleys) in the Stack story, arises from a general unwillingness amongst political journalists to acknowledge the problem of partial disclosure.
Rules of evidence in court govern whether, when, how, and for what purpose, proof of a legal case may be placed before a trier of fact for consideration. It does not rely on reporting a simple verbatim exchange over what he or she might have said to or about him or her.
Yet too far too much credence is lent to the public voice of politicians often without any deep interrogation of the facts or the context in which statements are made.
After days of the southern press chasing obfuscating party talking points, Noel Whelan cuts with acute barristerial directness to the problem that’s been staring the rest of us in the face for quite some time:
In weighing up any conflict of evidence, one must assess the general credibility of those making the competing claims.
Gerry Adams’s credibility is shot to pieces. The precedents that illustrate his loose relationship with the truth are stacked very high. His various contradictory statements about McConville, McCabe and Colombia Three are just some examples of how he has been caught dissembling on politically sensitive events.
Adams’s denials about how the IRA covered up the abuse of Maíria Cahill is another case in point. His refusal to confirm that he was ever a member of the IRA further undermines him. Anyone who, notwithstanding these examples, still believes that Adams’s word can be trusted should study the transcript of his evidence in his brother’s first trial for sexual abuse. The transcript is available online [examples here] and is riddled with inconsistencies, to the extent that he was not called as a witness in the retrial.
On the other side of the scale we have the word of Austin Stack, a man who, like his father before him, has given a life’s service to the State and is now a senior prison officer. He is a son motivated by his family’s need to find answers about his father’s death.
There’s that. And there’s these, contemporaneously taken, notes by Adams’ own long-term adviser, Richard McAuley, published to exonerate his boss, but which suggests, very strongly, that the President of Sinn Fein has misled the Dail:
Why does this matter? Well apart from the obvious breach of trust within the ultimate Republican institution on the island, it’s a valuable demonstration of Gary Mitchell’s 2007 observation that when the “agreed truth becomes accepted, the real truth becomes a lie”.
As Machiavelli once noted, calumny is most rife in that State wherein impeachment is least practised, and the laws least favour it. (And make no mistake Adams’ allegation against the Stacks was little short of a calumny).
For a country so lately released from miseries of a fruitless low-level war, that’s not a situation that should be tolerated lightly by politicians, journalists or anyone else.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty