Of all the stories one might expect to see in Newsweek, a lament for the days of white Protestant male dominance of the news media ranked low on the prediction list. An essay by Franklin & Marshall College professor Van Gosse fingers Irish-American culture as the culprit behind the “hard-Right” and loudmouth politics. Whatever happened to the good old days, Gosse writes, when viewers could avoid all the “Micks” on TV and only interact with real Americans?
Er … no, I’m not kidding:
Just as they used to play an outsize role in the Democratic Party’s apparatus, and in organized labor, putative Irishmen are now the face of the hard Right.
Once the biggest names, faces, and voices on television were Huntley and Brinkley, Cronkite, Murrow, even John Chancellor and Dan Rather, all sober, serious Americans—and all Protestants too.
Now we have angry loudmouths with names like O’Reilly, Hannity, Buchanan, and, lurking back there with his Cheshire smile, the dissolute but scary Bannon.
Yet no one has noticed this obvious fact, and the sheer lack of attention may be the most important thing about it. Why has the ascent of a bunch of people who in an earlier period might have been called Micks drawn no notice at all?
Let’s pause all of the Hibernian outrage to point out a fundamental fallacy in this comparison. Dan Rather was sober and serious? No, wait, that’s not the fallacy I mean. Gosse sets up a comparison between network news anchors and explicit opinion journalists and activists. It’s an apples to oranges comparison. If Gosse still wants to see broadcast news, he has a choice between non-Irishmen like Bret Baier, David Muir, Lester Holt, Wolf Blitzer, and new CBS anchor Jeff Glor. All of them seem like sober Protestants, but … you never know. Lester Holt might be a crypto-Irishman. Otherwise, we micks have really fallen down on the job.
Even if Gosse wants to focus on opinion talk shows, though, his argument has more peat than a shanty Irish backyard, as my ancestors never used to say. O’Reilly’s gone, and Bannon was a writer and podcaster before taking over at Breitbart, not a TV host. Hannity shares the Fox prime-time airwaves with, er, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. On CNN, it’s Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. There isn’t a decent St. Paddy’s Day corned beef and cabbage among them, faith and begorrah, which my ancestors almost certainly never said either.
There’s a better case for progressive Irish loudmouths as a pattern on MSNBC. Gosse might note that their prime-time line-up includes Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews, whose Boston Irish roots have always been part and parcel of his public persona. Rachel Maddow has some Irish on her mother’s side, and coincidentally a grandparent named Gosse too.
What about conservative talk radio? Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage … er, no. Even here at Salem, our line-up only features one Irish surname, Mike Gallagher, along with Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Larry Elder. Elder has the gift of blarney, I’d argue, but that’s as close as it gets.
So what expertise does Gosse have on Irish-American culture? He recently discovered that he had one Irish-American grandfather that he never met. No, seriously:
I have one Irish-American grandparent: John Edward Mahoney, a Boston Latin graduate who went to Harvard paid for by an anonymous Brahmin. He died very young in 1931. My father met him only once that year and never acknowledged himself as Irish at all; by then, his mother had changed his name to hers, the Yankee Gosse. Otherwise we’re overwhelmingly Anglo-Dutch Protestants, born and bred.
My connection to Irishness is thus self-generated, but it is real. I’ve lived there, and I care about the place, enough to notice that Irish-Americans are very different from the Irish-in-Ireland, and often have no sense of themselves as connected to the island and its history.
My connection to Irishness was Dad-generated and Mom-approved. News flash: even we benighted and loudmouthed Irish-Americans understand that we’re different from the Irish. That’s because we’re Americans. We honor our culture, but it’s based on American experiences rather than Irish.
Actually, Gosse mentions near the end that there used to be some Irish-American loudmouths he liked. Want to guess why?
Foster’s longtime comrade and successor as Chairman of that Party, like him a veteran of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, New York City’s “Rebel Girl,” also buried in Moscow. Another old Wobbly and then Red, James Patrick Cannon, left the Communists to found the Trotskyist movement in the late 1920s, and remained their major leader until the 1960s.
It’s not just among Marxist radicals where the Irish are prominent, however. Daniel and Philip Berrigan personified the “Catholic Left” from the 1960s into its later incarnation as Ploughshares. Tom Hayden, founder of the Students for a Democratic Society spent his later years rediscovering himself as “Irish on the Inside,” a rebel in the tradition of James Connolly (and Gerry Adams).
When I think of Hayden and Flynn and the Berrigans, that’s an Irish America I can embrace, warts and all.
Oh, those are the good Irish Americans, the ones he considers authentic … the ones that defer to Gosse’s socialist worldview. Surprise, surprise.
Mark Hemingway summed this up best on Twitter:
I’m aware that discrimination against the Irish existed (ie, “No Irish Need Apply” signs), but I’ve certainly never experienced it. Regardless, this is such a bigoted point of view — and so badly expressed — that it calls into question how it got into Newsweek at all. Didn’t any editor think to review it before scraping it from “History News Network,” whatever that is? My advice to both Newsweek and Professor Gosse is this: Is fheàrr teicheadh math na droch fhuireach.
This reminds me of the scene in the classic anti-bigotry satire, Blazing Saddles. Watch at your own risk, as this is not safe for work, and the sober Protestants are the butt of the joke.