I watched The Frontline tonight, and was absolutely delighted to witness Pat Kenny challenge Jack O’Connor on his position on public sector pay. He tore through Mr. O’Connor’s carefully prepared sound bites and left the most powerful trade unionist in the country stammering and, more importantly, contradicting himself.
It is hard to recall Pat Kenny ever giving a guest on The Late Late Show such a hard time, even when many watching would have liked a firmer hand. In fact, Mr. Kenny had been given the nickname ‘Pat the Plank’ by many young fans who missed Gay Byrne (It should be noted however, that Mr. Kenny’s replacement by Ryan Tubridy has led to several “Bring back Pat, all is forgiven” Facebook campaigns, so any dislike may have more to do with nostalgia than any deficiency on the behalf of Mr Kenny), in part due to his perceived timidity when it came to confronting guests.
Of course, Mr Kenny’s radio show has always been more probing then his Late Late Show, and shows a greater willing to confront guests, but even this has been eclipsed by his recent performances on his new show. The strength and tenacity that Mr. Kenny showed in tonight’s episode can be seen as a culmination of changes that have taken place over the last few weeks, as Mr. Kenny has shown an increased willingness to take people head on, and call them on any inconsistencies, pursuing any evasive answers with a new vigour.
The highlight of tonight’s performance was without doubt Mr. Kenny’s refusal to take a sly dig from Mr. O’Connor. The look on Mr. Kenny’s face in the last second of the video show a steel that was never really seen in any of Mr. Kenny’s earlier shows, and his use of the word ‘crap’ without a decidedly apologetic tone is undoubtedly a first.
Mr. Kenny has always been known for his sharp intellect and excellent broad knowledge base (in one of the last episodes of the Late Late, which focused on the Seanad, Mr Kenny was very obviously the only participant who had actually read the Constitution, and thought about what it’s original goal was), but he has very rarely used these to challenge his guests. It would be a very welcome development if the national broadcaster finally had a show where the movers and shakers were not allowed to get away with glib one-liners and pre-prepare sound-bites.
If national issues are to discussed in the media, then the media need to be willing to cut through the scripted replies and challenge any evasions that public figures may attempt to present. While the demise of Questions and Answers is to be lamented, if The Frontline continues on it’s current path, then Irish politics can only benefit.